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Real Humans of Adobe: Adrienne Tsai, Northwestern Kellogg ’18, Product Marketing Manager

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Chances are you’ve needed to review a PDF this week—and if you have, you’ve used an Adobe product to open it.  In addition to their Acrobat Reader, Adobe Inc., an American multinational computer software company, is also known for Photoshop, Illustrator, Creative Cloud and more. The creative and business range of their products is part of what inspired Adrienne Tsai to join the company.  In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Tsai, a Northwestern Kellogg MBA ’18 and product marketing manager at Adobe, shares how business school prepared her for Adobe and what she enjoys most about the tech leader.

Adrienne Tsai, Northwestern Kellogg ’18, Product Marketing Manager

Adrienne Tsai, Northwestern Kellogg MBA ’18, Product Marketing Manager at Adobe

Age: 30
Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan
Undergraduate Institution and Major: English Literature BA, National Chengchi University
Graduate Business School and Concentration (if applicable): Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, Marketing Major, MBA
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 4.5 years, CPG (consumer packaged goods)
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 1.5 years, technology

Why did you choose to attend business school?
Back then I have been working in the CPG industry doing branding and product marketing for almost five years. It was a rewarding job that I was passionate about, but I soon realized there was a growing urge for some change. Professionally, the retail market was stagnant and most momentum came from disruptive technology impacting how consumers were interacting with brands. Personally, I was at a turning point where I wanted to build more business knowledge on top of my existing marketing experience to elevate my career. I also wanted to broaden my network beyond Taipei and see how organizations operate on a global scale, perhaps even in a different industry like technology. With all that in mind, business school seemed like a great opportunity for me to explore all those possibilities, so I decided to take the leap and attend business school at Kellogg.

Why Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Among the top business schools, I realized that almost all of them had exceptional faculty and resources dedicated to providing top-notch education experiences for their students. For me, choosing the right business school ultimately came down to finding the right culture fit. I reached out to alumni from various schools to ask for advice, and one comment stuck with me as I was making the decision: in 5 or 10 years after graduating from business school, you might not remember the specific financial model or operation framework from class anymore—but the people who make up the network around you, who will support you both personally and professionally, will be the most invaluable asset you have for many years to come.

Adrienne and her husband

Keeping that in mind, I attended as many coffee chats and informational sessions in person to have a feel for what the alumni network looked like and ultimately decided that Kellogg’s collaborative culture would be a great fit—it did not disappoint! From the point when I started my MBA application, all the way through my journey seeking an internship and full-time offer, Kellogg’s generous and supportive community has helped me in so many ways that I would never have imagined. Another bonus point was both my husband and I got into Kellogg, so we were lucky enough to join the Class of 2018 as classmates.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
As an international student who has never enrolled in formal business education, the MBA experience was critical in helping me pivot into working in technology and relocating to the USA. Learning about fundamental business aspects such as analytics and finance helped me build a well-rounded understanding of how to make business decisions from a managerial perspective. Our student-led career clubs (such as Kellogg’s Tech Club, or Interview Preparation Groups (IPG)) helped me learn about the industry to find the best fit among the vast pool of companies and roles.

But perhaps more importantly, having the opportunity to learn from my peers that brought diverse ideas to the table was most enlightening—through classroom debates and discussions, participating in student clubs, and even just the casual conversations during the two years, I heard some of the most impressive stories and fresh perspectives from classmates around the world. I learned to become a better listener, a more open-minded team member, and also become a more confident speaker in delivering my opinion to different audiences. This skill has helped me more than anything else in starting my career at Adobe.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
During my summer internship, I was a product marketing manager at VMware. I wanted to take an internship that would allow me to experience a product marketing role within technology while working with smart, fun people, and I was very impressed by the team during my interviews. There were many Kellogg alumni at VMware who highly recommended the company, which also helped me make the decision to take the offer.

VMware provided a well-designed internship experience, where I was able to work on projects that allowed me to tap into my non-tech background and bring a fresh perspective to work, as well as more technical projects to challenge how fast I was able to learn and contribute to an unfamiliar topic. VMware also made sure the cohort of interns had a great summer—they hosted happy hours, intern meet & greets, as well as several executive speaking sessions for us to hear from some top managers who’ve been in our shoes before.

