An interview with Loren Schillinger
The lifetime impact of an MSU degree
When Loren Schillinger ('75, Chemical Engineering) tells his story it always circles back to his time at Montana State University. Loren attributes almost all of his successes to his origins at MSU, as a chemical engineer.
In April, Loren established a bequest that will fund his scholarships for engineering and business students at MSU, in addition to a gift to the MSU Library. In a recent interview, Loren talked about the profound way that his MSU engineering education made it possible for him to achieve success throughout his life.
On growing up in a household that valued education
Loren grew up in Vida, Montana, the town where his grandfather homesteaded in the early 1900s. "The town was named after the postmaster's wife," said Loren of the unusual name.
Loren's father Leo served in Europe in World War II, and was drafted after Pearl Harbor. After the war, he attended what was then Montana State College, but did not graduate.
"I think it was something he regretted," said Loren, but his father was committed to supporting the family's farm in Vida, and had a successful farming career.
But his father always instilled the value of education for Loren and his siblings. "Dad promised us he would pay for our college educations," said Loren.
On his work as a student of Dr. Lloyd Berg
"Dr. Berg opened doors for all of us. It was a challenging program, but he promised his students that if we made it through the program he would find us a job. And he kept that promise. He had that many connections."
On discovering his interests
Loren's first job after MSU, secured with the help of Dr. Berg, was as a process engineer for FMC Corporation at an elemental phosphorus plant in Pocatello, Idaho. Although Loren was offered several positions across the U.S., he chose Pocatello because of its relative familiarity. Within a year he became a foreman in the plant.
Then, within another year he was recruited to FMC's leadership development program in Philadelphia, worlds away from Vida, Bozeman and Pocatello. The experience challenged him to apply the skills he learned in the Engineering Economics class at MSU. After working for two additional years in a production management role for an FMC plant in Lawrence, Kansas, Loren decided to pursue a career in finance.
"I knew I didn't want to be a plant manager. I was really interested in the financial side, more than production."
Loren ultimately chose Notre Dame to pursue his MBA, and was offered a position with Eli Lilly & Company immediately after he graduated. He was the only Notre Dame MBA graduate offered a position with Lilly, and he credits it to his chemical engineering background at Montana State University.
"My chemical engineering degree from MSU gave me instant credibility," said Loren, "they knew I could think analytically and identify problems. The value of my degree became really apparent."
On the value of engineering and business skills for MSU students today
Loren was motivated to support both business and engineering students at Montana State University.
"I had a strong engineering skill set from Montana State, but I had to learn the business management skills through the MBA and on my own. I had the privilege to pursue the additional education, but I think students today need to know the engineering along with the business."
How chemical engineering made him a good CFO
After earning his MBA, Loren became a cost accountant at a Lilly manufacturing plant, followed by roles as a budget analyst for the corporate engineering group, a credit analyst for the Agricultural Chemical group, and department head of financial planning and systems at Lilly's Elizabeth Arden plant in Virginia. He then took on a financial analyst role with Lilly's agricultural research group. Lilly's agricultural chemical group formed a joint venture with Dow Chemical's agricultural chemical business to form Dow AgroSciences. "It was exciting work, because we were forming a whole new company."
In his work with Dow AgroSciences Loren coordinated manufacturing data and learned how to do production planning, but he says he never would have been able to do that work without being able to "talk the talk" of the chemical engineers who ran the manufacturing plants. He ultimately took on higher finance positions within the company until his retirement, "but it always came back to my engineering experience, which guided my financial planning roles."
After 25 years, Loren retired and headed West once again. He was interested in doing something more purposeful and pursued a position with the Diocese of Cheyenne (the Catholic Church in Wyoming), where he worked for several years in budgeting and planning, and ultimately as their CFO.
"As a CFO, I made many critical decisions. It was interesting how much my Montana State engineering degree was relevant to the role. I had to identify and analyze problems, I had to make a plan for how we would address the problems, how we would communicate next steps and develop a procedure—and these were all engineering skills."
On giving back to MSU
"I want to give back to MSU for all it did for me. Education has become so expensive. I was lucky because I had a scholarship, and my Dad was committed to my education. But that's not always the case. I want to help these students, because good opportunities don't exist today without a college degree. Education is critical."