Since starting my Full-time MBA at the University of Wisconsin I’ve had family, friends, former colleagues, potential employers and my current peers ask me about my career path and why I’m interested in Brand and Product Management.  I’ve gotten great at the sixty-second elevator pitch, but as I near the halfway point of my last year I have been reflecting more on my journey, what brought me here, and how specializing in Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was the right choice for me.

Prior to starting my Full-time MBA at the Wisconsin School of Business I was an Airman in the United States Air Force. Confused about how being in the Air Force translates to pursuing brand and product management?  Keep reading.

Close_Film SetBefore the military, I worked in the film industry, and for most of my childhood and teenage years lived to create stories out of moving pictures.  This love affair with stories took me from the Rocky Mountains of Montana to Los Angeles where I completed my undergraduate degree, began working on films and learning the craft.  I struck film student gold when I was awarded a fellowship by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and given grants by Panavision and Arri film cameras as well as Eastman Kodak.  That opportunity led to commercials, I began working on movie trailers for Disney-Pixar and on ads for brands and products. I loved working on advertisements and communicating creatively about brands. It was on a Nestle commercial where I encountered a Brand Manager for the first time, and overheard how data and consumer insights were the inspiration to pursue the advertisement.  Repeated experiences like I had on the Nestle film set opened my eyes to the world of marketing and the some of the strategies behind brand awareness and loyalty, and pushed me to pursue more marketing specific film and video opportunities. Fast forward four years, I was working in the marketing department for a non-profit and enjoying my position as a digital media and video producer leveraging insights, empathizing with our constituents to tell stories, and building loyalty to our mission.  However, I felt I was not meeting my full potential, I had the desire to be a leader and I wanted to fulfill what I saw as an obligation.  So, I joined the United States Air Force.

The military was both a remarkable, and not surprisingly, a challenging opportunity.  I decided to pursue Project Management in the Air Force because of the unique leadership challenges and crossovers.  It was what I expected and more.  Some of my normal responsibilities were influencing and managing external and internal stakeholders, working with our operations team and engineers, as well as managing contracts and budgets, and ensuring the quality completion of large scale multimillion dollar projects.  I also learned quickly that leadership in the Air Force is a 24/7 job, and I found myself not only responsible for my projects but also for the well-being of others and their families on and “off” the clock.  Deployments and low manning emphasized this part of my job even more.  Stress is in the job description in the military, and I learned quickly that being a leader also meant being a mentor, an advocate, a friend and much more. My goal was achieved, I was getting to serve my country, I was getting to lead in a meaningful way, but still I thought I could achieve more.

Perhaps fatefully, I found myself with some time to reflect and look ahead due to a service related injury. I began piecing together what my ideal career would look like.  I knew I missed marketing to consumers and building loyalty. I also wanted to leverage my military experience leading cross-functional teams and the unique skills I had gained during that time, and I knew I wanted the opportunity to be both analytical and creative.  With those things in mind, I began researching, and it did not take long until I realized I was describing something I had encountered before, brand management.  I set out on a mission to learn as much as I could about brand management through web research and phone calls, and those efforts led me to an MBA Conference where I first learned about the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Full-time MBA and the Center for Brand and Product Management. Brand Management and the Center for Brand and Product Management resonated with me.  I still had time left to serve, and over the next two years in the Air Force I became more aware of my affinity for brands.  Whether it was overseas or stateside, I found myself analyzing my own purchase behavior, and devouring content on brand strategy and marketing. I also began pursuing additional educational opportunities where I was stationed to round out my analytical skills.  The more I learned, the more I was sure that I could thrive and excel in brand and product management.  Convinced, I applied to be part of the Class of 2018.

Now, I’m halfway through my second year and I could not be more confident that I made the right choice.  Each facet has been helpful in my career goals.  In Marketing Analytics, I learned more about how to transform raw data into insights.  CBPM Applied Learnings and Information Sessions led by leading CPGs covered topics ranging from retailers to creative ad campaigns. Brand Strategy provided a deeper understanding of brand loyalty on a cultural level, empathizing with consumers, and the social responsibilities that we as future brand managers have. I could keep going, but my decision to attend UW-Madison has been affirmed time and again through the curriculum, structure of the program, my peers and the faculty.  Additionally, as a Veteran, I know that I made the right choice too.  I have had the opportunity to lead and work with Veterans in all the MBA specializations and across the campus. I have seen firsthand how the military prepares individuals for a Full-time MBA, and that our unique voice is appreciated in the Full-time MBA. This sentiment is why in my second year I am also working as a Veteran Liaison for prospective military applicants, and striving to communicate how military skills translate to careers like brand management.

How does my story of being in the Air Force translate to pursuing brand and product management?  I’d say that it translates exceptionally well, but I needed the Center for Brand and Product Management to make the transition and to help marry together my creative film background and leadership experience in the military into a brand manager package.  I’m excited to be part of this program, to have already accepted a full-time job offer in brand management after graduation, and I look forward to giving back to future ‘brandies’ the same way others have given back to me.

Ryan_Board Meeting