Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2006Kellogg School of Management
In DepthIn BriefDepartmentsClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Homepage
Letter from the Dean
Faculty News Part One
Faculty News Part Two
Meet the new faculty members
Professor Buck named director of leadership initiatives
Faculty Research: David Dranove, M&S
Faculty Research: Alexander Chernev, Marketing
Alumni Profile: Steve Odland '81
Alumni Profile: Ted Hong '97
Alumni Profile: Tin-Chuen Yeung '87
Alumni Profile: Kevin Marinacci '96
Alumni Profile: Scott Dorsey '99
Alumni Profile: Jason Chen '06
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
Steve Odland '81
Office Depot CEO Steve Odland '81 meets with children participating in the chain's back-to-school supply promotions.
Alumni Profile: Steve Odland '81

On the right track

Steve Odland '81 revs up Office Depot with championship marketing and a NASCAR partnership that meets customer expectations

By Romi Herron

Since taking pole position at Office Depot in March 2005, Chairman and CEO Steve Odland '81 has driven the corporation to five straight record-earning quarters and an increase of $1.2 billion in sales, shifting the office supply retailer toward international growth and into the spotlight of the second-most-watched sport in the United States, NASCAR.

Through a corporate sponsorship with the automotive racing phenomenon, Office Depot's "Taking Care of Business" campaign gives millions of small-business owners — many of whom are NASCAR fans — another way to celebrate the sport they love, says the Kellogg alum. In addition, the promotion links NASCAR star Carl Edwards, a former substitute teacher, to Office Depot's school supply market, through Edwards' ambassadorship with the National PTA and his role as driver of the official Office Depot No. 99 Ford Fusion race car.

That bundle is fueling the corporation's overall growth, says Odland. At AutoZone, an auto parts and accessories retailer where Odland previously served as CEO, NASCAR's marketing potential was an obvious fit. At Office Depot, however, the match is just as logical, he explains. "NASCAR is an incredible draw for small business. It's second only to football [in television viewers]," he says. "Our goal is to give customers what we know they like. For example, through a recent sweepstakes, customers registered to win promotion space on the Office Depot NASCAR vehicle."

Targeting back-to-school shoppers, Office Depot's "Great Tools for Your Schools" sweepstakes gives classrooms a chance to win a hauler of new supplies personally delivered by Carl Edwards.

Odland's passion for marketing innovation stems from his longtime fascination with the discipline. As an undergraduate at Notre Dame, he grew acquainted with the work of Sidney Levy, an esteemed marketing scholar who would later teach Odland at the Kellogg School, where the future CEO enrolled based on its No. 1 marketing curriculum. During his senior leadership roles in brand management at Quaker Oats and Sara Lee, Odland knew Kellogg had prepared him well.

"The marketing fundamentals are the same regardless of what you are selling," says Odland. Still, the large scale of Office Depot affects the company's strategy.

"With nearly $15 billion in sales, Office Depot is one of the largest sellers of office products and services globally, so we compete with virtually everybody," says the Kellogg graduate. "Consider the food industry: Recipes are different all over the world, so even though you have similar brands, local tastes factor in. But with office supplies, there is an amazing consistency for products."

For instance, according to Odland, standard software is used worldwide, with only the languages customized. Office Depot's operations, spanning 36 countries, target consistent demands for quality filing supplies, printing and writing instruments, although promotions are localized. NASCAR, for example is the dominant form of racing in the U.S., while Formula One is more popular overseas.

To monitor customer expectations worldwide and develop effective marketing strategies, executives at Office Depot's Delray Beach, Fla., headquarters collaborate with colleagues in Europe and Asia and have instituted a global branding council to ensure consistency of look, feel and message. Improvements ahead include more delivery support for the company's booming Internet sales, which brings in $4 billion annually.

Reflecting on his team's success in driving productivity, Odland credits attention to detail among the key factors.

"Hundreds of projects all over the world, ranging from changing the store light bulbs to more efficient ones, to shortening the register tapes, to switching to DSL Internet connections," says Odland, "are all part of our direction to operate more efficiently and deliver the best value to our customers."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University