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Following a different track

Tom German, a Sloan Fellow and former technical director of Penske Racing
Tom German, a Sloan Fellow and former technical director of Penske Racing

As the former technical director of Penske Racing, Tom German SF ’12 endured long travel days to races and extreme pressure on the racing circuit. Since German arrived on campus in June, he’s spent countless hours doing coursework and networking with his peers, but the pace is different from what he knew in the auto racing world.

“In the environment I was in, everything was very time-dependent. Here, I have more time to think and it’s more inspiring to be at MIT Sloan because you are dealing with new things every day,” he says.

The Akron, Ohio, native started his career designing Indianapolis 500 race tires at Bridgestone Firestone in the early 1990s. In 1997, he joined Penske Racing. Since 2000, he’s served as a technical director of the IndyCar team and then as technical director of the NASCAR team. He directed vehicle design, handling and aerodynamic performance improvements.

He noted there are drastic differences between NASCAR and IndyCar. “The cultures are very different. IndyCar is much more of a data driven organization. There’s not a lot of room for opinion that is not supported by data,” he says. NASCAR, one of the most popular spectator sports in the United States, does not allow data systems to run on cars during competition. “The decisions become much more subjective. That absence of data drives the culture so that opinions are often weighted the same as data, which makes it very challenging.”

German is here at MIT Sloan to gain quantitative knowledge and a broader view of the business world. He’s already impressed with what he’s learned so far. “The professors have been excellent … and the exposure to the sustainability initiatives and the energy initiatives here are very exciting. The Sloan Fellows experience has been amazing. I am constantly learning from my cohort, and the diversity of their life experiences adds tremendous value.”

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