Alumni Profile: Matt Edwards

Before attending Purdue, Matt Edwards (BSME '00) had never even been out of the country. Today, he manages the Eli Lilly and Company manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China.



Matt's first inkling of an engineering career came when a household appliance broke, and his mom told him to fix it.  "To go through the troubleshooting process of that appliance, figuring out how to repair it, and then seeing it work afterwards, I really liked that approach to things," says Matt.  "Clearly engineering made a lot of sense to me."

His love of figuring out how things work continued at Purdue Mechanical Engineering.  Matt remembers his senior design project, creating a specialized device that helped a disabled farmer get into his combine.  "Tackling that specialized need really foreshadowed my career at Lilly," says Matt, "discovering solutions that help people lead healthier lives."

Eli Lilly and Company seemed like the obvious job destination for Matt after graduation; his mother had worked at the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company for 42 years.  But the Purdue ME faculty helped to confirm his choice.  "As I went through interviews, I would confer with my professors," says Matt.  "Every time I mentioned Lilly, they say would say, 'That's a great choice. If you want to get into innovation and really make a difference in society, Lilly makes sense.' "

Matt started out as a reliability engineer for Lilly, monitoring the machinery at their manufacturing plants.  He progressed into operations, and then executive leadership -- spurring him to return to Purdue's Krannert School of Management to attain his MBA.

Then came a job offer to manage Lilly's manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico.  "The first six months were very challenging," admits Matt.  "It was outside our comfort zone. Getting things done in Puerto Rico takes an entirely different skillset than Indianapolis. But the most important thing was making connections with the people, and leveraging those relationships to deliver the outcome we needed.  We eventually fell in love with Puerto Rico, and stayed there three years."

His success in Puerto Rico led Lilly to offer him a job at a new manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China, a city of 11 million people.  "My first answer was no," remembers Matt. "China just seemed so foreign to us.  But the more we thought about it, we realized it was a great opportunity. The first thing I had to do was just get on an airplane and see for myself what China is like."  That experience helped Matt to discern people's perceptions of China with the reality on the ground.  "Suzhou is an amazing place," he says.  "It's safe, the food is great, and there is so much to do.  And because we'd made this leap to Puerto Rico, we had a better sense of how to engage in a new culture and build those new relationships."

Matt's responsibilities are now greater than ever.  Beyond managing the physical plant and the manufacturing process, he also engages with China's governmental authorities and industry colleagues.  "It's really not the 'what,' but the 'how,' " explains Matt.  "How do you help people to learn and understand? How do you motivate them to engage?  It's easy to tell people to do this or that, but our team is curious and eager to learn, and so providing the right guidance in the right way is so important."

Having an engineering background helps in both the technical and managerial aspects of his job.  "We deal with lots of technical issues, like temperature and pressure and flow," says Matt.  "But our team uses the same techniques with any issue: define the problem, understand the assumptions, write out your problem statement. Whether it's an engineering role, or a business role, I use the same techniques I first learned here at Purdue, writing on that green engineering paper!"

Based on his own experience, Matt also emphasizes to current students the importance of international experience. "Certainly anyone who can get through Purdue ME has technical talents," says Matt. "It's one thing to do that in your own country and your own language. But it's extremely fulfilling to solve problems, work, and be effective in a different culture. If students take advantage of that while at Purdue, the doors are really going to open up for them."

Writer: Jared Pike,, 765-496-0374