College of Business
MBA helps engineering professional move forward as leader
Alex Vitou has always been fascinated by how things work. That led him to come south from his home state of Ohio to study engineering in South Carolina. After working in the field for a while, Alex wanted to move up to another level professionally. Taking classes offered by Anderson University at the University Center of Greenville, Alex found their focus on servant leadership resonated with his lifelong interest in helping others. Growing up, he watched his family members serve their community. He learned from a young age that you’re never too busy to give back to your community. It’s something he continues to do and he inspires others to do the same. Recently, Greenville Business Magazine named Vitou to its “Greenville’s Best and Brightest” list.
How did you discover Anderson University?
I basically started in engineering. I knew I wanted to get an MBA. I started looking into programs. I worked 40-plus hours a week a week and went to school part-time to get the MBA. So I needed a program that could do that. I really liked the servant leadership model, which is why I started looking at Anderson. And then as I went through the orientation and talked to some people, I realized how much that (servant leadership) was a focus of the program, which is the reason that I chose Anderson, and I’m glad I did. It was a great experience and there was a tremendous focus on that through the program, and that’s still how I lead people… with that methodology.
What do you appreciate the most about your Anderson University education?
When I was in the program, my class was very small. There were only four or five of us in most classes. It felt almost like one on one teaching the whole time, which was awesome. All of the professors were super engaged and I felt like they had a personal investment in me, which was not what I was really used to.
How did you become interested in engineering?
I’ve always kind of enjoyed understanding how things work, fixing stuff and making it better. I just enjoy continuous improvement and automation and just really understanding the fundamentals of stuff. And that’s really what engineering is. It’s understanding the fundamentals, making something better, new or being creative—that kind of passion has always existed, so that pushed me towards engineering as a degree.
What are some ways your MBA program has benefited you in your work at Dodge?
It has certainly opened some doors. If nothing else, as an engineer, you know the technical side of things well. You know the math, you know the science—you understand that. What you don’t know is the whole other side of business. You don’t know the numbers. You just don’t understand the business side, so getting the MBA, especially if you’re an engineer, makes you very well-rounded. And what I sort of realized is, once I had that degree and went through those classes, as I sat in meetings where they were talking about just general business trends and levers to pull and those types of things, I could participate. I understood. I think being that—being a part of the conversation, number one, you learn a lot, your job’s a lot more fulfilling, but then it starts to open doors. That’s when the management opportunities come. Since then… my first team was really just four engineers, two drafters and two engineers. I did that for a couple of years. This past job I managed five managers and four engineers and then another 25 people under them.
I’m now managing the Belton, South Carolina, plant, which is about 200 people. It’s just been one opportunity after another that’s all started with getting that degree, honestly.
At the end of the day, what gives you the biggest feeling of satisfaction?
My favorite thing to do is to develop people; that is my favorite thing by far. Just seeing the people that I have spent time developing and flourish in their roles and get the visibility they deserve and just get better—that is by far the best. I love to change things—that’s just kind of my mentality. I like to fix stuff as an engineer. So any time I can make an impact that I feel is noticeable and helps people, makes their lives easier, makes the business better, those are my favorite things to do.
What is the primary function of the Belton plant?
It produces different styles of industrial gearboxes. The two main industries we serve are unit handling and food & beverage.
Tell me about how you’ve been giving back to the community.
That’s a big part of who I am. It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents were always involved in community outreach. My mom ran the adopted family program for the church we went to for many years. My Dad was in the Knights of Columbus for many years. My grandfather participated in St. Vincent De Paul Society and ran that for the church for many years and I helped with the pancake breakfast. The high school I went to, St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, was very big on community service—so much so that my sophomore year of high school we actually had a class called Sophomore Service. For four hours a week, you would go help a nonprofit in the community during school hours. So that’s always been a big piece of me.
In the role I’m in, my company… community support is a big deal. They give us the flexibility to be able to do that. Two of my passions are hunger alleviation—food in general, and then STEM education. Loaves and Fishes is a food rescue in Greenville. Last year they rescued two and a half million pounds of food that would otherwise go to waste. They deliver that food to over a hundred partner agencies. I’ve been part of that group for three years and I’ve chaired the board of directors for the last two really. I love that. It’s a great cause, a great organization and great staff. It’s fun to be able to help with kind of the strategy and really the overall business from this capacity.
Then the STEM side, I’m on the advisory board for the South Carolina Coalition of Math and Science, which is kind of the grass roots lobbying arm for STEM education in the state. They do STEM Education Week and STEM Day at the capital. They have tons of programs that support STEM education in the state. They do the Imagine Upstate Festival every year… my company sponsors that event every year and hosts an interactive booth.
I’m also a member of Knights of Columbus here in Greenville. Not as active in that one as I used to be because of everything else that’s going on, but I’m still trying to help out, and then I also help lead the community outreach initiatives at Dodge. Dodge approaches community outreach through three pillars: Mitigate Hunger, Develop Knowledge, and the third one is Foster Wellness. Really we try to find ways to give back to the community both monetarily and through the donation of time—volunteering and things like that to just help the community here in Greenville, Anderson and the Belton area and where our other plants are: Marion, North Carolina; Rogersville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina.
How would you persuade a young engineer to enter an MBA program like you did?
I tell people this story all of the time, so that’s a good question.
Engineering degrees are tremendous. You can do almost anything you want with an engineering degree, but what you’re missing is the business side, and if you really want to move up in your company and you want to manage people and you want to try to manage the business in whatever capacity you can, an MBA really makes you well rounded and balances you out so you can really see the full picture. An Engineering degree, you only see the technical picture and adding that MBA gives you the full picture of your business and the ability to contribute in really any role you want after that.
Then specifically the Anderson MBA, I think the servant leadership model is the best people leadership model out there and having an MBA that’s focused on that, I think just gives you a leg up on other people. In my experience, people love being managed that way, they just do. If you can develop your business acumen and that at the same time, it’s a powerful skill set to have.
On a more personal note, there’s an interesting story about how you met your wife. Can you share it?
Believe it or not we actually met at a bowling alley in Greenville. The Golden Lanes in Simpsonville. Neither one of us had ever been in a bowling league. Neither one of us bowled. She had some friends who had an opening on their team and I had some friends that had an opening on our team and we sort of met each other towards the end of the season and have been together ever since.
My wife Abbey and I have been married five years and I have a four year old son named Joseph and a two year old daughter named Madison. That’s where I spend all my free time. Best job I’ve got.