"I've always worked in and around packaged goods," says Barry Boehme, SVP Marketing for The First Years (NASDAQ: KIDD). "Paying my way partially through college, I worked at a grocery store which was an invaluable experience."
When Boehme ran out of money halfway through his MBA, he joined with a couple of friends and started a cookie company, building it from nothing to a $3 million business in two years.
Next, he decided he wanted corporate experience and went to work at Ocean Spray. He was still with the company 22 years later.
But when the opportunity came along last year to take the tools he'd found throughout his career and use them to help build The First Years brand and "bring it to the next level," he couldn't resist.
Boehme talked to us about what it's like to change focus after so long, the things he's learned, and some mistakes he's made along the way.
-> On the benefits of staying put... for awhile
Boehme had thought that he'd spend two years at Ocean Spray before going off on his own. But the company was growing so quickly -- it went from about $220 million to about a billion and a half at its high point, he says -- that it maintained an entrepreneurial feeling that satisfied him.
"It also enabled me to do a lot of different things," he says. "The most valuable thing that happened to me and enabled me to get and perform the job I'm in is that I've done almost everything, from new product development to managing businesses to doing creative and advertising. It was based on touching a lot of different positions."
But by the time he made Marketing Director for the Grapefruit Business Team, "I was starting to touch a lot of things I'd touched before."
Things had become very automatic, and Boehme felt that he had gotten stuck on certain ways of thinking. "Now, I bring a different perspective, so a lot of times I'm the weird guy, but a lot of times that's good," he says.
-> On going from big to small
While Ocean Spray had always had "a small company culture," there have definitely been things to adjust to in his move to The First Years.
Boehme has found two major differences:
"The amount of data and research and the ability to get your hands on a lot of facts to make a decision, that changed," he says. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. "You become more resourceful."
You'll find that the people you work with are different at a smaller company, and they have different experiences, he says. They tend to come from a variety of different backgrounds.
Again, it's neither good nor bad, just different. "You have to become acclimated to a different environment."
-> On selling your great marketing ideas internally
If you've got an idea you're dying to try but can't get executive buy-in, find a way to test it, Boehme suggests. Try testing it in a focus group, testing it in one or two stores, one or two radio stations.
"Get momentum first with consumers and then get momentum inside," he says. "Get to a fact-based decision process as fast as you can."
After that, it's just a matter of selling people in the organization, and never giving up. "Usually in an organization, there's always a running joke of a person who brings up the same idea time after time, and they often end up as big ideas," Boehme says. "They may have been ahead of their time, but it's usually due to the fact that they've never given up."
-> Boehme's top three marketing career tips
o Tip #1. Take risks
"I've been a little conservative in trying to expose myself to a lot of things," says Boehme. "You could say that 22 years at one company was a mistake, but on the flip side, what did I learn by staying at the company?" What he learned covered the full range of marketing experiences.
Still, he feels that he has always been reluctant to go outside a classical marketing career. He suggests you get as much exposure to as many things as possible.
"Work in a trade marketing department, spend time with an ad agency, get involved and understand the mechanics of market research and how that works, understand how to manage and work with new product development," he suggests.
o Tip #2. Be cognizant of where you are in your career
"Early on in your career, you can take some risks and recover from anything that doesn't go as planned," he says. "Later in your career, you have to be a little more calculated about where you're going."
o Tip #3. Career assessment around age 32
Boehme suggests you remain open to new ideas and change in the first ten years of a career, always keeping an end goal in sight. "Do you want to be in marketing, a general manager, own your own business?" he asks. "With me, I never lost the entrepreneurial spirit. I was always looking and saying, at some point I wanted to go to a smaller company."
But when you start to hit your thirties, you need to be mapping out your career choices. "Stop jumping around and start being an expert, developing skills in a particular area."
Ask yourself: "If I want to be Vice President, what do I need to be there, how do I want to manage my career, and narrow the career path that will get you there," he advises.
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