Debbie Castro, Marketing Manager
Marketing manager for a global HVAC manufacturer
New Jersey, USA
What I Do
I joined [my] company in 2000, as part of their Leadership Associate Program (LAP). This rotational program requires LAPs to complete three to four six- to eight-month assignments over a two-year period, in various business units within the organization. The objective for candidates in the program is to learn the business, then to “place out” into a business unit where they can contribute to the growth of the business.
I am a member of one of the company’s brand teams. Overall, our team is responsible for developing and initiating strategies to maintain the brand’s integrity, increase our share of market, and promote profitable margins and sales. I am primarily responsible for serving as the liaison between the brand team and the advertising agency. Together, we produce all marketing material, including sales kits for our dealers and consumer and trade advertising. The position is not limited to creative development. It also includes analyses of the effectiveness of sales promotions and measurement of the impact of our brand messaging. Although our team includes marketing managers with primary responsibility for managing our commercial business, dealer relations, and our secondary brand, we all work together to do whatever it takes for the brand.
My first assignment was with a department called Minority Business Development, within the residential marketing group. The objective of this group was to target the emerging market of Hispanics and African Americans—because these demographic groups were growing the fastest—and to develop targeted marketing material to meet their needs. To help our dealers reach this untapped market, we developed customized marketing and sensitivity training sessions.
My second rotation was in e-business and customer service. There, I worked with the development team to implement a secure online tool to allow our dealers to access sales material and place product orders online. I had to sell this “product” to our dealers because it represented a fundamental change in the way they do business—in fact, many of our dealers weren’t computer savvy. I was involved in training and troubleshooting. This rotation gave me invaluable customer exposure and an understanding of our field operations.
My third and final rotation was the brand marketing assignment. And, in keeping with the goal of the rotational program, I have placed out as one of the marketing managers with the group.
What I Enjoy Most
I love the creative aspect of working as a team with the advertising agency and managing a concept from start to finish—from storyboards to development of the final product. This process can take up to six months from the time of initial concept development. I love trying to come up with the occasional out-of-the-box idea that could impact our business.
What I Enjoy Least
Proofing advertising copy and reading every single word is tedious but necessary.
Why I Chose This Career
I had been a marketing undergraduate, and I love the creative aspects of identifying what the customer wants and delivering it with limited resources. In addition, this career allows me to be both creative and analytical, which fits my personality perfectly.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career
You need creativity, coupled with a business mind. At the heart of marketing is understanding your customers well enough to think of new ways to reach them, yet being responsible in the sense of staying within the objectives for the brand and the business.
Beyond creativity, which is the obvious skill, you need solid skills in time management, prioritization, and the ability to influence. You are juggling many things at once. For instance, at any given time, I can be working with the agency on a new commercial or print advertisement, while developing a new sales promotion for consumer use—both projects are equally important to the brand and have the same timeline. If projects are mismanaged, they can have a damaging impact on our relationship with customers.
Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path
Don’t ignore the nontraditional marketing organizations. Anybody producing a product or service needs a team to sell it. There are many opportunities to be creative in industries you may not have considered. At times, I find it’s advantageous that I don’t have an engineering degree, even though our products can be very technical, because our end-consumers aren’t always technical either. When we sell a feature, the message can’t sound like an engineer wrote it. To me, that challenge makes this industry appealing.
Look at each past experience for the usefulness or perspective it brings you now. My industry exposure within marketing is varied, yet in each job or industry, I gained knowledge that is applicable to what I do now. My experience is that marketing organizations do not care as much about what industries you know [as] they care about your marketing expertise.
What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)
I had five years of full-time experience before starting the MBA program. After college, I worked for two years in a marketing role in the transportation industry for Metro in Washington, D.C., where I launched a program called Metro Access (managed by DAVE Transportation). As a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we provided curb-to-curb service to individuals with disabilities.
Then I moved to California for a year and was the assistant proposal manager in business development for the same company in Orange County, California. Later, the company offered me the opportunity to return to D.C. as the customer service manager for MetroAccess. From there, I went out on my own as a private contractor for Scientex Corporation, an engineering firm, on a preinstallation project for the U.S. Postal Service, as the manager of the southeastern U.S. region. While with Scientex, I was responsible for the recruitment, training, and day-to-day management of a team of four.
In 1998, I joined the American Red Cross (ARC) full time, and even continued there full time while I started the MBA program. At ARC, I was a part of the national accounts group, supporting the sales team in selling blood products to group purchasing organizations. This was my first not-for-profit experience, and I gained a deep respect for the different approaches to marketing that are required in this type of work.
After I completed my first year in the MBA program, I accepted an internship at the headquarters of The Hartford in Connecticut, in their personal lines group. I worked on direct-mail campaigns focused on an automobile insurance product. At that time, The Hartford was the only insurance company allowed to market to members of the American Association of Retired Persons.
Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)
MBA, Howard University, 2000
Bachelor of business administration, Howard University, marketing, 1993
In MBA Programs, I'd Suggest You Look For...
Recognize that there’s a lot more there than just the course work or the reputation you associate with the name of a school. To find the right school, you need to look at what’s behind the program—its personality. The gem behind Howard’s program was the collection of other people in the MBA program with me. They made the experience so enriching and became the personality of the school.
You should take advantage of getting acquainted with graduates through alumni associations or through whatever means the schools give you to talk with current students or alumni. It’s almost a 50/50 learning proposition in the MBA program, combining what you learn from the curriculum and what you learn from your classmates. My graduating class still relies on each other for networking opportunities. I know of three cases where members of my graduating MBA class got new jobs through classmates and the relationships at Howard.
During the MBA interview and job search process, I went on a Super Day trip for second-round, intern interviews, where there were a number of groups from other schools. I watched how they interacted with each other. An MBA candidate from a different school actually commented to me how it was obvious that my classmates liked each other and were pumping each other up for each interview. This reinforced to me that the camaraderie cultivated by my school was very genuine and, if not unique, at least not that common.
Look at companies recruiting at each school, and especially the backgrounds they recruit for. If you don’t see what you are looking for (the end goal), or if what the recruiters are hiring doesn’t resemble your background, you may need to keep looking for a better fit in a different MBA program. I saw that some nontraditional marketing organizations were hiring at Howard, so I had some assurance that my background wasn’t outside the norm for the placement statistics there.
There are pros and cons to attending the same undergraduate and MBA institution. I knew how the school worked, I knew the quality of the students, and I saw big improvements in the depth of corporate relationships on campus at Howard. Perhaps I lost some of the diversity of a completely different university experience, but the benefits of knowing how to work within a school’s system outweighed that concern for me.
Although I did an evening full-time MBA program and continued working full time initially, I would not recommend it. My advice would be that if you choose to be a full-time student, make that your first priority. I learned that it was very difficult to have two first priorities and still maximize my experience as an MBA.