Women at Booth Series: Alumna Spotlight with Deanie Elsner

There are many ways Booth students interact with alumni throughout our MBA experience. Starting at Booth 20/20, a full day of alumni interaction during Orientation, to one-on-one networking, to Booth-sponsored talks, we have the opportunity to see alumni in many different capacities and to hear about their experiences at Booth and beyond. For this installment of the Women at Booth series, I decided to feature one of Booth’s most distinguished alumnae. She has paved her own way forward in the field of Marketing—Deanie Elsner, `92.

Deanie’s Background

I had the pleasure of having a round table discussion with Deanie as part of the Alumni Breakfast Series that was hosted by Alumni Relations and the Kilt’s Center for Marketing. Deanie is the former President of Kellogg’s $4B Snack business, managing iconic brands such as Pringles, Keebler, and Cheez-It. Prior to this, she was Kraft Foods first Chief Marketing Officer, reinventing the marketing capabilities within the evolving high tech and big data landscape. Deanie has 28 years of diverse CPG experience across both line business and marketing leadership roles within and outside the U.S.

Her Booth Experience

Deanie said she chose Booth for the quantitative rigor of the program. She highlighted the importance of this given that every arena of business has an underpinning of data, something that is emphasized in Booth’s marketing classes and beyond. Leaving Booth and entering the business world, she mentioned her classmates in roles such as investment banking or consulting didn’t quite understand her choice of career. But what soon became clear was a career in marketing is a career in general management.

Deanie’s playbook for success

Many of Deanie’s roles in her career required her to enter a completely new team and perform a turnaround of a declining brand. When asked about how she managed to successfully do this time and time again, she gave the following as her personal playbook:

  1. Be clear about the destination. You need to know where you are going and define the end goal before you can begin going there.
  2. Build a strong team. Once you know what the problem is that you are trying to solve, get them on board. This step includes embracing diversity in all forms and encouraging constructive tension while providing an environment where you can have an open dialogue.
  3. Take strategic risks. If you have framed out where you need to go, and who is going to help you get there, then you will see the strategic moves you need to make and the process of change will become clear to you even if it seems like a risk to others.
  4. Motivate and inspire. It is more important to celebrate your team for their wins then to rest on your laurels and pat yourself on the back for what the team was able to achieve.

The lessons I learned from Deanie

As someone going into a marketing role post business school, I really enjoyed hearing Deanie talk about how she views the marketing landscape and her thoughts on understanding the consumer. When asked whether it is important for a marketer to love the product they are working on, Deanie replied, “Your job is not as much to fall in love with the product as much as it is to fall in love with the customers who love the product, and figure out how to make them love the brand.”

She also discussed the importance of understanding customers who are already passionate about a brand in order to find adjacent groups with similar needs and interests who are yet to become customers of your brand.

Finally, when I asked Deanie what her advice would be for business school grads entering a new workplace, she said to go in with a level of humility and be clear about what role you are about to play in an organization. She mentioned that when she was dropped into a new situation, she would stay silent for the first 30 days and simply watch how things are done in order to observe the situational norms and eventually know enough to challenge them. Needless to say, hearing Deanie speak left me motivated and inspired to soon begin my experience as a Booth alumna.

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