By Nash Wills, Co-Editor
‘Tis the season of company informational sessions. Whether virtual or in person, major shout-out to the CMC this year because there have been a lot of them. A wise person should make it a habit to attend these sessions as often as possible, but precisely because there are so many, the time commitment can be a bit staggering. Why is it a good thing to attend these, you ask? Well, obviously because of the off-chance that it might lead to a job, but even more so than that, listening to what different professionals do ultimately broadens your perspective on what’s out there. Personally, and contrary to popular belief, I’ve found that it’s actually somewhat detrimental to attend all of them, especially if you go into them thinking you’ll walk out with a job, because odds are, you probably won’t. And after a while you’ll become discouraged and probably even more confused about where you think the universe is supposed to take you next. Instead, what you need to do is take the time to browse the options and the content of the different sessions to see if they align with your interests and skills. That way you always leave either wanting more or knowing that you might not be as interested in a particular career track as you had originally thought.
I say all of this because last week, I did attend an informational session about a company and industry that interested me, and I did leave it eager to learn more. On Monday, October 17, alumni Griffin Kelp (MBA 2014) held a discussion on the company that he works for, one that any diligent researcher here on campus should know of: Euromonitor.
Euromonitor International is a privately owned market research firm based in London but operating out of 12 different offices globally with 1000+ analysts on the ground all over the world. Their renowned research covers a range of different industries, a little over 30 in total, but they’re probably best known for their work with consumer product goods like packaged food, alcoholic drinks, tissue and hygiene, and beauty and personal care. You know that exceptionally useful research database that we have through the library called Passport? Well that’s Euromonitor, and around 90% of Fortune 500 companies, as well as numerous governments, universities, and consultancies, rely on their content every day in order to function and develop strategies that can help them to keep pace in our rapidly changing world. Only half of what they do revolves around syndicated research—this is Passport—though. The other half is Euromonitor consulting, and this is where Griffin comes into the story.
Griffin is a client consultant geared towards working with clients whose global operations headquarters are based in North America. What he, and thereby Euromonitor, does is corporate and competitive strategy consulting, which is like management consulting, but not quite the same thing. If management consultancies focus more on implementing strategic findings, then Euromonitor is more on the front-end of things, concentrating on strategy and helping companies to answer big picture questions like: “What should our market entry or expansion strategy look like?” “How do we ascribe value to future trends like the boom of millennials and the rising middle class in emerging markets?” And, “Where are global markets headed?”
To listen to Griffin tell it, the whole company, and his job in particular, sounds like a T-bird dream. To begin with, the company’s culture seems awesome. Although their reach is widespread and they call a majority of the world’s largest organizations their clients, the privately held company is relatively small and boasts a “semi-historic but modern feel.” Because of the global nature of the work, international opportunities are abundant, and travel is an integral part of the job, but not to the same stressful extent often associated with the consulting industry. Griffin is “on the road once a month for two or three days at a time.” Also, they place high value on workforce diversity. At the North America headquarters in Chicago where Griffin works, at least a third of the staff is from outside the U.S.
In terms of the types of personalities that call Euromonitor home, Griffin describes them as “big picture dreamers; self-starters with an entrepreneurial spirit; holistic and strategic thinkers.” Probably the coolest thing he said about the company though was that it’s the type of place where “I can have the same types of high-level discussions we had in the classroom at Thunderbird, but out in the real world.” T-bird dream, anyone?
Because I found his job and employer to be so compelling, I thought I’d reach out to see if I could borrow some of his time in the name of Das Tor so that I could learn a little more about what his path to the present looked like, as well as to get some advice for all of you soon-to-be graduates out there.
Griffin’s professional journey began in Waco, Texas where he studied sociology and Spanish at Baylor University. Having always sought to answer the question of how to best affect change for good, he was initially naturally attracted to the nonprofit sector, which is where he decided to launch his career following graduation. After accepting a job at Habitat for Humanity through AmeriCorps Vista, he found himself leading groups of construction teams that built houses in impoverished neighborhoods throughout Waco. One night, about 8 months into the job, he was driving home and witnessed an incident that caused him to question the sustainability of what he was doing. Building houses was obviously important, but weren’t there other greater factors that laid at the root causes of the impoverished communities? Things like education, hunger, and opportunity. More importantly than that, however, wasn’t it his responsibility to use his knowledge to tackle these issues? What is the purpose, after all, of knowledge if one can’t use it for the betterment of his fellow human being?
This habit of continuously questioning the nature of change then led Griffin to an under-resourced school in East Austin where he worked as a bilingual teacher, and then ultimately to his last job before Thunderbird, where he served as the Regional Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. It was during his time in this position that he began to first notice how efficiently the private sector could solve big-picture social issues and lead the way for both for-profit and non-profit firms to develop “wins” in the social arena. Working with some of the largest private U.S. donors, such as the Wal-Mart Foundation, he was able to contribute to the Texas Hunger Initiative’s objective of bringing together governments, companies, and communities to redevelop the soft infrastructure required to move the needle on social issues like hunger. With the imposing goal of ending hunger in Texas, THI’s efforts have fundamentally reshaped Texas’s food landscape, and led to millions of additional meals served across the state. Throughout his time in nonprofit management though, he always saw the necessity for practical business skills, something he felt he lacked at the time, so he decided that an MBA was the next step.
