Earlier this month, my feature article “Master Marketer: How An EMBA Can Transform Your Career” discussed what an Executive MBA degree is and how marketers can benefit from it. Let’s take a closer look at the ROI stories of two of the EMBA grads I interviewed.
Path To EMBA: Scott Viscomi
Around 2005, while working as national sales manager for a leading “surf and swim” company, Scott Viscomi realized that holding big market share in a small-volume industry meant he also had to handle marketing functions. That gave him the itch to understand more of the business.
“When I finally got the gumption to apply to business school, I was not thinking about a monetary return,” Viscomi told me in an exclusive interview. “I was looking for a better understanding of the whole managerial perspective as opposed to just marketing and sales. I never understood the gaps between sales and marketing, marketing and finance. . .and why did the design team seemingly dislike sales?”
Viscomi felt he was experiencing a “tumultuous time” in his career because, while he was trying to stretch, he was stuck. “I wanted to be able to see all aspects of a business simultaneously and with clarity,” he said. “I wanted to be able to hold my own in a room with a boss or investor who had 20-plus years more experience than I did.”
Having started out in sales, Viscomi said, “I always had confidence in my drive, dedication, instincts, and people skills, and I thought what I needed was polish. Later I realized what this really meant: I needed improved skills in leadership and organizational behavior.” So he signed up for an EMBA at Pepperdine's Graziado School of Business.
Path To EMBA: Jeff Veldhuizen
Meanwhile, Jeff Veldhuizen, who heads up a digital commerce team at Nike, had built a solid career in marketing. “My early training was with Gatorade, Pfizer, TBWA Worldwide, and Best Buy in a bunch of marketing roles, so I had a good grasp of how to connect with consumers to create compelling reasons to buy product,” he told me.
Like Viscomi, Veldhuizen saw business school as the best way to expand his horizon. “I was in the online marketing role at Nike about two years and looking for a way to accelerate my career,” he said. “I wanted to move into a broader digital GM role, to lead a large group of people, and to gain some P&L experience. But I didn’t want to leave Nike since this place was and is such a great fit for me.”
Veldhuizen chose Cornell’s EMBA program. “I didn’t think the EMBA would pay off immediately,” he explained, “especially at Nike, where they place a major emphasis on experience within the company. But I did hope that it would help differentiate me in my field down the road.”
Post-EMBA: Growing Sales Through Global Brand Management
Viscomi took on the director of business development role for the HoodieBuddie fashion apparel brand at Jerry Leigh, and his challenge today is to take the successful brand global. “Post-EMBA, I now look at everything from a global, strategic marketing perspective. I am forever changed, both personally and professionally, as a result of Pepperdine’s EMBA program,” he said. “The values and ethical basis of the program also had a major impact on how I look at my pricing strategy, to whom and how I market products, and why.”
In three years, Viscomi has shipped more than 10 million HoodieBuddies—fashion hoodies that incorporate music-player headphones, a combo that you can run through the wash cycle with your jeans. How did he apply what he learned at Pepperdine to HoodieBuddie? “I was able to finally break the mold of being a sales manager. . .I performed a miniature Mallinger Survey [a cultural analysis tool], which I learned from professors Terry Tompkins and Mark Mallinger. This helped me to rapidly assimilate the internal culture as I tested the external market and studied the distribution plan that was previously in play. On a day-to-day basis I am involved in all processes—selling, branding, pricing, marketing, P&L, and cost management. I am hyperfocused on taking our new, but very successful, brand global.”
Post-EMBA: Growing Into An Inside Leader
Veldhuizen said his EMBA helped him find what he was looking for at Nike: “Three-quarters of the way through the program, I was promoted to a brand-integration manager job with increased visibility and responsibility,” he said. “The job took me out of online marketing, and I stretched beyond just digital commerce into brand marketing.”
Veldhuizen paid roughly 80 percent of the cost for his Cornell EMBA to avoid a five-year employment obligation Nike imposes when it subsidizes educational expenses. But the program seems to have clearly paid off for Nike, too.
Said Veldhuizen: “I just rolled off two major launches that delivered huge growth to our digital businesses. One was the Nike NFL partnership. There were contractual challenges between Nike and the NFL that I needed to work through to get custom footwear approved and into the product line. The EMBA prepped me to lead cross-functional teams through these complex business situations, and to know when to ask the right questions, get the right feedback from the right people, and keep driving forward under tight timelines. It prepped me in the sense that I understood what was important to the other functions and what needed to happen in order to be successful.”
For Veldhuizen, the ROI keeps growing. “It’s starting to pay off now, two years after graduation, in a big way. In a few weeks I’ll be promoted again. I think the EMBA helped me indirectly in how I handled myself in those complex business situations,” he said. “Salary-wise, I’ve seen significant annual increases in my base pay over the past three years. Not bad in a down economy where you’re lucky to get 5 percent from the S&P 500.”