Lazy Chat - Sharon Bell
Written by: Sam Hughes
Photographed by: Levi Soprovich
As seen in the February issue of Lazy Faire magazine.
Can you give us a bit of information about your background? Your previous education, and what you do at the school of business?
SB: I have been a sessional instructor at the ASOB for almost 10 years. I also teach at Grant MacEwan. I am a marketer by profession and passion. My undergraduate degree was in education from the UofA. From there, I went on to teach in public school for three years. Then I went back to school and did my MBA at Queen’s. I was recruited to P&G after, which is really where I got my marketing education. I wanted to move closer to my family, so I came back to western Canada and worked for the ATB Financial marketing team, which I ran for 6 years. From there, I went on to start my own consulting business and through that I was introduced to sessional teaching, so I returned to the classroom environment but in a different capacity than before.
What would you say is the biggest advantage that comes with having a business degree majoring in marketing?
I think that there are absolute advantages, but I also think that in any discipline, what you learn doesn’t come strictly from the classroom. You can also learn a great deal from what you do outside the classroom. What you do get from being here is that you are exposed to principles, best practices, and to people with different points of view and different approaches, all of which help make you better as a marketer. The rest comes from experience.
On the flipside, do you think that there is any obvious disadvantage and what can be done to overcome that?
One of the things I do find is that many students graduate with the attitude that they are ready to take on the world, which is fabulous, but they feel like they already know everything. You could have gotten an A+ in my class, but the first day you arrive to work with my team, I can guarantee that you don’t know everything.
We hire you because we believe that what you have learned is valuable, but you don’t have it all. This is where experience comes in, and this is where you can really maximize your learning.
We try to deal with this by offering case studies, practical problems, and the like to our students. I think it’s a downside to students in all disciplines, when even I don’t know everything after all of my experience, and that will always be true. It’s important to remember that there will always be people who know more than you even when you’ve attained some success yourself.
What would you say sets the marketing department at the ASOB apart from other business schools?
I believe that one of the advantages at the ASOB is that we have a very seasoned faculty. We have a lot of people doing really interesting research in the world of business and marketing, and it’s good for students to be exposed to that. There’s also quite a diversity of options as to what you can major and minor in. There are a number of other programs in the ASOB that also benefit students, such as the career centre, all of the programs supporting entrepreneurs, and the new leadership program. Many of my students who are marketing majors are engaged in those other aspects of the school, so I think that all of those things are advantages for students in the ASOB.
One of the common stigmas around marketing degrees is that they have poorer job prospects compared to other majors. Do you think that this is the case, and if not why not?
I really believe that there are good job prospects for people interested in marketing. I see it around me all of the time. I have colleagues who regularly will send me a note saying they need someone for a position, so I see it anecdotally within my network. When I talk to students who want a job in marketing but don’t really know what that looks like, I ask them, have you considered a job in the agency stream, research, or businesses who usually have at least a couple of people on their marketing team? Typically the answer is no. You have even more opportunities available if you’re willing to be mobile and leave the capital area. There are always companies that are currently building who are looking for marketing people. They need people who can stand in the customer's shoes and figure out the customer’s perspective. So absolutely, there are jobs out there, and it’s just a matter of going after them.
Do you have any experiences in academia or industry that you think has really helped you get to the point where you’re at now, teaching at the ASOB?
In many ways in my career I’ve been a bit of an opportunist. Whenever something came along that looked like a great opportunity, I took it, rather than just saying [that I was] set on this path. I’ve been more driven by values, and the kinds of work that I want to do so as not to box myself in.
As to what’s benefited me, I think that [through] my work in the public classroom, I learned a lot about myself, people, organizations, and thinking on my feet; I learned lots of things.
Queens was a good experience as it really helped me with that transition from the classroom to private setting. I also met many great people, some of whom I still [keep in touch with], and that is part of your education as well. P&G is where I really learned my marketing knowledge. That’s probably the one thing that really shaped my career, and from there my opportunities at ATB which helped me shape that company. I learned all sorts of things about leadership.
Something I will say is that some of the best opportunities come from places you don’t expect them to. I had one opportunity at P&G where I didn’t think I would fit in, but it ended up working because all of a sudden I had an opportunity to work with a very undervalued part of the organization, and I had the opportunity to take this undervalued group of people and really make then shine in the organization. Out of that job I got promoted into a really big job I might not have gotten without it, so that was probably the best experience that’s happened to me.
Lastly, do you have any general advice that can offer current ASOB students that you think will help them in their degrees or further careers?
My advice to people is to take in as many experiences as you can while you’re at the ASOB. Apply yourself to your studies. That’s a given, as you’re investing a lot of time and money into your studies, so get the most that you can out of your courses. But there are so many opportunities to get involved with . You can participate in case competitions, or join a club, or attend a seminar.
Just squeeze out every opportunity you can while you’re here because there’s so much here to take advantage of while you’re at the ASOB.