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.
What are some activities you were involved with outside of class? How did you balance your time?
I was mainly involved with Net Impact. I was a first-year representative and the Vice President my second year. I organized activities for our class to raise awareness on issues like clean water sourcing around the world and thoughtful discussions on topics like social enterprise models and what it means to be a B-Corporation. I also spent time as a student advisor for the Career Team and was an active member of NSHMBA, the National Society of Hispanic MBA, a non-profit group.
I balanced my time by spending more time in my weak subject matter areas (thank you, Fernando, for being the most amazing graduate assistant), and just catching the big themes in functional areas I grasped better, whether it was due to prior experiences or simply having a better aptitude for it. A semester in, it was obvious I couldn’t absorb every theory, but it wasn’t necessary.
How has your cohort/classmates influenced your MBA experience?
All around. From a strengthened sense of adaptability and flexibility due to the cultural diversity my cohort had, to long-term friendships I now hold dear, like that with my friend Allison, who’s an HR genius. Earning your MBA is a demanding and challenging time, but like most things in life, people make it better.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue an MBA? What inspired you?
I’d been considering it for a while, almost since undergraduate graduation, it was always in the plan. I didn’t actually put pen to paper though until years later when I started thinking about my long-term potential career path with and without an MBA. Before this, it was more around building my brain on strategic frameworks. When the time seemed right, however, my reasons were more practical. Things from then on went by pretty swiftly. My apartment lease in New York would be up in six months so I sent out applications, packed everything up and chose to move back to Virginia.
Did you do an internship during your MBA? How did that experience influence your education and career?
I worked at an NGO, RARE, in Arlington, VA the summer between my first and second years. It was an empowering and enlightening experience I’d never trade. I managed their annual global conservancy contest, called “Solution Search”. My role called for wearing multiple hats, from acting PR communications chair to steward the contest announcement to relevant groups and organizations around the world, to social media lead, to keeping the conversation and excitement going once the contest was live and the applications were coming in. I enjoyed both late night calls I had with applicants in Africa via Skype and the collaboration my manager Katie and I had throughout the entire process. It taught me the vigor and passion organizations like RARE have and increased my inclination for corporate social responsibility. Ultimately, I accepted an offer with Coca-Cola after reading their sustainability report and contributions to communities. While at surface-level very different than my internship experience, both RARE and Coca-Cola collaborate with field experts and partners to promote change and both understand the value of how scale creates a larger net impact. Now in the Coca-Cola system, I am a member of the “Planet Team” part of the Millennial Voices’ corporate groups.
Advice for future applicants
If you had the chance to do your MBA program again, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?
I’d plan earlier. I was very career-focused and worked long days before earning my MBA. I still work hard but I balance the workload better. If I would have planned earlier, I could have applied to scholarships like the Consortium to reduce costs and to expand my MBA network, before even starting! I’d also take a few more trips with my cohort mates. Many were international students and traveled during school breaks. If I were to relive my experience, I’d catch up with them for a few of the trips, even if it were to places I’ve already been to.
What is it like to transition back to school after being out for a few years? What advice can you offer students returning for their MBA?
It was like night and day for me. A lot of that, though, had to do with the major city differences between Brooklyn, NY and Williamsburg, VA, then school itself. Regarding the classroom setting, however, I remember it taking me a few weeks to get my footing, as I was used to meetings, virtual and live training, anything but sitting in a classroom for an extended period of time. Teamwork was also pretty different as we were assigned project teams that would be year-long the first year. At work, this was true for the core team, but we’d have cross-functional partners that would change depending on the project scope. For incoming MBA candidates, I’d suggest meeting your teammates for coffee before the start of class for soft introductions and to get a sense of working styles. This core team will be important inside and outside the classroom. For the physical transition itself and to reset routines, I’d suggest getting to know your new city and starting a balanced regimen as soon as possible. In my prior life, I wouldn’t have done this at all. Now that I’ve lived in multiple cities and am completing a short-term assignment outside the US, I’d say the best way to have a fast start is to recalibrate and plan a daily practice that works well for you.