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Leveraging mathematics to become a leader

Author: Lona | Image: Lona

Finding professionals who can both lead teams and have technical expertise can be a challenge.

Kira Barclay (’03 mathematics, ’05 MS statistics) knows her degree in mathematics gave her the technical skill she needed to succeed — and become the director of analytics at
John Deere Financial in Johnston, Iowa.

“One of the struggles we have in business is finding people who can both ‘do’ and lead technical work, while being able to lead and motivate people,” Barclay explained. “A mathematics major gave me the technical skills I needed. Without the math or stats degrees, I never would have been able to get my foot in the door. I learned the required technical skills with my cohort and professors at Iowa State. That’s the key element: you have to get those skills to prove yourself and show what you’ve got.”

Mathematics as a launching pad

When Barclay came to Iowa State University, she pictured herself earning her Ph.D. in mathematics and becoming a professor.

But after earning her bachelor’s degree she added a statistics degree where she completed a credit risk modeling internship at John Deere and found she was able to marry all of her skills—technical expertise from mathematics and statistics and organizational leadership learned during her undergraduate sociology minor. She would later leverage them into a successful and diverse career at John Deere.

For the internship, Barclay used data collected by John Deere to predict customer repayment behavior and assist in the development of repayment communications strategies.

“I want to continue to stay connected to Iowa State, and have the opportunity to share some unique perspectives and have a positive influence to shape the program and educational opportunities for students.”

“The model I built in the internship was put into production at John Deere after I left, and it was used for a number of years,” Barclay said. “For my master’s program, I built a similar model for a different financial product.”

Barclay obtained a second master’s degree in 2009 in business administration in strategic management from Indiana University. In 2010, she started her full-time work at John Deere Financial in a technical role managing risk analytics for revolving and international accounts and customer management.

Barclay then accepted a position with John Deere Construction Equipment in marketing as the manager of discount and incentive programs. There, she led a team determining the borrowing rates for the public. In her new role, she gained international experience, and was able to further develop her leadership skills.

“I had employees in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and China,” Barclay said. “I had to work across different cultures and reinforce the John Deere way. Probably the biggest takeaways were the importance of spending time with people.”

As a result, her career then took a turn from technical positions to positions focused on strategy and leadership.

Finding support

Barclay credits much of her success to nurturing relationships.

“Take ownership of your career and surround yourself with people who will help you,” Barclay advised. “Work with a steering committee to talk about your training and development.”

Barclay has taken her own advice to heart.

“I have my own personal advisory board for my career,” explained Barclay. “Some are Deere people, some are family, there are people from other companies and academics. Trying to go it alone is a very risky thing to do. You need other people around you to keep you honest and help you move forward.”

The ability to both take advice and lead others added to her success at John Deere and has solidified her passion for giving back to her community. She spent three years on the board of directors of the Des Moines Social Club as the finance chair and the strategic planning chair, and joins the board of directors of Children and Families of Iowa in July 2018.

Barclay’s desire to stay involved in her community began at Iowa State.

“Community is important to me, and I have really elevated that as part of my career,” Barclay said. “I was involved in the Greek system as an undergrad at Iowa State and chaired the Iowa STAT-ers group in graduate school. I’ve been fortunate to continue to serve the community with Deere.”

Math for the future generations

Barclay joined the advisory board for the Iowa State Department of Mathematics to give back to the Iowa State community and help shape the future of the department, ensuring that students are equipped with both the technical skills and leadership skills needed to be successful.

“I want to continue to stay connected to Iowa State, and have the opportunity to share some unique perspectives and have a positive influence to shape the program and educational opportunities for students,” said Barclay.

With Barclay in their corner, the future looks bright for Iowa State mathematics students.