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Alumni Spotlight: Tyler Hagler

Hagler enrolled in the Professional Evening MBA program at the Poole College of Management at the same time he was launching his own industrial design firm, Trig. Today, he leads an award-winning team of talented designers

As a child, Ty Hagler (MBA’11) could usually be found doodling in the back of the classroom or taking apart a toy and putting it back together again. He tried to take what he deemed the “practical route” by declaring an engineering major at Georgia Tech, but everything changed when he discovered industrial design.

“I discovered this field that combined my interest in art, psychology, business and engineering, and I took to it right away,” he remembers.

Now, with an MBA from NC State under his belt, he is fully equipped to seize the opportunities that come his way.

Ty Hagler, Jenkins MBA alumnus

 An evolving field

When Hagler graduated in 2003, industrial designers were still misunderstood by business leaders. “Among higher-level executives, the perception was that we were there to put racing stripes on whatever the engineers designed to make it attractive, but that we had nothing to do with shaping the product experience,” he says. “That attitude has really changed, partly because of people like Steve Jobs who demonstrated that user design and experience can disrupt entire industries. Now it’s commonly understood that good design is good business.”

Hagler first identified a gap in his education while working as an industrial designer in the merchandising strategy department at Home Depot. “Everyone around me would talk about financial terms like GMROI (gross margin return on investment), which was a foreign language to me at the time,” he remembers. Part of his team’s role was to field product idea submissions from inventors, and one of the products they considered came from NC State’s Product Innovation Lab. “I was intrigued by the idea of an MBA program that understood my industry well enough to put something like that together,” shares Hagler.  

Learning a new language

Not long after becoming aware of the Innovation Lab, Hagler enrolled in the Professional Evening MBA program at the Poole College of Management at the same time he was launching his own industrial design firm, Trig. Today, he leads an award-winning team of talented designers, but in Trig’s early days, he was feeling his way through the dark. “I had completed a few projects, but I had no idea what I was doing when it came to running a business,” he admits. 

As he learned how to run his business, he embraced the process of learning the languages of strategy, marketing and finance. “My favorite class was in business strategy, which translated perfectly to my work with clients,” he says. As the principal of Trig, he engages with clients to consider new product ideas and determine avenues to make them market-ready. “So much of what I do day-to-day is shaping opportunity, which is a highly strategic process.”

Hagler also found tremendous value in the Product Innovation Lab, where he worked on a medical device for the first time—a fluency assistant for people who stutter. Though the product wasn’t viable in the long-term, it piqued his interest in similar client projects. Projects like Trig’s collaboration with 410 Medical, a local startup in Durham, as well as the biomedical engineering department at NC State, gave Hagler and his team at Trig to support the design and prototyping of the Lifeflow Rapid Infusion Device that paramedics use to treat children undergoing septic shock. “It has been incredibly rewarding to play a role in changing life-threatening medical outcomes for children,” Hagler affirms.  

We had to break a lot of rules of product development in order to design the UVClean so quickly. This was a massive effort by the team at Trig, Voxelight, and ZEISS to go from concept to launch in 9 months. It is gratifying to see how enthusiastic Eye Care Professionals have been as they realize the time savings in the routine task of disinfecting eyeglasses.

Over the past 10 years, Hagler and his team have taken on more than 400 client projects. While some take years to develop, others go through an accelerated development process to meet the demands of the moment. Recently, Trig’s client work for ZEISS and Voxelight won Red Dot awards in two categories—Industrial Design and Innovation Product—for the ZEISS UVClean, a UV disinfection tool. Using this product, eyecare professionals can quickly and effectively disinfect 6-10 frames in just 40 seconds, improving the experience for users and professionals alike. 

Hagler thinks often about how to position his company for future success. “I’m fascinated by the concept of a company that can survive 100 years,” he says. “Our goal is to constantly renew and reinvent ourselves to create iconic product experiences for each generation.” 

The answer may be elusive, but Hagler credits his MBA program with broadening his perspective and giving him a strategic vision to contribute. “Looking back, the MBA was a catalyst for transformation,” he says.