When she received the invitation to move from a global conglomerate to a small company, Heather MacNeil Cox ’11 had a strong sense of what she wanted to do. After several years in brand and innovation management with Pepsico, a journey that began with an internship through her studies at the Kellogg School of Management, she was ready for a new learning experience.
“I was already innovating in the space and following the trends,” Cox said, so the idea of going to work for an entrepreneurial venture piqued her interest. The recruiter made an offer that would be difficult for any rising leader to refuse: marketing director for San Diego-based Suja Juice, a growing organization. Cox accepted, and within a year, the company promoted her to chief marketing officer. Within three years, company revenue had increased from $18 million to almost $100 million and Suja’s reach had extended to 17,000 retail locations across North America.
Cox credits Kellogg School faculty, career resources and the alumni network for providing her with the knowledge, support and opportunity for insight to understand marketing strategies, and how her unique skill set fits into the big picture, regardless of company size.
Empowering marketing leaders and the network
According to Eric Leininger, clinical professor of Executive Education, the School’s reputation as a research and innovation powerhouse makes possible not only the Kellogg experience for students and the Kellogg network for alumni, but also the convening influence for external industry partners that helps to drive their engagement with faculty, students and alumni.
For marketing leaders working in analytics, for example, the recent overhaul of Kellogg’s Data Analytics and Marketing curriculum for its Executive Education Program not only builds on the reputations of the School’s deep faculty bench and industry connections, but on a research-based approach to coursework and a responsiveness to the world students will enter upon completing their work at Kellogg.
Many organizations, Leininger said, are keen to broaden and strengthen their own networks, and at Kellogg-facilitated events like the annual Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit (MLS), they find they can do exactly that.
When selecting a theme for the summit, faculty ask themselves a guiding question, Leininger said: “What is on people’s minds right now that is important enough that they would be eager to take a day to hear the latest thinking?” Over the past seven years, the answer to that question has ranged from cultural transformation to digital innovation, and from organizational agility to building consumer and brand trust.
The summit has as its faculty ambassadors Leininger and Gregory Carpenter, the James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Professor of Marketing Strategy and the faculty director for the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative. “Our goal in everything,” Carpenter said, “is to create a community of people with a common interest and a common professional ambition.”
While the Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit is geared toward marketing leaders who are well into their careers, these leaders in turn look to Kellogg faculty for research expertise and industry knowledge, and to Kellogg graduates as the future leaders who will realize the changes necessary in a rapidly shifting industry.
Because of the high-pressure environment and high expectations for CMOs, it also can be a challenge to address issues once a person accepts a C-suite role. The role of CMO, Leininger said, tends to bear the responsibility for addressing industry shifts and being the catalyst for growth. “It’s a very difficult job with a short tenure,” he said.
It occurred to Leininger and Carpenter that it was possible to create the same kind of community as the MLS for new or rising marketing leaders. This idea led to founding the Chief Marketing Officer Program, a by-invitation program run through Kellogg Executive Education with Carpenter as academic director, and Leininger as executive director.
The primary aims of the program are to increase the CMO’s odds of success by inviting them while they are on the rise within their organization, or just after they are promoted, and to bring them together for faculty instruction and collegial problem-solving across industries.
What makes Kellogg special, Carpenter said, is that it offers more than individual courses: it offers a culture and a community that sets it apart from its peers. “If you’re an MBA student, you’re coming here to learn,” he said, “and if you’re the CMO of a major company, you’re still coming here to learn.”
The strength of the network: willingness to help
Lindsay Levin ’10 can attest to the truth of that statement. After graduating, Levin accepted a role in brand management at Pepsico that grew to working in global equity for Quaker. When the opportunity to work at the young health-bar brand RxBar arose late 2015, she recognized a special opportunity to push the brand forward, see a changing business model through its expansion from e-commerce to traditional retail and help build a company culture.
Her account of receiving the offer was similar to Cox’s, when Suja Juice invited her to join their team. “I just couldn’t pass it up,” Levin said. One reason she grasped the scope of the opportunity was the example Cox, a close friend of Levin, had set when she made her move about a year earlier.
