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Always Push Foward

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: September 13, 2016

When Brian Richards moved into Dillon Hall as a freshman in August 2002, he knew he had some adjustments ahead. Growing up in Brandon, MS, he figured that the northern Indiana winters would take some getting used to, as would the size of Notre Dame; while hardly a “mega-school,”Notre Dame operated on a different scale from his high school with its 50 graduating seniors.

Transitioning to Notre Dame also meant increased intellectual challenges, but Richards was looking forward to that. He chose to study electrical engineering because of its intellectual challenge. It’s the hardest engineering discipline and, therefore, “the most elite major at ND,” he figured, and it didn’t take him long to find evidence of that. In the final exam for EE20224 (“Intro to EE”), he was confronted with ten problems. Having studied non-stop, Richards felt good about his performance on the exam and assumed that he had “aced” it. So he was a little taken aback when he saw that his score was “only” 80, having received zero points for two of the ten problems. Looking more closely, he saw that the mistakes he had made were (he thought) trivial ones – a sign mistake in one problem and an addition mistake in the other. Certainly he should have received some credit for getting them almost correct, right?“

When I asked Professor Lemmon about it, he told me there were only two types of engineers – those who get it right the first time and those who get it right eventually. It was logic I couldn’t argue with and something that sticks to me to this day.

”Fortunately, Brian found kindred spirits at Notre Dame who helped him make the transition – many of them also electrical engineering students living in Dillon.

“PHWERB” circa 2006. From left to right are Andrew Pangilinan, Scott Horan, Joey Ernst,Kristen Woyach, Brian Richards, and Glen Bradford.
“There was a large contingent of amazing EE students in Dillon while I was there,” said Richards. A group of five EE “Big Red”residents – Andrew Pangilinan, Scott Horan, Joey Ernst, Richards, and Glen Bradford – together with fellow EE student Kristen Woyach formed a bond over their shared travails that kept them working together throughout their four years at Notre Dame.Their collaboration reached a crescendo when they formed a team for EE 41440 (“Senior Design”) that undertook an ambitious-if-not-quite-successful effort to build a guided model rocket with an automatic control system capable of hitting a transmitter-carrying balloon.

“As a joke we called ourselves‘PHWERB’ after the first initials of our last names,” he recalled. “The support from those five people was critical to my EE education – they were brilliant students and amazing engineers.”

Richards joined Accenture, a global consulting firm, upon graduating from Notre Dame in 2006. While Accenture wasn’t initially on his radar screen – “I had never heard of the place” – a serendipitous Career Fair encounter during his senior year with an ND engineering alum launched a career that has endured. Richard’s first assignment was as an analyst in the Technology Labs in Chicago, where Accenture seeks to identify and develop new technologies into first-of-their-kind projects for its clients.

“Back then we were working on how to apply new technologies such as mobile, RFID, cloud computing, big data, Radio over IP, and more to the enterprise market,” said Brian. “It was a fantastic environment filled with amazing engineers from Northwestern, Notre Dame, University of Illinois, MIT, and Stanford.”

Brian worked his way up the ladder at Technology Labs until 2012, when he was promoted to senior manager and transferred into Accenture’s Energy Industry (Oil & Gas) organization. Today, he is in Houston where he is the innovation lead for Accenture’s Energy practice. In that role, Richards is responsible for bringing senior leaders at Accenture's largest energy clients the latest technology and innovation and helping them craft differentiating strategies.

“It’s my job to thoroughly understand our clients’ challenges – things like improving asset integrity or reducing down-time – and develop ways that leverage new and emerging technologies to address those challenges,” said Richards. “Whether it’s wearable computing or drones or video analytics or something that you haven’t even heard about yet, our goal is to show how these new technologies can help our clients stand out from their competition.” As part of this effort, Richards is leading the effort to build an Innovation Center in Accenture’s Houston office.

When asked about any advice he would offer to current undergraduates, Richards was succinct: “Don’t settle. Push yourself to try new things, meet new people, work on hard projects, live in new places, visit new countries,” he said. “Notre Dame graduates are multidimensional – continue that growth throughout your career.”

— Department of Electrical Engineering, EE Currents/July 2016