College of LAS « Illinois

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Mathematics alumnus leads company that solves problems everywhere

Photo courtesy of Allen Butler.
Photo courtesy of Allen Butler.
Fresh out of college, Allen Butler wanted to be a mathematics professor. A chance meeting steered him onto a new path, and now he’s leading a prominent research firm that crunches the numbers on everything from helping the U.S. Navy detect submarines to helping individuals plan for retirement. Read how the mathematics and communication skills Butler developed in college helped guide him from an entry-level position to the top of his company.

Occupation: President and CEO, Daniel H. Wagner Associates, Inc.

Residence:  Richmond, Virginia

Degree:  PhD, ’87, mathematics

What was your first job out of college? I taught in the math department at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia, while completing my PhD, but my first job upon graduation was as an analyst at my current company.

How did you land the first job at Daniel Wagner Associates, Inc.?  I went to the Joint Math Meetings in San Antonio in January of 1987 seeking an academic position, where I ran into an old professor, Bob Bartle, who was in conversation with a colleague. When I told Bob I was seeking a job, he introduced me to his colleague, Dan Wagner, who he told me has a company comprised of mathematicians. Although I love teaching, the work the company was doing seemed very interesting and the pay was twice what I would have made at a university. I told myself, I could work in industry for a while and then return to academia.  Nearly 30 years later, I’m still waiting for the latter to happen.

What about college best prepared you for your life and career? Wagner Associates performs research and development consulting for the U.S.  government and for industry. While math and software engineering are the key technical components of this work, the communication skills I developed in college were paramount to successful consulting. Examples include writing proposals, technical reports, and research papers, presenting briefings to clients and potential clients, and conveying complicated mathematical algorithms to software engineers.

How did your major prepare you for your career? Mathematics teaches one to think logically, which helps in many other aspects of life besides the purely technical. I learned how to model a problem mathematically and my studies filled the requisite mathematical toolbox that allows me to solve the model. Finally, in graduate school, I developed the ability to learn new concepts on my own and the skill to be able to apply them quickly.

Family: Lots. My Dad, a mathematical economist, is 86 and going strong. I have three brothers, one sister, two half-brothers and a step brother.  I have three daughters, two sons, and five grandchildren.


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