Senior executives come to campus to mentor marketing students.
The room grew quiet as clusters of Johnson School students and alumni broke off from chatting at a reception at the Statler Hotel in November to listen to Warren Ellish ’77, MBA ’78. A visiting senior lecturer in marketing at the Johnson School, Ellish was preparing to present a living lesson in the power of networks.
“In the next 15 minutes, you’ll really come to understand how small a world it is,” said Ellish, standing at the front of the room. He then introduced the senior executives who would take part in the Johnson School’s third annual Marketing Executive One-On-One Coaching Program.
Ellish didn’t simply list the credentials of the executives who had volunteered to coach marketing students on everything from job-hunting strategies to long-range career goals. He also mapped the web of relationships among the visitors. They included classmates, colleagues, managers and direct reports, business partners, executive recruiters, spouses and friends whose paths had crossed at the Johnson School, Frito Lay, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., Campbell’s Soup, and a variety of other connections.
The Marketing Executive One-On-One Coaching program gives marketing students at the Johnson School an entry into the world where the participating executives work. In the program’s main event, first-year students meet in private, 45-minute sessions with each of two executives, asking questions on any subjects they like. Ellish purposely hand-picks senior executives who are not currently recruiting on campus as participants, in order to facilitate candid interaction and enable students to freely ask questions and get expert feedback and advice on their personal presentation and career trajectory – valuable counsel most wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
The one-on-one format offers students a chance to ask experienced experts questions they might be reluctant to ask in a less personal setting, says Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, associate director of the Johnson School’s Career Management Center (CMC). “They have the ear of a high-level executive who was in their position in the past, who knows a lot about the market and about what it’s going to take to break through,” she says. Students gain insights they can put to work right away as they start their search for internships and full-time jobs. Beyond that, many of the students gain mentors who continue to help them with suggestions, contacts, and leads.
For Johnson School students who concentrate in marketing, One-On-One Coaching forms part of the Marketing Passport Program, an array of resources that prepare students to pursue summer internships and full-time employment.
The school added One-On-One Coaching to the Passport Program at the urging of Ellish, president and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group in Englewood, Colo. Almost as soon as Ellish arrived at the Johnson School five years ago, students started coming to him to discuss career development. After two years of counseling a growing number of students, Ellish decided there was a better way to meet the demand for personal guidance. If other executives visited campus, he reasoned, they could help more people, and students would benefit from a broader range of perspectives.
Program Grows Fast
The Johnson School launched the One-On-One program in Fall 2007. A half-dozen executives, all friends or former colleagues of Ellish’s, met in private sessions with first-year marketing students. In 2008, the roster expanded to 18, a mix of Ellish’s associates and Johnson School alumni. This November, 21 executives came to campus.
Ellish organizes the program, and Saunders-Cheatham works with him to promote it to students.
Marketing executive recruiter Joe Lack, MBA ’73, was a second-time participant this year. One message he always hammers home in the meetings, he says, concerns presentation: students must learn to make a personal connection in an interview. “I try to teach them that how you say what you say is as important as what you say.”
Randy Papadellis MBA ’81, chief executive officer at Ocean Spray Cranberries, says he coaches students because he wishes someone had done the same for him. “Mostly, I try to encourage them to be themselves,” he says. “I’ve always believed that success is based on leveraging your strengths, not dealing with your weaknesses.”
This year’s program started on Thursday, Nov. 5, when students packed lecture halls in Sage Hall to hear presentations by several of the marketing executives. Early Friday morning, more than 40 first-year marketing students arrived at Sage Hall for their coaching sessions. For the first time, the program also allowed second-year students to meet with one executive each, either to follow up with an established mentor or to gain a fresh perspective from someone new.
Students design their own agendas for their meetings. They come with a broad array of goals.
Bukola Ekundayo, MBA ’11, sought advice on how to make the transition from consulting to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. She also looked to her sessions with Papadellis and Ellish as a chance to rehearse for interviews. “I want to test out my pitch,” she said on Thursday afternoon.