Overall, it was a great experience that helped me build up my technical skills, open doors to more marketing opportunities in tech, and find a clearer direction in pursuing my post-MBA career. I learned that I was passionate about working in technology, but would also like to work on products that required more consumer-facing communications so I could flex my creative muscles and leverage my past working experience a bit more. Adobe was one of those options, and I wouldn’t have been able to get this opportunity without my internship experience.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
Among all the great tech companies Adobe felt very unique to me as they had a balance of both art and science: artists around the world use their products like Photoshop to design creative work, and businesses use their enterprise products like Adobe Analytics to build insightful marketing campaigns to deliver better digital experiences. This resonated highly with me as I loved work that would allow me to help organizations be creative while delivering measurable success.

Aside from the company’s products, of course, the culture fit was top of mind. I was part of Kellogg’s Tech Trek during winter break where we got to visit multiple tech firms and network with alumni employees. That trip allowed us to get an inside look at what it felt like to work in those companies and hear from alumni what types of projects they worked on daily. It also allowed us to understand the culture of these companies: what their core values were, how they gave back to society and local communities, and of course…  who had the best cafeteria!

I ultimately decided Adobe would be a great place to start my post-MBA career, as both the brand and the culture fit what I was looking for. They also had strong cohorts of MBAs that successfully grew within the company across various seniority and roles, showing that this was a company that valued MBAs and knew how to put them in positions to thrive. These key factors helped me make this important decision, and it’s been a great journey so far.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reaching out to not only alumni and the career center, but also your peer classmates. It can seem daunting at first to ask for time and support from your classmates, either because you’re worried it might cause them too much trouble or you’re hesitant to show weakness in any aspect. Kellogg’s community has shown me there was nothing to worry about – everyone I reached out to was willing and happy to help either by sharing relevant pre-MBA work experience or by helping me work on my resume and interview pitch. Because it was such a diverse group of students, everyone had something to offer and often times the best advice came from the least expected conversations. Also, just acknowledging that I was not alone and many of my outstanding classmates went through similar challenges gave me the courage to push on when the recruiting pressure was high. Their advice helped me put together a great strategy for recruiting, and we continue to do the same for our classmates or incoming students so this network can all benefit from each other’s experience.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Be more open-minded and less worried about finding the “perfect” job. I was very concerned about landing the dream job in my mind: it had to be the exact company, exact role, in the exact city. While I’m happy with where I ended up, looking back I could have been much less stressed about this. Being out of MBA for a year or so, I have soon realized that there is never a “perfect” job, and there will always be unforeseen challenges that show up as well as unexpected rewards you will appreciate. Having a flexible mindset and embracing the best opportunity that comes your way at the moment would make the journey a lot easier.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
In my year Adobe had an interesting onsite interview that started with a full-day, “speed-dating” format networking session followed by one-on-one interviews conducted by multiple teams that were matched with selected candidates during day one. One of the surprises was that since each team conducted their own interviews, there wasn’t a lot of consistency between interviews: some were very conversational, others turned out to be full case interviews. None of the actual questions were too surprising, but the ability to be flexible and adapt to each interviewer’s style in a short amount of time during back-to-back interviews was very important.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA
That it’s ok to try and fail, and that MBA is just part of your lifelong journey, not a destination. Getting into the best MBA might seem like everything to you at the moment, but the real challenges (and best rewards) are yet to come! Learn to be at peace with yourself when things don’t work out the way you imagined, and learn to live in the moment.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
Every day I work with people who are smart, supportive, and most importantly kind to one another. Adobe might not have the largest campus or fanciest perks, but they have impactful company policies showing that care for their employees’ wellbeing. For example, we have both summer and winter week-long shutdowns for everyone to take some time off to be with friends and family as well as some great self-development and health benefits. Adobe also contributes generously to various important social issues such as children’s education. Being with a company that cares for its employees and gives back to society makes me proud to say I work for Adobe.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.