Full Circle: How Returning to MEM Continues to Develop My Potential

As an Engineer with 10 years in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry, I chose to begin the Northwestern MEM Part-Time Program in 2011 for many typical reasons: acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to transition to a leadership role in business, networking with my classmates for future career opportunities, learning from world-class professors, etc.  I also had one atypical reason for pursuing my Master’s degree: to someday be a professor.  Although I graduated in 2015, my MEM experience continues to support my growth and development by providing me the opportunity to return to campus and guest lecture on a regular basis.

When I began in the MEM program, I sought out to receive a Master’s degree that would someday allow me to pursue a Doctoral degree, a requirement for most professorial positions.  MEM was a “win/win” pursuit in my opinion; I could accelerate my current FMCG career, as well as get a step closer to my “post-retirement career” in academia.  At that time, I never could’ve imagined how much closer to my aspiration I would be just five years later, thanks to a chance conversation during 437 class and the on-going, post-graduation support from MEM faculty.  It all started when I mentioned my professorial ambitions to Dr. McNeeley. Weeks later, following the lecture where he brings in 99 branded product examples ranging from toothpaste to Pringles, I e-mailed him with case studies I’d gathered on the return on investment that companies in commodity categories had benefited from by differentiating their products through packaging design and innovation.  To paraphrase his response: “If you’re so smart, why don’t YOU teach this material!”  In other words, he was offering me an opportunity for real world experience and to add “Guest Lecturer” to my resume!

In response to Dr. McNeeley’s challenge, I’ve developed a one-hour lecture for students in Strategic Management that brings me back to campus every February and October. I’ve now done this three times, and after each lecture I feel more confident and benefit from Dr. McNeeley’s feedback to help me improve my delivery and effectiveness. Most recently, he recommended I assign a reading and issue questions in advance.  Students were well prepared for an interactive question and answer session that everyone, including Dr. McNeeley and Kim Kiely, Manager of Executive Services at Chicago Tube and Iron and Teaching Assistant to Dr. McNeely, was engaged in. Personally and professionally, I look forward to this trip every spring and fall to connect with students, practice lecturing and soak up the energy that comes from getting a group of brilliant people in the same room to discuss and debate a subject.

My advice to current and potential MEM students is to maximize every opportunity and interaction during your time in the program.  I am so fortunate that after mentioning my ambition to Dr. McNeeley during our weekly conversations, he listened and continually offers me these opportunities. I challenge every current and future student to think of a dream, goal, or business plan and apply it to their MEM coursework or extra-curricular activities.  You have a unique opportunity to tap into the resources that this program offers to accelerate your personal and professional growth!

About the Author:

Joe Rake graduated from Northwestern’s MEM program in 2015. He now works at Mars Petcare as Packaging R&D Lead for Care & Treats. He has held previous positions at PepsiCo. and Wrigley.



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