Campbell's Success All in the Numbers

AAE degree fuels alum's 25-year career in computer analysis, decision making

Life beyond work
When he’s not commuting the 400 miles between Minneapolis and his Winnetka, Ill., home or traveling globally for work, Michael Campbell is with family—his wife, Colleen, also a Purdue alum now starting an apparel company, and three daughters, who drew him into a world he never before experienced: live theatre.

“How that happened to an engineer, I have no idea. But it’s absolutely a blessing. I’m always going to plays, concerts and recitals.

Mastering complex math and problem-solving skills in aeronautical and astronautical engineering gave Michael Campbell (BSAAE ‘83) the ideal launch pad for a career centered on new ventures, computers, and math. It earned him recognition as a pioneer in applying mathematical optimization to complex management tasks.

In Business as a Student
Campbell took his first flight into the business world as a sophomore, the year IBM debuted its personal computer. At Purdue, “I found a whole new stratosphere. Things that used to be easy were hard. Purdue upped my game,” he says. He and a partner started a microcomputer company to help small businesses. Working with entrepreneurs, “I realized it wasn’t that hard,” he says.

For electives, he headed to Purdue’s Krannert School of Management. “I did my first business plan as an independent study course while I was learning mathematical optimization in aerospace. My whole career since then has been to blur the line between the mathematician and the person with business smarts.”

In 1983, his venture “morphed into” General Optimization Inc., a software developer. In 1989, he founded Campbell Software in Chicago, which developed workforce management tools for retailers, including the scheduling software used by Starbucks.

After a decade, Campbell sold to SAP America Inc., staying a few years in leadership, and in 2002 took the helm at TempoSoft. Three years later he joined Fair Isaac Corp., a company that applies high-level math to study fraud, determine credit worthiness and explain consumer behavior. There, he’s chief operating officer in its Minneapolis headquarters.

”It’s been a straight trajectory,” Campbell says. A defining moment was his decision as a student “to play down the middle, take engineering and math and apply them to business.”

Engineering Discipline Key
Throughout, Campbell has relied on the engineering discipline. “I use it every day, handling gnarly problems—technical, business and personal. I remember, ‘Don’t panic. Break the problem down. Solve it in chunks.’ You can do almost anything that way.”

An advocate for launching businesses while young, he says, “If you’re going to make big choices and take big risks, coming out of school is the best time. Take the plunge early, when you have more energy, less to lose, and the willingness to work at all costs to get things done.

What’s ahead is wide open. “There are huge opportunities to apply high-level mathematics to the real world. We’re just starting to scratch the surface. There are important problems to be solved, and new ways of running businesses and helping companies grow faster and smarter.”

- Kathy Mayer