From Roundtables to the Real World: My Experience at the Marketing & Management

From Roundtables to the Real World: My Experience at the Marketing & Management

Guest blog by Mason Yu

The Marketing & Management Forum, hosted by the Kilts Center, is a unique opportunity to connect with an elite group of CEOs, CPOs, and other high-ranking alumni executives. Students are invited to select two roundtable discussions that most intrigue them, each chaired by an alumni executive who leads an intimate and focused dialogue. To learn more about the Kilts Center and the student programming it offers, please visit their website.

As I entered the Langham, I braced myself to meet a seemingly intimidating group of marketing executives. Instead, I found myself directly engaging with marketing leaders like Leila Tovbina, the new Chief Growth Officer of Kyte, who shared that some of the key skills of a great marketer include a strong capability in marketing analytics, a deep understanding of incrementality, and exceptional communication skills—a simple yet profound insight that gave clarity on what I needed to work on.

At Marketing & Management Forum, I had the rare opportunity to join approximately 100 fellow Booth students to meet 11 senior alumni at the height of their careers. Divided into groups of 8–9 students, we engaged in roundtable discussions with one alumnus for a half hour each, exploring topics such as their careers, industry outlook, marketing strategies, and daily responsibilities. I was struck by how down-to-earth and approachable the alumni are, despite holding executive positions at some of the most celebrated companies.

Incidentally, I found it a really good avenue to discuss some key questions I’d been having since I recently took on a fractional marketing leadership role at a business-to-business (B2B) marketplace startup. Before registration, I was looking to connect with marketing leaders in the B2B, tech, and/or startup spaces. I chose to join the roundtable discussions with Abe Thomas, VP of Consumer Sales at Microsoft, and Leila Tovbina at Kyte, a series B rental-car delivery startup.

I had previously met Abe at the Kilts Marketing Case Competition last fall, who had challenged some of my revenue projections in my group’s presentation, and impressively, he remembered me from there. His thoughtful approach to engagement was evident in the way he interacted with the students at his table, ensuring the conversation flowed naturally. I could see how this meticulous manner is reflected in his professional trajectory; he has held various positions and ascended through the ranks at Microsoft multiple times, now overseeing several teams and divisions within the consumer products sector. Many of my key takeaways center on people skills. It’s fundamentally about building relationships both within and across organizations and proactively assisting others, even when they haven’t requested help. Simultaneously, it’s crucial to maintain clear, firm communication when expectations are not met.

During the next discussion at Leila’s table, I was most interested in learning how she was navigating the first 2-3 months as the growth leader of a startup (the smallest company she’s ever worked at), as I was facing a similar situation. What caught my attention was the fact that one of her earliest priorities was building a working relationship with the head of finance. This, I found out, was key to understanding marketing’s ROI and how marketing incrementality is ultimately measured. Perhaps sensing my curiosity about adopting her exact approach, she emphasized that marketing differs from one firm to another. She advised against applying the same playbook universally, noting that strategies successful in the past might not be effective in the current company because marketing is always evolving.

In both sessions, my colleagues’ curiosity matched my own, fueling lively and eye-opening discussions. While initially the roundtable format was intimidating to me, feeling like the infamous “MBA crop circle,” in actuality it allowed for individual respite and avoided the pressure of a one-to-one situation.

After the event, I was immediately able to implement some of these new mindsets and directions into the work I was doing and felt confident that I had the support of our alumni. This is the heart of what an MBA offers—the opportunity to make a real connection and gain lasting insight.

I would advise future MBA students to approach these kinds of networking events with an open mind and a readiness to engage deeply. Don’t hesitate to ask the tough, detailed questions that you wrestle with in your day-to-day academic or professional life. These events are unique opportunities to gain firsthand insights from those who have navigated complex challenges and excelled in their fields. It’s also important to find ways to connect what you learn to your own career aspirations. Remember, the connections we make here can provide not only immediate guidance but potentially foster long-term mentorship and support.