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UW Crest with engineering background
October 31, 2022

Ernest Nicolas: 2022 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Written By: Staff

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Ernest Nicolas

Ernest Nicolas MBA ‘02, MSMSE ‘05, (BSMSE ‘99, Kettering University)
Chief supply chain officer, HP

We are honoring Ernest as a manufacturing systems engineer and business leader who has established transformative approaches for agile and resilient supply chain management.

Why did you choose engineering?

I appreciated the very close tie to operations management that was offered by industrial/manufacturing systems engineering.

How did your experience at UW-Madison shape your career path?

The fundamentals of what I learned while at Madison I still leverage today. My undergrad is in manufacturing systems engineering and my grad is as well. My intention there was to go for more industrial/manufacturing systems engineering depth, but when I arrived on campus, I pursued the MBA to provide me the foundational breadth to lead people and teams. I very much believe in the breadth and depth formula for success. It definitely took a balance in studying in both schools. The muscle required for an engineering course is definitely not the same as the muscle needed for a business course.

What are some of your best memories from your time at UW-Madison?

I made lifelong friends at UW-Madison—people I still keep in touch with today, people who have helped me get jobs, people who have been there for me in good times and bad, personally, professionally.

What advice would you give students today?

Be patient. A lot of people come out of school and they’re hungry—they’re hungry for growth, being promoted, and looking for the next opportunity. … Every role has some form of critical decision-making that occurs as you work through a business cycle. That business cycle is when you have the most significant learning. When the business cycle occurs, can you make the right decision for the organization? Do you have the right combination of experiences to gather information, communicate to the organization and position your role or function for success? After a few months, the answer is generally no. I would challenge everyone to be certain that they learn and understand positions/roles enough that they can make that next-level decision. That is when it is time to move on.

Any hobbies?

I love basketball. I grew up in the 90s in Chicago, so I’m a Jordan fan. (The Jordan-LeBron debate is of no significance to me; it’s a waste of time.) I love to watch basketball; I still play when I can. I love to cook, I love to grill and “consider” myself an outdoor chef. I enjoy time with my wife, three kids and family.

Anything else to add?

I’m big on philanthropic support. I stand by the notion that we have a responsibility to uplift the communities where we live and work. Until my recent move to Houston, I was on the board of the Greater Milwaukee Urban League, I’ve been on the advisory board for the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management in the School of Business here at UW-Madison. I am also a member of the Executive Leadership Council, an organization focused on advancing and preparing the next generation of diverse corporate leaders. Lastly, I serve on the board of directors for Avient Corporation and am an advisory board member for Wahl Clipper Corporation.