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Defining Success: How One Couple Is Blazing Their Own Path

With the drive to achieve their own definitions of success, husband-and-wife team Joe and Erayna Sargent have helped propel each other along the way.

As fellows of The Consortium, the two first met at the organization’s annual conference in Dallas, Texas, in 2008 and graduated from Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington (IU) in the class of 2010. While they both went on to lead successful careers in traditional marketing — working for large companies across the country including Nestlé, MillerCoors, Beam Suntory and others — Joe and Erayna are now pursuing their respective passions: sport management and entrepreneurship.

The couple now lives in Kansas City, Mo., where Erayna is senior marketing manager at Intuit on QuickBooks but is also in the process of launching a wellness brand. Joe, on the other hand, is doing what he loves as director of brand marketing for the Kansas City Chiefs football team.

The Sargents recently spoke with us about their professional paths, the journey into entrepreneurship, what The Consortium means to them and their experience being married and working in the same industry.

At what point in your careers did you decide to pursue an MBA, and what led you to this decision?

Erayna: I was about two and a half years out of undergrad and in a rotational marketing program in the business-to-business (B2B) space, working for an office furniture manufacturer. I was at a point where I needed to decide what was next just by the nature of the program I was in. As I started to learn more about different areas of marketing and B2B versus business-to-consumer (B2C), I started to consider pursuing my MBA.

Both of us were some of the younger individuals in our program. I went in at 25, and Joe was 24. So, we were earlier in our careers. For me, it was really a vision of where do I want to go and what do I need to do to get there that prompted me to go back for my MBA.

Joe: I actually left undergrad and continued on to get a master’s in sport management. In the process of going through that, I was, similarly, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. So, in my second year in the sport management program, I had come to the decision that I wanted to be in sports business and sports marketing. I kind of plotted out the career that I was going for, which was ultimately to be the president of a sports team, and I had to decide how best to get there.

I felt like getting an MBA was an important step, so I decided to stay in school. I knew where I ultimately wanted to go, and I knew that business school was going to be a part of that path, so I decided I’d rather start there, get all the academic credentials and then go into brand management and ultimately transition over into sports. So, that is the path I am on.

How has earning your MBA helped you get where you are today? Are you where you thought and hoped you would be when you graduated from Kelley?

Erayna: I think my MBA was extremely important in helping me get where I am. There are some roles and companies you can’t get to unless you have an MBA. I fully recognized that, and I knew I wanted to get into consumer-packaged goods (CPG), so in order to do that, I needed my MBA.

Fast-forwarding to today, I’m no longer in CPG, I’m in tech. But there are other things that I’m aspiring toward as well; I’m a budding entrepreneur. The MBA gave me the foundation and the confidence to say I can do whatever I want to do as long as I am open to continued learning — I just had to figure out what that was and then leverage the connections that I made throughout this journey to get there.

I am not where I thought I would be, but it’s a positive. I thought that I would be moving my way up the ladder in a big CPG company. But over the past three years, I’ve transitioned. I worked at a startup for two years, which really lit the fire of entrepreneurship inside of me; I’ve always had it, but I couldn’t understand how I could do it. I founded a nonprofit 14 years ago, but for some reason, the idea of entrepreneurship was still an elusive one. I’ve spent the past year working in tech, which really opened the door to me thinking about doing my own thing again. So I’m not where I envisioned I’d be; I’m in a much better place.

Joe: I definitely agree. I think the MBA has been vital for me in a couple ways.

I had plotted my path, and it was brand management into sports. Just like Erayna was saying, the MBA is really the clearest path into brand management, so I felt like I needed it to get where I wanted to go.

After leaving school, not having any prior work experience made it a little tough to find the right job, but I finally did. I was at Altria first and then transitioned to MillerCoors and a couple other roles. Basically, the MBA was my key in, but once I got there, I think the MBA really set me up so that I could hit the ground running and learn the right things — the lingo and how to be a brand manager.

I recently moved into the position of director of marketing for the Kansas City Chiefs, and I feel like I’m 100 percent on the path to my ultimate goal of being president of a sports team. Without the MBA, I feel like I still could have gotten here, but I would have had to start in a job that I didn’t want to do. Having my MBA helps bring the right perspective and skills that I use right now in this director of marketing role.

Erayna, tell me a little about your path into entrepreneurship.

Erayna: We’re at the beginning of this journey. Basically, one of my job experiences caused me to get to a point of significant burnout. This was a really low point that caused me to question everything about myself and my skill set. The positive of it was that being in that space caused me to re-examine what I was trying to do with myself — what was my passion, what did I enjoy, what did I not enjoy, why did I allow myself to get into this situation and how could I ensure I didn’t find myself in it again?

The past 18 months has been a big journey for me, exploring all of that, and I’ve uncovered my passion for self-care and wellness, which is getting a lot of attention right now. About six months ago, I started with an Instagram handle called “Justalittleselfish,” which encourages everybody to take moments for themselves, especially working professionals; it is focused on the idea that everyone deserves to be just a little selfish — owning that, recognizing it and being proud of it.

Now, Joe and I just launched an e-store with products and apparel that are all focused on wearing your self-love with pride. My whole mantra is “work hard, self-care harder.” I grew up in the Midwest and was raised with a strong work ethic, and that has gotten me to where I am today. But, I didn’t learn until recently how important it is to take care of yourself along that journey.