Shawn Kim, MBA ’11, wanted to learn about marketing beyond the fashion industry, his area of expertise. He also came with practical questions. “As an Asian student, I want to know about the skills I need to survive in the U.S.,” he said.
Students in past years also came to the program with both broad and specific questions. Gerard Edwards, MBA ’09, asked Ellish and Papadellis how an excellent employee evolves into an excellent business leader. “I wanted to understand some things I should do over the long term to position myself to follow in their footsteps,” says Edwards, a marketing programs consultant with Dell Computers in Austin, Texas.
Kristine Woolery, MBA ’09, sought advice on how to present her experience in the not-for-profit world. “How do I make my position as a career switcher stand out as a strength, not as a weakness?” she asked her coaches, marketing consultant Michael Wien and executive recruiter Courtland Williams. Woolery now works as a strategist with marketing agency Wunderman in Seattle.
Strong Focus on Mentoring
While second-year students who joined the program this year could request specific executives, first-year students are assigned to their coaches at random. That’s done to make sure students focus on the mentoring relationship, not on trying to get a foot in the door at a specific company. “Any person they’re assigned to will be valuable as a personal career coach,” Ellish says.
The decision to invite only executives from companies that don’t currently recruit on campus also helps to keep the focus on coaching. It means students can talk candidly with coaches, says Kelly Quinn, MBA ’10, who participated as a first-year student in fall 2008. “You have the freedom to ask questions about yourself — where you may be weak, or what skills you need to develop a little bit more, without jeopardizing the impression you make on a recruiter.”
For Vincent Balagat, MBA ’10, conversations last year with Papadellis and Lack confirmed his decision to go into CPG brand management. The program also helped him to prepare for his internship search. “Part of it was understanding the skills companies are looking for,” he says. “The second piece was gaining practice in presenting yourself and talking about your experiences with somebody who doesn’t know much about you, and who obviously is very accomplished in their field.”
This year, Kat Stevens, MBA ’11, also benefited from telling her story to people who didn’t know her — Scott Sainsbury, MBA ’77, and Pat Cox, founders of the marketing firm Beacon Associates. “They gave me good tips about how to word things in interviews and tell my story,” she says.
From Williams and Len Herstein ’91, MBA ’97, CEO and president of ManageCamp Inc., Julianna Rodriguez, MBA’11, got advice on where to gain the skills she needs to achieve her long-term goal, to serve as minister of tourism in her country, Colombia. “They told me for marketing skills, CPG companies are the best,” she says.
Although a 45-minute meeting allows for only so much coaching, students who stay in touch with their coaches stand to gain a great deal more. The executives are happy to work with students who reach out to them, says Ellish. “I don’t know of any student, since we’ve started this, who has not gotten a quick response and time from an executive in a follow-up,” he says.
Without the entrée that the One-On-One program provides, it would take another ten or 15 years for most students to form relationships of this sort, Ellish says. “I don’t know how many students get to have mentors who are chief marketing officers or CEOs at major companies.”
Second-year students and alumni offer plenty of stories about help they received from their coaches. For example, while Woolery was studying in Barcelona last year, Williams put her in touch with an executive at International Dairy Queen, who gave her both an informational interview and a contact at a marketing agency.
Papadellis arranged for Michelle Colban, MBA ’09, to spend a day at Ocean Spray’s headquarters. “Without having met him at Cornell, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to go on a full-day visit and meet with executives,” says Colban, now an associate brand manager at Campbell’s Soup.
Papadellis also helped Tamar Shen-Orr, MBA ’10, who met him through a Johnson School student he coached in 2007. That contact led to an internship working on sustainability at Ocean Spray.
Seeing firsthand how personal connections can help to shape a career has been a revelation, says Shenorr. “I never would have believed that the power of networking is so strong.”