Meet Hobson Bryan ’09 Bryan credits W&L for teaching him how to approach the complex problems he has tackled throughout his multi-faceted career.
Major: Physics-Engineering and Geology
Current Employer: Amazon
Q: What was your major at W&L, and how does it apply to your career now?
I double majored in Physics-Engineering and Geology. The physics and engineering faculty taught me how to frame a problem and the value of diving deep into the problem in a structured way until you arrive at a solution.
The geology faculty helped open my eyes to geologic time, physical processes, and how time and these processes have shaped the world around us. To me, geology is a bit like being a sleuth, such that you have to piece together observations from today to then work backwards to figure out what might have happened in the past. If you can do that, you can also fast forward to understand what might happen in the future.
The combination — applying structured problem solving and using the present to understand the past and future — have contributed to my career both directly and indirectly. Being able to approach a problem in a way that is structured and data-driven while navigating ambiguity is a highly sought-after skill set. If you’re able to read and write well also, you’re set up for success.
Q: What are some of your major or memorable career milestones?
Aside from graduating from W&L, working on the National Oil Spill Commission in D.C. during the Deepwater Horizon blowout was a formative experience. As someone who grew up visiting the Gulf of Mexico every summer — and who also has close friends and family in the oil and gas industry — exploring the social, environmental and economic implications of a highly-politicized oil spill was fascinating.
One senior executive shared with me, “Hobson, no one wakes up in the morning and wishes they had an oil spill.” That statement really stuck with me and in part factored into my decision to pursue graduate education. I thought that if we had better risk management systems, we could reduce the chance of these types of events in the future.
Around that point in time, I decided to pursue three degrees concurrently: an MBA, an MS in Operations Management with a focus on management information systems, and an MS in Construction Engineering with a focus on finance, accounting and risk management. I finished all three graduate degrees in two years with full course loads plus some extra classes, which was a big accomplishment for me.
Q: What was the one class you most enjoyed outside of your major, and why?
Southern Lit or German Lit. I don’t recall the course titles, but I do recall what we read and discussed. It was fun to shift gears and think about something other than math and science. (“The Golden Pot” by ETA Hoffman, anyone? It’s a fascinating romantic fairytale!)
Q: What advice would you give to next year’s graduating class?
I’d give next year’s class the same advice that was given to my class. Plant trees that others will sit under. Also, don’t be afraid to take detours, professionally or personally.
You don’t always have to go directly from Point A to Point B. Exploring unplanned opportunities can be fun and rewarding.
You also don’t have to be the best at something all of the time. As my wife likes to remind me, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When you’re surrounded by high performers, it’s easy to lose balance between work and play. Don’t forget to have fun, rest and recharge.
Q: Tell a favorite memory in five sentences or less.
Sitting in a lawn chair soaking up the sun at Buffalo Creek while listening to Larry Keel and Natural Bridge perform surrounded by some of my very best friends. I still make it to see the Keels perform every now and then. They are always letting their light shine.
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