Also, I’m working on a very big idea, which is a startup in the mental health space. I am currently refining my idea and doing a lot of customer interviews. My next step is to seek funding. It’s a big hill, but I’m excited to climb it and make a positive impact on the culture.

How have you helped with these ventures, Joe?

Joe: I’m taking on the marketing and the launch of the e-store. Also, I’ll be doing different posts to try to look at self-care from a male point of view. She’ll be focused on creating the projects and vision; I’ll be doing more of the execution on the marketing, back-end side, on the e-store. My main role is supporting her vision and being a motivator when she gets stuck.

Both of your current positions — and many of your past ones — have been in marketing or branding. Have these always been your focus areas and areas of interest?

Erayna: I’ve always been a marketer, even straight out of undergrad. Ironically, I started undergrad as a computer engineer and then realized that it wasn’t for me, so I changed my major my sophomore year and have been on this marketing journey ever since.

Joe: I’ve always been interested in marketing, but I’ve always had my eye on transitioning into sports marketing. It is great that I’m doing that now, but … I had some difficulty landing my first job because I couldn’t convey a passion for Ivory soap, for example, because I knew that was not where I ultimately wanted to be. So, I had to kind of reframe, and I started looking for jobs in CPG where I could activate sports programs.

So, at MillerCoors, I raised my hand to lead the NASCAR program on Miller Lite, and although I didn’t start with a passion for NASCAR, I am happy I [took on this project] because I got to work closely with Brad Keselowski on the Miller Lite program — designing the car and the new suits and doing a digital marketing program. Projects like these across my career were attractive on my résumé to sports companies. I could say, “Yes, I was on Miller Lite, but I worked with NASCAR, I worked with HBCU football, I worked with NBA teams, I worked with 50 Cent and the NCAA” — all these sports and entertainment programs within quote unquote traditional CPG brand marketing. I always tried to use that as a stepping stone to get to the specific type of marketing that I wanted to be in, but marketing was always my focus.

What has your experience been like being married and working in the same industry? Is it challenging, or do you find that it helps you learn from one another and grow?

Erayna: I think it helps us learn and grow. What’s interesting is that although we both are in marketing and both of our degrees are from the same school and same program, our marketing experiences are very different. As Joe has said, he’s really focused on doing things that are more in the activation world, getting him closer to sports. My focus has been more of the traditional path, so I do a lot more work in traditional marketing management: forecasting, business planning, business strategy, brand identity, innovation pipeline. Most of my career has been in food, so I joke [about the fact] that I get the food, and Joe gets passes to the cool events.

Joe: Just like Erayna said, my core has been about activation and taking the brand essence and translating that to a live event or sports activation. So, while we have the same degree from the same school, we definitely took two different paths, which I think keeps it interesting.

Erayna: It’s a different perspective on the same type of challenges. I’ll work on projects and I could have never thought of it from Joe’s perspective. He’s able to build on my ideas and vice versa.

What do you enjoy most about your current positions and companies?

Joe: I’m about three months in with the Chiefs, and so far, I definitely enjoy it. I have a team, so I’m managing their workload and trying to position them for success.

Everything that I enjoy doing, like fantasy football or just generally talking about football, now is market research. It really has turned what I enjoy doing into my job, which is probably what I like the most.

As far as the company itself, the Chiefs are a really well-respected organization in the league; that means I work with the NFL on a lot of league initiatives. It certainly helps that the team is exciting and was a couple plays away from the Super Bowl. It’s great to now be able to say that everything I was working toward, I’m now living it.

Erayna: Intuit is a good company. I think they really do care about their employees and doing what’s right for their customers. For me, coming from CPG, I was intimidated by the concept of tech because the job titles are different, and there was this lack of understanding of how a CPG brand translates into tech. I’m the marketing lead for QuickBooks in the retail channel, so there are a lot of aspects of my job that are very similar to my past life.

While there is also lot of learning and understanding of how products are built and how tech works, it means I’m able to continue to learn and expand my knowledge. They did a great job helping me understand some of the nuances and differences, but I’m also valued for my previous experience because it’s a skill set that they don’t naturally groom in tech, so they value my CPG traditional brand background.

What role has The Consortium played in your professional life, and how do you stay involved?

Erayna: I don’t think I’d be where I am without The Consortium. I definitely would not have gone to business school when I did and would have missed out on the exposure to different career paths and possibilities.

Joe: The Consortium was so great. Even before I started school, I remember I went to LinkedIn and searched “Indiana Kelley Consortium” and reached out to people blind. So many people got back to me and gave me their time. Even before I got into school, I was getting caught up and learning the lingo. I definitely took it for granted until I got into positions and saw people who didn’t know how to be effective in a brand management role. You have to learn how to track your numbers, you have to say things a certain way and present in a relevant way. All of the things I took for granted, I learned naturally through the experience of The Consortium.

If anybody reaches out to me through The Consortium or just puts “Consortium” in the title of their message, I get back to them and try to lend them my expertise. People were so helpful when I started with The Consortium, so I’m happy to give back to anybody who reaches out.

Erayna: We participate in networking events and panels, especially through IU — they’ll have special Consortium events. We’ve gone back for Consortium events on campus and have served as recruiters for our companies. We help where we can.

We keep moving around the country, so it’s a little hard to commit to something long term, but we definitely answer emails, do informational interviews, get people prepped, do referrals for jobs and things of that nature.

The careers we have today started because of The Consortium.

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