Not many MBA candidates find themselves prepping for the GMAT in the middle of the Pacific Ocean aboard a hulking U.S. Navy ship. But that’s exactly where Chris Brudzinski, ’17 MBA, began his journey from the Marine Corps to the Carlson School in 2015.
The Twin Cities-area native had known he wanted to leave the military for a while, but choosing a path forward wasn’t as straightforward. However, after spending nearly five years leading teams of Marines as an air support control officer—essentially a management position—he was keen to find a new career that would offer a similar level of responsibility and leadership.
“I wanted a way to take a step forward,” says Brudzinski, whose time in the Marines included a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan and seven months sailing the Pacific as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“I felt like I had done some things and gained a certain level of experience. Just because I was going to do something different, I didn’t want to have to feel like I was taking a step backward.”
He’s not, thanks to his MBA education at Carlson, which he calls “a huge success.” After graduating in May, Brudzinski will parlay his degree and the real-world experience he gained in the Carlson Brand Enterprise into an associate marketing manager position at Land O’Lakes.
It’s a delightfully unexpected direction for Brudzinski, who readily admits he didn’t really know what marketing was when he started the Full-Time MBA Program.
“I think most people, when you hear marketing, think more about advertising, kind of the softer part of it,” he says, referencing Mad Men.
Instead, as he worked on projects for Aspirity Energy, the Schwan Food Company, and Polaris—segmenting customer groups, building consumer profiles, analyzing consumer perceptions, and more—through the Carlson Brand Enterprise, he gained a much more nuanced understanding of the discipline.
“You’re dealing with broader marketing strategy questions that companies have—and all different types of companies—so you get exposed to some actual, real-world problems that companies deal with,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to say, ‘OK I feel like I’ve learned some stuff. Let’s see how it actually works out in practice.’”
Brudzinski’s work in the Brand Enterprise, along with a summer internship at Land O’Lakes, honed his practical marketing skills. But he also learned that his military experience was surprisingly relevant preparation for a brand management role at a large company. That realization, he says, helped push aside thoughts of self-doubt that told him he was behind his classmates. After all, leading a cross-functional team was his job in the Marines.
“The unit I worked on, we had communications Marines, we had logistics Marines, we had air support Marines—there’s all sorts of different jobs. They’re the subject-matter experts on their particular piece and you make sure it all fits together,” he says.
“And that’s really what brand management is, at least in the types of roles I was looking at: You’re essentially running a brand or a product line that you’re ultimately responsible for, and then you have a team of people who help you manage that brand or product.
"You’re going to have your finance people, your supply chain and operations people, you’re going to be working with your ad agency partners, your consumer insights team, and so you’re really in the center managing it all and organizing it."