BROAD SKILLS AND PASSION

by Suzanne Curtiss ’14

PASSION.

It’s a common word with extraordinary power for new Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Economics and Business Amy MacMillan. She hopes her work will help make passion a guiding principle for her K students.

It was her “passion” for marketing that sparked MacMillan’s 15-year business career, or as she prefers, journey. Much like life, her journey through the corporate world was not a straight line.

“To some people it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

A beneficiary of a liberal arts education herself, the English major graduated from Colgate University. With only one business class under her belt, accounting, MacMillan moved on to the financial management program at General Electric. Although she completed the two year program and learned valuable skills, she realized that finance was not her passion.

“My heart wasn’t in it,” she said. “I tried to turn everything into a marketing assignment.”

From there, MacMillan enrolled at Harvard Business School and later secured an internship with Procter & Gamble in brand management for Folgers coffee. After graduate school she went on to work with the company as a brand assistant for Citrus Hill orange juice.

Two years later she joined the Sara Lee Corporation, where she worked for 13 years “in the U.S. and internationally, in every combination of full-time and part-time, balancing mom-hood with career-hood,” she said.

At Sara Lee she gained an extensive background in general business management and strategy, marketing strategy, global branding, new product development, advertising and promotion, team leadership and motivation, and profit/loss accountability.

 “I absolutely love new product development,” she said. “It’s great to come up with an idea. The real challenge is trying to share ownership of the idea with a team and motivate them to want to make that product happen and bring it to market.”

MacMillan believes the process of new product development to be “a lot like birthing a baby.”

“Your advertisement is like the birth announcement,” she laughed. “You send it out and hope everyone likes your baby.”

During her journey, they often did. One of her many jobs at Sara Lee included product manager of KIWI shoe care, and in that position she conceived a breakthrough new product idea for women’s shoes. MacMillan and her team achieved record incremental sales growth.

Marketing excites MacMillan because it’s largely people-oriented.

“You can’t just sit alone in your office,” she said. “Marketing is about sharing ideas, working with other people, and learning from your team.”

MacMillan is also drawn to other team activities, including sports. She has coached girl's soccer for a number of years, and “I manage to injure myself in a variety of sports all the time,” she added. (In fact, at the time of our interview she had just completed an early morning swim, part of training for her new sports interest, sprint triathlons.)

“I adore things that try to bring out the best in people,” she said.

Therefore, it is no surprise that when her family came to Kalamazoo she stumbled upon a career that she “loves wholeheartedly.”

MacMillan became an adjunct assistant professor and instructor of marketing at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business and taught there for seven years.

“My students always laugh at me because I cannot wait to get into the classroom each day,” she said. “I get excited thinking about all the things we’re going to do.”

MacMillan plans to bring this same enthusiasm to K, and she’s eager to return to her liberal arts roots.

She remembers the comfort she felt when she first set foot on K’s campus in 2003 for the Boys’ 18 & 16 National Tennis Championships.

“The campus felt like home,” she said. “It felt like my college experience; like there was a little pocket here in Kalamazoo that welcomed me.”

MacMillan credits a liberal arts degree as the “best preparation for challenges in today’s changing and complex global world.”

The liberal arts provides students with the broad skills of problem solving, communication, the ability to work in teams, as well as the ability to see things from the perspective of other cultures.

She is convinced that these broader skills are the most important to develop, given that the “marketplace changes too quickly to learn very specific skills only,” she said. “While those specific skills will eventually become out of date, these broader skills will last forever.”

MacMillan has already seen K students put these broader skills
"Liberal arts is the best preparation for challenges..."
to use when she guest taught Associate Professor of Economics Patrik Hultberg’s marketing class in 2007.

“I was delighted with the discussions that we had in the classroom, the diverse backgrounds of the students, and the way they wanted to push things,” she said.

MacMillan has no doubt that K students will keep her on her toes, but says that she welcomes the challenge to teach such bright students and work alongside the motivated faculty members.

She has worked with members of the K community throughout the years and served as a member of the Kalamazoo College Marketing Team in the summer of 2010 to help refine the College's branding.

“I have tremendous respect for College faculty and staff,” she said. Especially Kalamazoo College President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, she adds, “for her vision for the College and how she’s been able to work with so many groups of people to make it possible.”

MacMillan will begin the school year by teaching “Principles of Marketing” but is bringing along some “new twists” with her as well.

“Advertising and Promotion” is one of the new classes MacMillan will add to the course catalog and she is “spinning the wheels” to come up with more ideas. She is currently in the “rough stages” of creating a class that would combine gender roles with media.

When asked about what K students can expect from her as a teacher, she smiled. “My students laugh sometimes because I bring bags of props to class,” she said. “I’ll test things out; sometimes they bomb, and sometimes they’re really great.”

MacMillan also places a strong emphasis on class participation.

“We retain learning most vividly when we do the hard thinking ourselves,” she said. “It’s when a student makes an interesting comment, and we want to react to it. Discussion makes learning more memorable.”

However, the most important point she stresses is, of course, passion. 

MacMillan makes it a priority to motivate students and bring out passion about a topic by trying to make it relevant to the real world. She advises her students to choose a career path for which they have a passion.

“If you are passionate about something you will be successful,” she said.

Photos - Amy MacMillan, Assistant Professor of Economics and Business.


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