My choice to attend the Wake Forest School of Business was based on a “how to.” The context? I was a banker (five years developing my commercial foundation) who became a bicycle retail operator (three years following my passion) and who was determined to land an impactful sales or marketing role at a bicycle manufacturer (read — Trek, Cannondale, etc.). I felt then that a comprehensive MBA program was a “how to” achieve this goal.
After I arrived at Wake Forest in 1998, I realized that the lessons to be learned would go far beyond my achieving the next step in a passion industry (bicycles!). The program was overtly global in scope, allowing me to study abroad in Japan at a critical juncture in its economy. Professors were open to student-led innovation, enabling my founding what is now called the Wake Forest Schools of Business Elevator Competition, in which students pitch business ideas in a short format that could happen during an elevator ride. Experiences were hands-on and relevant, including an internship and case-study creation with a North Carolina-based bicycle innovator — the whole experience sponsored by the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, part of the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation.
From my Wake Forest MBA program: “how to” No. 1 — Approach each milestone life experience with a goal (land a job with a bicycle company through attaining an MBA), but stay curious, and the goal becomes secondary to the experience itself.
I am pleased to say that my MBA enabled a profound career experience in 17 years with the LEGO Group. It gave me the opportunity to launch disruptive new products; move to London to manage multi-country commercial teams; lead the global management of the company’s largest retail customer; own the global P&L for LEGO direct-sales e-commerce; move to Munich to establish a European-Union-focused direct-to-consumer organization; write marketing strategies for countries as culturally different as South Korea and Brazil; and steer a cross-country move of LEGO Education. Phew!
From my LEGO tenure: “how to” No. 2 — Remain humble and open to opportunity at the company you’re working for. Avoid the wanderlust (time to leave!) that can occur in years three through five at an organization, and you may just find that the real adventures and growth can take place where you already are.
My LEGO experience opened my mind: A career might not be linear, but there are threads that tie a thoughtful job progression together. I am passionate about working for mission-based organizations; my heart is in education-based products and services; and my broad experience classifies me as a consummate general management executive. Eventually, I joined Boston-based New Profit as its first executive in residence. The venture philanthropy firm has expanded impactful organizations such as Teach for America.
From my New Profit nonprofit experience: “how to” No. 3 — Give back.
I mean really give back. Do something where the whole purpose for your activity is creating value for the world.
For the past four years, I’ve been fortunate to run an international executive search firm, The Renaissance Network, which recruits great leaders and employees for nonprofits and for-profit businesses in the education sector. I am blessed to help my clients build out their organizations with a positive impact on students and the greater community.
From my current role at The Renaissance Network: “how to” No. 4 — Be a life-long learner.
I interview talented and inspirational candidates every week, assessing their cognitive and behavioral traits. Those curious about the results and aware of their development opportunities tend to be more successful securing new positions.
I am thankful that staying curious, growing my entrepreneurial skills within companies, giving back and always learning are foundational traits that I developed with my fellow MBA students over 20 years ago in Winston-Salem.
Colin Gillespie (MBA ’00) has guided international businesses for the LEGO Group and social entrepreneurs for New Profit, a venture philanthropy fund. He is chief commercial officer of The Renaissance Network. A community advocate and avid cyclist, he lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with his wife, Ginger Roberts Gillespie (’90).