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Nicole Bell., Senior Manager of the Strategic Planning Group

Nicole Bell., Senior Manager of the Strategic Planning Group

A Day in the Life of Nicole Bell-S., Senior manager of the strategic planning group for a major food and beverage company; New York, New York, U.S.

MBA General Management

What I Do

I am responsible for strategy work supporting the marketing group. My role is to partner with the marketing group to think broadly about the brands I am assigned to. I do a lot of game theory around courses of action. That is, I help our marketing team look at our possible competitive moves and those of our competition.

I’ll map the moves on a matrix and attempt to predict, “If we do X, they will do Y.” Then we look at which outcomes we like, and we try and strategize ways to increase the likelihood of those outcomes. In the long run, our goal is to take our great brand propositions and turn them into the most profitable brands they can be.

What I Enjoy Most

I enjoy working with cross-functional teams throughout the business. Doing so allows us to make better decisions than any of us would make in stand-alone departments. The collective wisdom of multiple groups truly makes my job fun and rewarding.

Additionally, this role really captures some of the most fun aspects of business school. I came to this company to see how great business decisions are made outside of the famous cases you study in business school. I have the opportunity to apply the brainstorming and game theory techniques of case studies to real life in high-stakes scenarios. At present, my brands are the major growth drivers for our company.

What I Enjoy Least

The flip side is that this is real, and we never have complete information or the luxury of much time. I’m in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive environment where the battle between the number-one and number-two market share is intense. There are days when I would love the leisure to spend more time in the analysis, but I do not have that luxury.

Why I Chose This Career

I came from a professional services environment prior to business school at Harvard, so I had never worked directly with consumers but wanted that experience. Because my product is visible almost everywhere, I can see firsthand how my consumers are responding. This is very rewarding.

Ultimately, I chose between this and strategic consulting within a consulting firm because of lifestyle. I often describe our strategic planning group as ex-consultants and “could’ve been” consultants.

For me, however, this was an opportunity to do strategic planning without the burden of extensive travel. Since I am married and we have a son, I preferred an environment in which I could perform “strategic consulting” type work with limited travel requirements.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

Analytical ability, strategic thinking, and flexibility. Analytical skills and strategic thinking go hand in hand. You need strong abilities in finance, economics, and modeling. At the end of the day, you need the ability to gather and analyze raw data from many sources and emerge with strategic recommendations from all of that contradictory and incomplete information.

Since the information you are analyzing is always changing, you have to have the flexibility to make unexpected moves, and you may have to revise your initial recommendation. Under all these constraints of incomplete information and insufficient time, you must make those decisions with confidence, all of which an MBA can help you do.

Moreover, you need people skills and communication skills. The people skills are critical for gathering information and determining who and what you need in order to make good decisions. The communication skills are required to help push your recommendations through and gain the confidence of others.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

If you work in a company or product line vying for number-one or number-two spots globally, be prepared for the ride of your life. I am in one of the most competitive industries in the history of marketing, and I am dealing with a fashion brand.

I constantly worry about when consumers might say, “I‘ve had enough!” and move on to the next new thing. In any idea-driven role, you need mentors to help you bounce ideas around and get lots of reactions and feedback.

You must feel passionate about the business you are representing—love either your widgets or your company, or both.

Expect that you will move around a lot in a sizeable company. You need to see many opportunities where not only the company culture but also the group culture seems compatible with your personality.

Professional services experience can help in your ability to play the role of the outsider who sees a required course of action with clarity. However, I don’t see it as a prerequisite for strategy work per se—just as many people in my group have had prior experience in Fortune 500 companies. Always keep in mind that the financial and analytical skills can come from almost anywhere.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

I was in professional services as a tax accountant for five years at Arthur Andersen in New York City. I specialized in the taxation of banks and other financial institutions. When I went for the MBA, I intended to switch careers toward a company. I didn’t know what that company would look like, but I knew I wanted to stay close to the finance and the numbers without being in investment banking.

My MBA internship at AT Kearney helped me narrow my interests down to consulting in a customer-driven environment; my summer project there was to understand key drivers in the pharmaceutical industry.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

  • MBA, Harvard Business School, 2009
  • Bachelor of Science, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, finance and accounting, 2002
  • GED diploma, SUNY NYC, 1999

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

Solid courses in general management, competition, and strategy, and a network of classmates [you can] learn from. The pre-business school experiences of my classmates were amazing and all were willing to share their knowledge to help others.

I am adamant about telling people to forget rankings. My advice is to focus on the program that has these traits: the right size, the right courses, the right industry experts in your field of interest, with connections in the geography where you want to end up.

Also, determine what learning structure is good for you—for example, do you prefer cases or the lecture format? Is there a club for every discipline? The schools on your short list should [result from] these considerations.