Student Voices: Learning the Business of Marketing

“What are you hoping to get from this program?”  Every 12 weeks a new professor asks me this question. My answer has evolved a bit since last summer, but here’s an explanation of how I got here and where I’m headed.

I am a scientist by training with an undergrad degree from Notre Dame in biology.  I spent a summer slogging through Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Research Center in the UP of Michigan, counting dragonfly larvae, squatting in bogs at 3 a.m. playing amphibian mating calls, and herding fish with electric currents (yes, apparently ecologists think gently pulsing WATER with ELECTRICITY in the middle of the night is safe).  From there I moved to Florida State and got a master’s in biology and a PhD in neuroscience and then went to the Ivy League to perform cancer research. 

You would think with all that learning, there would be some business right?  My mom taught me how to balance a checkbook (not sure my bond trader dad could) and I had a high school accounting class.  I was a scientist who could pay his bills on time. What else did I need?  So naïve.

Jumping in with Two Feet

Fast forward a few years and imagine my delight when my then employer was acquired by a larger and albeit equally “entertaining” company to work for.  I moved from medical affairs to marketing, to be the brand leader for the drug I was a medical director on.  I remember the VP of marketing recounting the story of her sitting in Newark airport, relaying her shock and horror at having a PhD foisted on her to run marketing for one of the three brands the company would have. My experience in marketing at that point was nothing more than the fact that I was easily influenced by catchy jingles on TV. To her credit, she (and the rest of the department) jumped in with two feet and helped me through it.  Budget what?  Market research who?  But I knew right then and there that my skill set, while admirable, was all wrong for what I really wanted to do (and really enjoyed doing).  I knew I needed an MBA or some formal training in business.  I had a job that required travel, lots of travel.  I had a wife and two kids at home.  When was I going to get this done?

Learning the Business of Marketing

Fast-forward again to last spring and along came MBA@UNC and we had a match.  How hard could this be?  I had a PhD in neuroendocrinology.  C’mon, this can’t be that hard.  Right? I was in it for the theory and to learn some things that would help me advance in my new career.  I also had just switched jobs and was getting away from science and medicine and more towards the business end of things.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from this program, but I knew I would get something.  I had ZERO business theory to my credit.  So I jumped in with two feet for my FIRST marketing class last summer.  Mind you, I’d already been a marketing manager, what possibly could I learn?  Enter the marketing professor, Linda Jin. She wasn’t teaching from a textbook or a theory she developed.  She was teaching what was going on today with some of the biggest companies in the world.  She had the CMO from a Fortune 500 company join us for a casual chat one night.  To underscore the need for analytics, we also had a visitor from a partner of a certain social networking company.

More Than a Professor

Linda has this intenseness to her delivery.  She has a way of pushing you to the limit.  Simply put, good is not good enough.  Amy Chua has NOTHING on Linda.  When I wanted to complete my capstone in PowerPoint, she “suggested” Microsoft Word. I ended typing up 35 pages - no pictures! And I ended up the better for it.  Ultimately, I refined my approach to brand marketing, which I recently inherited at my current company. As I corresponded with Linda two weeks ago, she reminded me that just because she is no longer my professor doesn’t mean that I can’t call on her for advice. She might regret that offer, but that is what is so great about this program.  We are all in this together.  UNC is creating an amazing program and we are certainly getting our tuition’s worth in knowledge and networking.  Oh…and through all this, I found out two weeks ago that I got a promotion, thanks in part to MBA@UNC!  

About Jamie DeMaria: Jamie graduated from Notre Dame with a BS in biology.  At Notre Dame he was a football manager and then a swim team manager his senior year.  He earned a Master’s in Biology, as well as a PhD in Neuroscience from Florida State.  After, a brief stint at UPenn researching molecular causes of breast cancer, he moved on to the pharmaceutical industry, where he has spent the better part of his career.  Last year he joined WebMD as part of their professional education division, Medscape Education, where currently he is the Vice President, Education Marketing and Strategy.  Jamie is married to Haley, who is an author, and they have two boys, aged 9 and 7. In his spare time (what there is of it) Jamie can be found building Legos, throwing a football or playing Wii with the kids.