Elissa Ellis: Hello and welcome the Career Lab Podcast. I’m Elissa Ellis, Executive Director of the Forte Foundation. Recently, we brought the Career Lab to Minneapolis for an evening of discussion with women in all different fields of business. Kymm Pollack is currently a Marketing Director for General Mills in the Cereal Division. Like many women in business, she envisioned herself in a very different career when she was an undergraduate.
Kymm Pollack: I thought actually, I was going to be the American Ambassador to the United Nations. That was what I entered college thinking I was gonna do. I was always really interested in International Languages, politics, that kind of stuff. Actually when I graduated from college, I thought I was actually going to go into the Peace Corp and it was only when I felt I needed a back up option to the Peace Corp because not everybody gets accepted into the Peace Corp that I threw my resume into MetLife Insurance Company, they had a wonderful management training program and it was really my back up option but in getting interested in this program and interviewing, all of a sudden I realized, “Wow, maybe this is something that I would be really interested in.”
In the end, I did have to end up deciding between MetLife and the Peace Corp and I just really felt that the pull for the business job was ultimately what I really wanted to do. In fact, one of the people at MetLife that had interviewed me, I had finally gotten sick of asking, I had asked all the questions I could possible ask during my re-visit and so finally I said, “Why do you want me here?” And he looked at me and said, “Because whether you know it or not, you’re gonna be in business and I would just love for your career to start here at MetLife,” and that actually statement really stuck with me because my dad was a doctor, my mom was a teacher, I didn’t really have a lot of business people who were influences in my life. Then that got me off into business and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
Elissa: Kymm told us that what surprised her most about the business world is the broad spectrum of career options.
Kymm: There are so many different paths that you can take and it’s almost overwhelming. I think back to when I was an undergrad and part of the reasons why I think I didn’t even consider much business is just I went to a liberal arts college and there weren’t a lot of business recruiters coming there. Luckily for me, MetLife came there but I had no idea sort of the spectrum of all the different jobs that were available. It wasn’t until I went back and got my MBA I think that I was in a better position to take advantage of all the opportunities and to really craft a path for, no this is really what I’m interested in, brand management, which is what I do now. I wouldn’t even have known that term when I was an undergrad.
I think going into business, it’s just the sheer spectrum of all the different things that you can do, no matter what’s your interest, no matter what’s your passion’s. That was unexpected. I guess I thought of it a little bit more in a siloed sort of, “Well, this is business,” but business has so many different definitions.
Elissa: Kymm explained what a position in brand management entails.
Kymm: We think of ourselves as a bit of the hub of the wheel. You’re the person in the middle, directing the activities of all of the different functions and the functions could be finance or promotions, or product development, or market research, those kinds of things. All of the different activities on a brand that are necessary to make the brand flourish, somebody’s gotta be leading and directing that group of people and that person is the Brand Manager.
It really is much more general management than it is marketing. When you’re working on, as I was, Cheerio’s, I was the mini CEO of Cheerio’s and what I loved about it was … Well I loved the leadership aspect of it and I love that I was the decision maker on it. As people would, we’d get the agency in to create new advertising campaigns but I was the one that got to make the call on yes, we’re doing this or no, we’re not doing that. I really like the buck stops here element of what it is that I do.
Elissa: At the event in Minneapolis, we also talked to Elizabeth Niles, a first year MBA student at the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota. Those of you who follow our video blog may already be familiar with Elizabeth. Like Kymm, Elizabeth talked about how she couldn’t have envisioned exactly where her career would take her when she was an undergraduate.
Elizabeth Niles: When I think about advice to give to undergraduates who are thinking about or trying to figure out what they want to do, I generally just try to tell them not to put a lot of pressure on themselves. I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my art professor in college who said that you really don’t have to have it figured out until you’re 30 because I was freaking out a little bit when I was graduating from college. He said, “You know, you don’t really even know what’s out there so how can you necessarily even make up your mind?” That has been really helpful for me throughout the whole, basically for about 10 years just to know that I don’t have to have it figured out. It gave me a lot of freedom.
