Summer in the CPG World
Courtney’s Career Switching Insights
What company were you working at?
General Mills, Inc.
What was your position at the company?
Associate Marketing Manager Intern (working in the Pillsbury Division on Cookies)
Why did you choose that internship?
Coming into HBS, I knew I was going to be a career switcher but still had a broad array of interests. I started narrowing these interests down and realized my top industry interests were CPG and Retail. Then functionally, I gravitate towards strategy and marketing but wanted to get general management experience having worked in client service at Deloitte prior to HBS. So brand management for me was a natural fit for the summer to try a new industry and function. I would highly recommend that anyone thinking about career switching into marketing or general management look at the major CPG players as great summer experiences with well-established internship programs!
What was the company culture like?
Coming from client service, I have seen a lot of different company cultures and can honestly say that General Mills is at the top of my list. Culture is key for me when making career decisions because I am a firm believer that you can find the role in a lot of places, but not the people, fit, and culture.
I would describe General Mills culture as collaborative and team-oriented with a lot of passion, energy, and purpose. While there is definitely individual work involved as a marketing professional with general management and P&L responsibilities, your job involves leading a team towards success with only dotted line authority for the most part which requires a lot of interpersonal and influence skills. Most days involve meetings on various projects and initiatives, and I would say the average General Mills employee has at least one coffee chat scheduled to catch-up with someone every day, and this quota definitely rises exponentially with promotions as the company takes personal and professional development extremely serious. Even during my short time there this summer, I felt the genuine commitment from all those around me to make sure I was learning and growing. One final thought on the culture. There is an implied 5 minute delay in the start of all meetings to basically account for the fact that everyone is catching up with others after previous meetings or ran into an acquaintance in the hall on the way to the next meeting. The culture is definitely a “stop, say hi, and catch-up” place!
What was the best part about working there?
Besides the people who truly amazed me with their various backgrounds and incredibly accomplished resumes, I have to say the fun brands! Who doesn’t recognize the Pillsbury Doughboy (Poppin’ Fresh), the Green Giant, Betty Crocker, and last, but certainly not least, the iconic Yellow Box Cheerios? My personal favorites are Haagen-Dazs, Larabar, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch though! In addition, General Mills has some truly cutting-edge technology and strategies towards the ever-evolving world of marketing with the rise in digital and social media that was really exciting to see and hear about first-hand.
What part needed improvement?
Another one of the main reasons I truly valued my summer experience was the fact that my projects had REAL impact. Everything I worked on was directly incorporated into the FY13 key strategies planning process. I worked on Pillsbury Cookies and was responsible for developing the product strategy for 7 different product lines that were also included in a holistic portfolio management strategy. I loved my projects! And also got to attend a wide variety of other meetings and events including agency meetings, licensing partner meetings, customer visits, and innovation sessions, among others. However, every internship is different and I loved hearing about what the 27other AMM interns were working on. One piece of feedback the others interns and I suggested was to organize an intern sharing session at the end of the summer so each intern could share their experiences and collectively, we would learn more than we did individually on our own.
What did you do before HBS, and how did your summer compare?
I worked at Deloitte before in client service and corporate development so my summer was about as different from my prior career as one could get in most aspects. For me, the main difference was actually working for a large corporation and being involved in actually “doing the work” versus simply advising and reviewing projects with clients. I did this during my time at Deloitte when I was helping restructure one of our offices in India, and loved it, so this was a natural extension. And switching functions towards marketing was completely different!
Any advice for students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Start networking with CPG companies early in your RC year. Attend the CPD Company Information Days, join the Marketing & CPG Club to hear about events, and scroll through the alumni database and set-up calls with alums that work at your top choice CPG companies in brand management. If you are a career switcher like I was, it is even more crucial to establish those relationships early to show your commitment and desire to try something new.
Not all CPG companies and brand management roles are created equal. Try to understand the differences and chat with as many ECs as possible to learn about their summer internship experiences. Last year’s ECs were single-handedly my best resources throughout my RC year! General Mills also offers internships in other functions. I had the privilege of working with Dan Serna, fellow EC and finance intern, in Pillsbury on cookies this summer. It felt like being back at HBS sometimes when we would remember an applicable RC case to something we were talking about and incorporate it into our projects!
Courtney is a true Southern Belle at heart that really misses sweet tea and good BBQ. In her spare time, she can be found planning her next travel excursion with fellow HBS’ers or friends and family she doesn’t see nearly enough.