Levin credited Cox as an inspiration in her decision to make the leap, not only from a global conglomerate to a startup, but also from a mid-level role to a C-suite position that demanded high-level use of soft skills, in addition to her expertise in a marketing function. Since she started, the company has grown from seven employees to 75 and continues to expand.
Reflecting now on her first days at RxBar, Levin said the biggest challenges she encountered right away were the shifting nature of the job, the inherent challenges of growing a brand, and the absence of the numerous “safety valves” in place at a large corporation that prevent mistakes.
This is the stage where, according to Leininger and Carpenter, the Chief Marketing Offer Program can be most useful to marketing leaders. “It’s about expanding the way they look at the problems,” Carpenter said, adding that a key aspect of the program is modeling the kind of shared problem-solving that improves the culture within a marketing function and within a company. “We have to create a process not just to convey information to them,” he said, “but to give them a vehicle, device or a process to share that with each other.”
Leininger described three groups that act in concert to provide this experience: faculty who conduct research and are leaders in their fields, industry leaders who visit and share their expertise, and students themselves, who bring their own extensive experience to the table and often “teach up” to the other two groups, leading to new ideas and relationships.
Levin completed the Chief Marketing Officer Program in Spring 2017. And in addition to drawing on her own knowledge, Levin knew she could depend on Cox, other alumni in the Kellogg network, and her former colleagues at Pepsico, who supported her in the transition. Everyone, she said, reaches out and supports each other, regardless of their current role and location.
Cox echoed that sentiment, pointing out that she speaks to former classmates often, sometimes weekly, and counts them as some of her closest friends, in addition to their professional connection.
Propelling Kellogg careers
That trajectory from MBA in marketing to strong professional network is the norm at Kellogg, said Liza Kirkpatrick, senior director of full-time programs at the Career Management Center. The crucial stage for marketing students and recent alumni, Kirkpatrick said, is their first job after graduating. Finding a position that builds experience in consumer-packaged goods at a major company, for example, will be key not only to success at that company, but to future flexibility when someone needs or desires to pivot into something else.
Cox believes that major-company experience is what made Suja Juice seek her out, and what gave her the expertise to flourish in her new role. Now in private consulting with other small, natural-food brands, Cox credits the experience she gained early on, at Kellogg and Pepsico, with her abilities to work with different teams, interact with different types of leadership across brands and to problem-solve in a host of different contexts.
But at all the companies where she now consults, she noticed that healthy growth and company cultures did not depend primarily on a group’s functional expertise. “Business,” she said, “is all about relationships and communication.” For a team to even reach the strategy stage, she added, they must have the fundamentals of communication and relationship-building in place. Otherwise, the team eventually falls apart.
According to Levin, that can be a tricky lesson for students, especially if they believe they need to demonstrate functional expertise over soft skills to compete on the job market. But it’s the soft skills, she said, that become more important the more leadership responsibilities a person takes on.
Kirkpatrick echoed that observation, and described how the CMC helps marketing students through a resume and interviewing process tailored to accentuate their functional expertise, while also setting them up with the kinds of skills they will need to grow into their careers, which has led to success for alumni.
Cox confirmed the value of that access, which she experienced while interviewing for an internship. Through the CMC, she put her resume in front of recruiters from companies such as Pepsico, General Mills, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble. “That was really when I saw the power of the Kellogg network,” Cox said.
Access goes both ways, said Kirkpatrick, and another aspect of the CMC’s work is creating a Kellogg-specific marketplace within CPG for employers, and maintaining relationships with over 20 of the top employers in the space. “The strength of Kellogg is based on the health of these relationships,” Kirkpatrick said, “because it ultimately creates opportunities for students.”
That confluence of talent, resources, knowledge, and employers within a robust academic culture and rich community of ideas echoes the observations of Leininger and Carpenter, and demonstrates the convening power of Kellogg. And it doesn’t stop once marketing students become alumni and are leading their own teams.
For their part, Cox and Levin don’t see themselves as merely recipients of good fortune, but as nodes themselves in the Kellogg network. They welcome classmates and colleagues, as well as new graduates the CMC, Kellogg faculty, and other alumni send their way for advice, something both said happens often.
“The Kellogg experience, network, and opportunities have been and will continue to be instrumental in my growth,” said Levin.
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