Pepsico becomes a stepping stone to Coke.
My biggest concern when I was evaluating MBA programs was making sure I was going to get some kind of mentorship. I wanted experienced leaders guiding me. I also wanted to make sure I’d be challenged in the areas that I wasn’t already strong in—I knew marketing, so I wanted to be pushed in finance and accounting. I was also looking for a place where I’d have plenty of mentorship opportunities, which made Williamsburg itself one of the attractions of William & Mary. There’s a pretty big community of retired and semi-retired executives living in the area. That, combined with the Executive Partner (EP) program, made me pretty confident I’d find the network and the guidance I was looking for.
Rick Spatz is head of the Executive Partner program, and I think he epitomizes what makes that program special. He used to work at Publicis, the global advertising giant based in France. He’s very experienced and very supportive, but also very blunt. He’ll recognize great effort, but he’ll definitely call out a poor one. He knew what I could do, and he made sure I lived up to it.
Spatz co-teaches a business to consumer marketing class with Professor Olver. It’s a hands on class, and we worked directly with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. We had to do a brand and category analysis of a hot dog brand that Smithfield owns to help them decide if they should expand into a new market. The analysis technique we used was very data-driven. That has really helped me out at Coke, my current employer, because they use the same analysis technique for its brands.
The funny thing about me landing at Coke is that Pepsi helped me get in the door. As a William & Mary NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBA) Scholar, I was invited to participate in a marketing challenge sponsored by Pepsico. Pepsi was using a smart vending machine that would interact with your phone. Our challenge was to develop ways to monetize that interaction. So I pulled together a culturally diverse team that together had the right combination of IT, finance, and marketing experience to tackle the job. Of the 21 teams participating, ours was one of three to make it to the final round. We went on to win the competition and were invited to present our recommendations to the Pepsico board. They were so impressed they invited us back for a second presentation. Between the two, I got called for a second interview at Coke. I was honest with them about the Pepsico competition, and rather than holding it against me, they were thrilled.
Now I’m part of Coke’s Business Leadership Program. Every six months for two years I get rotated to another position with the goal of developing the skill set of a general manager. It’s the only program at Coke that’s cross-disciplinary and international—it’s a lot like W&M in that way. It’s a fairly new program and I’m one of only five people in program. They keep it small to ensure all the participants have good positions—again, kind of like W&M. And everyone from the inaugural class is now in a director position.