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Agility is the Theme at the Tuck Marketing Symposium

Marketing executives from Colgate-Palmolive, Wayfair, and others discuss marketing’s role in the rapidly evolving business landscape.

The digital revolution has accelerated the rate of disruption and change in the business world, giving established firms and startups alike new opportunities, business models, and ways of connecting with consumers. 

The key to survival, in a word, is agility: the ability to move quickly with grace. That was the theme of this year’s student-led Tuck Marketing Symposium, a day-long program of speakers and panel discussions featuring alumni and non-alumni marketing executives from brands such as Colgate-Palmolive, Ecolab, Wayfair, and B.Good, among others. Organized in partnership with the Forbes CMO Network, the symposium taught current Tuck students and event attendees about the breadth of career opportunities in marketing, how relevant principles can be applied in other roles, as well as what customer engagement looks like across a variety of methods and industries.

Deputy Dean Punam Anand Keller, the Charles Henry Jones Third Century Professor of Management, launched the event by tying the theme of agility to the Tuck curriculum, which has recently initiated a calendar and course options that provide students more choices and flexibility in their learning journey, and the agile nature of marketing in general. “The beauty of marketing is you can use it in any career,” she said. “I use it all the time as deputy dean. It’s an amazing skill that’s extremely portable.”

The beauty of marketing is you can use it in any career. I use it all the time as deputy dean. It’s an amazing skill that’s extremely portable.

With the rise of social media and omnichannel retailing, marketing skills have never been in higher demand. Dana Medema, the General Manager for Home Care North America at Colgate-Palmolive, began the symposium with a discussion around the question “Are Big Brands Dead?” The answer was an unequivocal no. However, big brands are under attack from small upstarts, she said, so they need to be agile. For her company, the quest for agility has meant finding new ways to connect with people, leveraging scale to personalize the customer experience, and creating more flexible organizations within Colgate’s parent brand. In closing, she advised students to “stay humble, show empathy, be curious, remain coachable, and become advocates.”

For Chris Fuqua T’06, the CEO of the healthy restaurant chain B.Good, becoming an advocate has translated into democratizing clean eating. His talk, “Managing in a Changing Environment,” highlighted just how difficult and labor-intensive that advocacy is. After spreading quickly around the U.S. and opening franchise locations in Canada, Switzerland and Germany, B.Good hired Fuqua last year from Dunkin’ Brands to refocus on B.Good’s mission and keep it current with the latest technological innovations in food service. Thus far, he has prioritized building a smart, humble team, creating an app and loyalty program, accelerating product innovation, and giving back to local communities. “Managing in a changing environment is a way to differentiate yourself as a leader,” he said. “It’s not just about what you learn in textbooks, but how you respond to challenges.”

Managing in a changing environment is a way to differentiate yourself as a leader. It’s not just about what you learn in textbooks, but how you respond to challenges.

After Fuqua’s session, participants were treated to a perspective on marketing from Jennifer Simek, the VP of pest elimination at Ecolab, a 49,000-employee business-to-business company that works with restaurants, hotels, hospitals and food and beverage manufacturers so they can be clean, safe and healthy. Simek has helped Ecolab grow by focusing on and responding to the needs of its customers, who are grappling with issues around clean water, food safety, and energy efficiency. Since the company has a relatively small number of customers, it can work closely with them to implement custom yet efficient solutions. For Ecolab, agility has meant keeping up with its agile customers.

In the afternoon, participants listened to Bob Sherwin, the head of North America marketing at Wayfair, explain how that company has made marketing a profit center. Sherwin was followed by Sarah Bird T’87, the CEO of Beyond Broth, who spoke on marketing agility to engage today’s customers, and Kyle Megrue T’12, the Senior Director of Strategy and Operations at GREATS, on starting a great direct-to-consumer brand.

The event concluded with a panel discussion on roles in marketing, which featured Katie Lynch T’16, Associate Director of Marketing at Wayfair; Kelly Miller T’17, Director of Market Insights at American Well; Jenny Djupedal T’17, Associate Brand Manager at Land O'Lakes; Morgan McLean T’15, Senior Brand Manager at Colgate-Palmolive; and Jimmy Valdes T’13, Senior Brand Manager at Danone.