During diner one night with a couple of mentors, Griffin expressed his thoughts on graduate school. The couple suggested a place he had never heard of before, but because they knew him well, he trusted their judgment. That school was none other than our beloved Thunderbird. And so, that is how, only four months after leaving the Texas Hunger Initiative, Griffin Kelp ended up packing his bags and moving out to the desert oasis that is Glendale. When I asked him why else, besides on the advice of a couple of mentors, he chose Thunderbird, he told me: “I knew that transitioning to Thunderbird would ultimately drive my ability to affect lasting change.”
Griffin’s “before Thunderbird” story shares similarities with those of a lot of T-birds. He had an underlying idea of what he wanted to do, but wasn’t completely sure, so he bounced around to a couple of different jobs. He knew he wanted something international, having spent a stint in South America and Spain where he learned to speak Spanish, but he didn’t quite know exactly what that would look like in terms of a career. Thunderbird changed all of that, however, with his most notably enlightening experience taking place in the form of a TEM Lab in Piura, Peru. The international project turned him on to the concept of short-term consulting, something he found a lot more appealing than the typical 2-year-long projects common amongst the large consulting firms. He also found in it the desire to work on projects that are global in nature, ones in which you can arrive as a foreigner, journey through a discovery phase, and eventually affect tangibly positive change.
For Griffin, graduation brought with it two job offers, one from Nielsen Holdings PLC, and another from Euromonitor. Any guesses at which one he took? Well, you probably just guessed wrong, because he actually took the job at Nielsen. Even though he was more attracted to Euromonitor’s culture and global ethos, the job they initially offered focused more on the research side of things, when he was more attracted to its sales organization. Although he did really well at Nielsen during the year that he spent at the firm, he found the effects of shareholder demand on the scope of daily operations to be frustrating. The job and the company just weren’t as compatible as he had hoped for in terms of ability to drive change and play a meaningful role in growing overall operations. And this is now the part of the story where Griffin and Euromonitor cross paths again, although they never actually strayed too far apart to begin with.
Griffin had made sure to keep the contact info of the recruiter who he had originally interviewed with before he accepted the job at Nielsen. They would touch base periodically to keep each other up to speed on better-fitting job opportunities. His tenacity eventually paid off, and soon enough they contacted him about a new opening that aligned with his interests. The rest is history, and now he is doing work that truly excites him for an organization that both demands and expects innovative ideas from him that help to power the organization.
Towards the end of our phone call, as alluded to earlier, I spent some time asking Griffin for some advice pertaining to the career search. In what follows, I want to share some of that conversation with you:
What was your strategy during the job search, and what advice would you give to soon-to-be graduates?
“When it came to the career search, I always wanted my work-life to contribute to the type of person that I ultimately wanted to become.” Griffin feels that employers “love to see momentum and motion,” and that you should “leverage your experiences and talk about them with people who will find them interesting while you are having them, or soon after they are over.” As an example, Griffin told me about an alum at Ernst & Young whom he spoke with about career opportunities while he was on the ground during his TEM Lab in Peru. Needless to say, the alumni thought it was pretty awesome.
Griffin also suggests assessing “where your skills and competencies lie, and how those can be leveraged for a first job—not necessarily a career.” If you can “communicate with the right people at the right time, and strike the iron while it’s hot,” then things will fall into place more easily. As Thunderbirds, we should always remember that our studies have been global in nature, and that whatever is happening globally is oftentimes a challenge that companies need help with. Griffin says we should market and take advantage of this unique characteristic.
Lastly, Griffin told me that when it comes to the working world, “I see two types of people: givers and takers. The givers are those who want to create, to add value, to push boundaries and grow opportunities. They’re a rare breed of people who are easy to spot; who show up for work every day with good ideas and the energy to implement and turn those ideas into positive change. By contrast, takers primarily play a functional role, and are prone to just ‘going through the motions’ on a daily basis. You don’t have to naturally be a ‘type A’ to be a giver—I know I’m not—you just have to proactively choose to invest mental and oftentimes emotional energy into going the small extra step to create and innovate. If you can be a giver, you will always be successful.”
Would you say that Thunderbird changed your life?
“Of course! From a career and relationship standpoint, for sure. Thunderbird has provided me with the right kinds of connections in all of the right kinds of places, and I can only imagine where they will take other T-bird grads later on down the line.” Griffin also noted that the school “fundamentally changed how I think about and perceive the world.”
As a final question, I asked him what he misses most about Thunderbird.
“Other than the Pub and regional nights, I miss just generally being in an atmosphere full of global minds, and in the presence of some of the best professors in the world.” As I reflected his sentiments back to him, it slowly began to dawn on me how much I too am going to miss this place soon enough.