After I graduated from college I started working at a small PR shop here in St. Paul, which was great. I worked there for four years, I worked my way up pretty quickly and I worked on a variety of different accounts from business to consumer products, to education and I really got to see a broad range of industries and work really closely with people in a lot of different industries so that was really fun for me to dig in and understand what was going on in the world of business, education, other places. It wasn’t necessarily the right fit for me so I quit and I moved to Bolivia and I taught English for six months. It was one of the best things I think I could have done.
After that, I came back. I had applied to graduate school to get my Masters of Public Policy before I left for Bolivia and came back and started in on that and about halfway through my policy degree I understood a little bit more about the way that business fit in to the world economy and kind of doing good and some of the opportunities that were there and so I decided to apply to business school.
I chose Carlson in part because it is in Minnesota and I love the community in Minnesota. It’s a community that is very vibrant and it feels very alive to me and it’s where my friends are. So, that was kind of a no brainer for me but at the same time Carlson has great academics, it has a great bunch of recruiters that come to school. It also has an exciting initiative with the Humphrey Institute where I got my policy degree to have more collaboration across the University and work on more collaboration just because the world is getting smaller and I wanted to be a part of that new, collaborative effort that was happening at the Carlson School.
Elissa: We asked Elizabeth how she found her first job out of college.
Elizabeth: The way I got my job was I went through the yellow pages and I called every single PR place until they had an opening and I went in and I interviewed and I got it. Just having that kind of [inaudible 00:06:50] is a really important thing and it’ll make you attractive to employers in the future as well.
I think that knowing yourself and understanding your priorities will very much inform your decisions and so taking time to do that is really important. That may mean that you don’t go into a career that’s gonna be your number one career right after college. It may mean that you take a year off and you go somewhere abroad. It may mean that you do something really exciting and different that some people look at you like you’re kind of crazy for doing but I think it’s what you need to do in order to get to a point where you really feel comfortable in your own skin.
Elissa: Elizabeth and Kymm both emphasized the importance of improvisation and learning as you go.
Kymm: It is constantly evolving and constantly changing. I think when I first came to the company there was a bit of a question in my mind as to did I want to be a marketing manager or did I want to be a general manager? I did have that question a little bit and that was just something that I figured out as I went along but it wasn’t necessarily … It’s okay to figure that out as you go along. It’s okay … You don’t have to make a decision for the next 30 years of your life, what you want to do is just find something that you’re passionate about.
I believe very strongly that at the end of the day, you’ve got to get up in the morning, you’ve got to go in there, you’ve got to do a good job and you’re not gonna do a great job if you don’t love what it is that you’re doing. So, if you don’t love what you’re doing, I think you’ve gotta find what it is that you love but if you have that then I feel like, again, it’s just making sure that you’re constantly growing and developing and then you can go wherever you want to go. If you find that the next day you’re not nearly as happy as you were when you first started, fine, great, you’ll pick and choose and go and do something different.
It’s not settling. It’s not accepting the status quo, it’s pushing yourself and making sure that you’re always evolving and changing and if you’re not then finding a place where you can.
Elissa: Elizabeth says the diversity of experience she gained by trying new things is an asset for her now in business school and beyond.
Elizabeth: It doesn’t necessarily inform the way I do my finance homework or the way I think about a marketing plan but it’s interesting to look at the different experiences I have had and feel like I’m able to understand things on a lot of different levels that people in my class necessarily haven’t experienced. I feel like those types of experience, that richness adds a lot to, at least my education. I’m hoping it’ll add a lot to my classmates as well as we get into discussions but I think that, that’s where it’s really come in handy and I think as I move along in my career it will become even more so.
Elissa: Next episode, we’ll hear from Kimberly Hall. Kimberly started her career in Sports Broadcasting and eventually found her passion in human resources. Today she’s with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. We’ll also feature more advice for those of you just starting out in your career. If you’re interested in hearing more about what business school is really like, tune in to Forte’s MBA Video Diaries. We’re following Forte fellows around the country as they navigate their first year of business school.
You’ll find a link to the video blog on the Forte Foundation home page. I want to thank all of the speakers who appeared in Minnesota and around the country for our Career Lab events. To learn more about the Career Lab, visit fortefoundation.org
This Podcast is sponsored by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Visit mba.com for more information about the GMAT, test preparation, careers in business and finding the right school for you.