Undergraduate students Aimee Brennan, Odette Yang, and Deanna Yi, class of 2022, interviewed Kristin Fallon as part of their 2019 Impact Ambassador experience with the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
What attracts you to marketing, and how did you move into this field from an economics background?
Economics and marketing are very linked. Economics is a social science that seeks to understand markets and the people who behave within them. Marketing is the act of understanding a market and customizing your product, message, and channel to attract and serve the people in that market.
In college I was interested in economic development, so after getting my undergraduate degree in Economics, I joined the Peace Corps where I was helping small business owners in Benin grow and expand. That led me into a career in international development, where I saw firsthand how public, non-profit, and private sector partnerships can drive lasting and positive impact for people around the world. These opportunities enabled me to live in Africa and Indonesia, and travel to many different parts of the world, which really opened my eyes to our global community. Much of what I was doing was driving the expansion of development programs through sales and marketing. So eventually I made the leap to take those sales and marketing skills over to the technology side, which is how I got to GE.
As to why I love marketing? The combination of the tactical, strategic, and creative. I really enjoy the futuristic aspect of marketing: looking towards the future and either positioning a company to win, or sometimes creating what the future will look like, through innovative products or services. Those elements are what draw me to the field. I see it as a “natural leap” from the more academic discipline of Economics. I also love the creative aspect of marketing and in my opinion, the best strategies both entertain and engage your audience. There are so many ways you can do this, especially as digital mediums and channels continue to evolve.
What is your typical day like at GE?
My typical day is a hybrid of team meetings to ideate around new projects or push existing ones forward, focused time to edit projects or review progress, staying on top of emails (which I’ve not mastered!), and of course the occasional fire drill. As a leader, I split my time between supporting and enabling my team and also engaging directly in projects. It’s a mix of being the coach and the team player. It’s also really important that I stay current with industry trends, and keep my thinking fresh. I block out time for this almost every morning, before my day really gets started. Otherwise, I can find time at the end of the week when my calendar frees up.
What are some of the tough challenges you face in your current role?
Well, change is always hard. And there has been a lot of change and restructuring going on at GE. It is human nature to resist change, especially when there is much uncertainty, and this can make it challenging to motivate teams. However, it’s during these moments that I try to encourage my team to keep their heads down and focused on delivering the best outcomes for what they can control. I have also learned to listen and when possible, bring others into the discussion in order to help them feel empowered as the changes play out. Helping folks feel like they have a relevant voice is important to building consensus and buy-in.
At GE, what steps did you take to advance from a consultant to an executive level position?
Work hard and deliver, and maintain integrity with everything you do. When I joined GE, I had to quickly let go of my ego. I came into a mid-career leadership development program, where everyone (including me) had about six to 10 years of work experience. Nonetheless, because we were all part of a two-year rotational leadership program, we sometimes were viewed as interns by ‘GE long-timers’. That wasn’t easy, but I stayed humble and open to learning. I put in extra hours, did great work, and eventually gained respect within the company. Earning that respect and trust paid off. I received multiple opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and lead. Each time I took on a new challenge, I delivered the project to the best of my abilities, and was as helpful as I could be to everyone along the way, no matter rank or title. Building relationships beyond your direct managers is extremely important. This includes corporate leaders, your peers, and even those in junior roles; treat everyone well, and be willing to help. This builds a strong network at all levels, and pays off in both the short and long-term. We all need help at some point, and when you do, you’ll have established and willing network of support.
How do you view purpose-driven brands?
We are currently operating in an exciting time because more and more customers and employees are demanding that the companies they buy from and work for do what’s right for society and the environment. This is especially important among millennials. This is driving companies to embed purpose into their brand, which then infuses both their marketing and their recruitment strategies. So that makes it really fun for brand storytellers and those marketers looking to be aligned to causes.
I see three overriding themes in the way companies are building purpose into their brands: first, some brands inherently have a purpose. For example, GE builds health care equipment and power generating equipment that literally saves or improves lives. This is an easy and authentic purpose-driven narrative, because you’re connecting your product’s purpose to a direct outcome. GE knows that human outcomes motivate customers and employees alike, and you see this clearly in tag lines like “Technology is how we do things. People are why we do things.
Other brands recognize that they have a social or environmental responsibility in how they operate, and that that is good for business not only because it is what their customers and employees demand, but also because it’s a long-term sustainability play. Unilever, for example, is one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies. They’re focused on reducing packaging waste and lessening their impact on the environment, which for a company that size will have tremendous scale and impact—not just on the environment, but on their brand and business longevity as well.
And finally, some brands simply use their prominence to take a stand on causes. These are likely causes that their customers (or employees) care about, thereby elevating a topic and driving brand loyalty in the process. We saw this play out successfully for Nike when their 2018 sales shot up as a result of their controversial Colin Kaepernick ad. A smaller example is when Coke took on LGBT+ advocacy in Brazil through their micro-campaign ‘This Coke is a Fanta.’ They won a lot of points with customers among certain demographics, and that will build even stronger brand loyalty over time.
How do you see the energy industry evolving in the future?
Less than 10 years ago, when I was an MBA candidate at Smith, people were excited about renewable energy and digitizing big machines, but it still felt distant. What is amazing, is that since then all of that is here, and pretty much ‘old news.’ Wind and solar are now cost-effective in many parts of the world, and everyone is connecting ‘big data’ with ‘big iron’ to drive tangible results. Recognizing that we live in an accelerated world where everything is changing rapidly, I see two trends that are part of the continued evolution of the energy industry. The first is decentralization, which essentially puts more power and decision making at the consumer level. It could be in the form of smaller power generation, or it could mean a different interplay on the grid, between generation and consumption. This is already happening, with the rise of demand response and micro-grids, but it’s yet to explode. The second trend is around innovative forms of power generation. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see new power generation innovations hitting the mainstream. For example, solar-generating highways or solar shingles. Or harvesting energy from wearables/human movement. People are out there and experimenting with this, it’s just not cost-effective yet. But there is so much potential for disruption.
How has your experience at UMD helped to shape your career path?
The Smith business school provided me with core business acumen and a strong network to learn from and lean into. This was especially useful because I came to Smith with the intention to transition away from the nonprofit sector, and into the private sector. Thanks to Smith, I gained a solid business foundation and learned to challenge myself, along with my peers. I realized the importance of building strong relationships with those around me, and that has helped me throughout my career.