As the Director of Data Management and longtime analyst, Paul Manning is always looking at data, something that makes a decent amount of people go cross-eyed even hearing the term. But to him, it’s not just points on a graph.
It’s the details of all the different ways to describe carpet.
It’s the recipe for making paint.
It’s the list of random things that get shipped via airplane cargo.
Where some see spreadsheets and scatter plots, Paul has an innate curiosity that has kept him exploring case after case at Infotech Consulting for 30 years.
“People might think that just sitting around crunching numbers all day, looking at the data is boring, but we get to work on so many different projects.”
Every case brings with it a new subject to dive deep into, analyzing the facts and figures that help the team discover insights from the data. It’s not for everyone. To meet the needs of clients, Paul and the Consulting team often have to develop a thorough knowledge on areas outside their typical scope – even on things like titanium dioxide.
“Titanium dioxide is a chemical used to make white paint. It can’t get any more boring than that, right?” Paul said. “But it’s not boring to me. I mean, if I ever need to buy paint for my house now, I have all this information and can go talk intelligently with the salesman. Learning about an industry aids in deciphering the data and can be personally beneficial if I need to buy paint or carpet.”
He remembers fondly a case about airplane cargo, where the data points were more unusual than most.
“Air cargo was one of my favorites, because it was totally different. It’s not a product per se,” he explained. “Instead of people selling something like a chemical or consumer product, this project involved selling cargo space on an airplane. And there weren’t many characteristics of it that we could use in our modeling. It’s just stuff, put into an airplane and measured by weight.”
The case was about a surcharge being added for fuel, so to understand their transaction data Paul and his team had to research what was actually being shipped. It led to some peculiar discoveries.
“We do get excited about things in the data. In air cargo, we were looking at the data and someone would say, ‘Wow they shipped a horse,’” Paul said. “It’s all these weird things that we obviously know – of course horses are being shipped, because they get from one place to another – but actually seeing that they put horses on airplanes and ship them and how much they pay for it is exciting.”
There’s more to 30 years of experience than a lifelong curiosity, however. Few people would remain in a workplace that long simply because they enjoy one part of their job in particular, and Paul is no different, he said.
“It’s the whole gamut of things. I obviously love the people, and the work is always challenging and different. Sure, from today to tomorrow it might be the same stuff, but over time there were many new problems to solve.”
It’s more than cases and data, too, as far as new challenges go. As Infotech Consulting grows, interns are a common sight in their team meetings, and Paul has become a part of mentoring the future analysts. Sometimes they even graduate and come back to join his team.
“Paul has been crucial in my development at Infotech,” the most recent member of the Data Analysis team, Michael Smith said. “As I’ve been learning, I’ve probably asked him many foolish questions, but he never makes me feel as though they were unreasonable. I’d feel comfortable asking him any question at any time, and I really appreciate that about him.”
It’s no surprise that Paul understands potentially overwhelming transitions. His education includes a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering, which helped land him work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a Senior Engineer. That’s right, Paul was a rocket scientist before he started with Infotech Consulting. Jumping from one industry to another, collaboration is one of his strengths that carried him through. He started before the Consulting team was even half the size it is now, each person sharing all the responsibility.
“It was totally different when I started out, just Jim, Cindy, Joe, Barbara and a few other people that have since left, but I think that’s it. It was a very small group so we all did everything,” he said. “There was a lot to do, it seemed like we were always busy. But it was something to look forward to, coming to work; everyone was like me, geeky data people who like analyzing stuff.”
With 20 employees now, 4 teams, three expert witnesses, and interns in flux over the course of a year, a lot has changed. Not in a bad way, Paul said, as the culture is the same. Now there’s just more of us.
“After spending 30 years here I don’t have anything to compare Infotech to, but just knowing people outside of work tells me that this team is totally different from any other group of people I’ve ever met,” Paul said. “I don’t know anyone like them. We’re a unique bunch that have melded together to do this thing, all because Dr. Jim McClave had this great idea and he found people that liked helping him with it.”
In response, Dr. McClave said, “Well, I might have had at least a decent idea, but without folks like Paul joining the team, the idea would have died on the vine. Paul came to Infotech with his “rocket science” intelligence and his willingness to take on the toughest tasks. In the 30 years Paul has been with us, I have never heard him say anything like “it can’t be done.” Quite the contrary — Paul loves the challenge of complex and difficult projects, and he has consistently overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In short, Consulting’s success over the past 30 years is due in no small part to Paul’s role as a player and leader on our team.”
It’s quite an anniversary to celebrate with one company. Decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge about enough different subjects to make Paul anyone’s favorite trivia partner. And, as a lifelong student of whatever he gets to study next, he’s not going anywhere just yet.
“I think what I’ve learned over the last 30 years about everything in this business – from stats to data to law, and more – that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of; learning everything there is to know about what we do.”