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Real Humans of General Mills: Taylor Valentine, Wharton MBA ’22, Sr. Associate Brand Manager

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In this installment of our Real Humans: Alumni series, Taylor Valentine tells us how The Wharton School MBA allowed her to explore a variety of industries, learn state-of-the-art analytics, and gain a strong entrepreneurial mindset to prepare for brand management at General Mills. Valentine found that she was no longer energized by her current career path and wanted to be in the “driver’s seat,” leading and being a changemaker. Though she had a great transferable skillset, she lacked enough industry-specific knowledge and needed a more powerful network to change industries. Read on to learn how the Wharton MBA propelled her into her new career and how her internship experience solidified that General Mills was the right place for her to make an impact.

Taylor Valentine, Wharton MBA ’22, Sr. Associate Brand Manager at General Mills

Age: 30
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Yale University, Economics and Global Affairs
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2022, Marketing and Operations (joint major); Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Pre-MBA Work Experience (title, company, years, industry): Sr. Consultant, Deloitte, five years, Consulting
Post-MBA Work Experience (title, company, years, industry): Sr. Associate Brand Manager, Lucky Charms, General Mills, 1 years and 8 months, CPG

Why did you choose to attend business school?
In 2019, after five years in consulting, I was ready for a change. I was no longer energized by client service and wanted to be in roles where I was truly in the driver’s seat, leading teams and enacting change in my organization. However, I didn’t feel ready to make a jump directly into industry. While I had plenty of transferrable skills, I had little industry-specific knowledge. Further, my network was limited and I needed to expand it to facilitate the initial career switch and future growth in that industry. Business school was a path towards both ends. 

Why Wharton? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
As I began the application process, I knew I was interested in the combination of marketing and analytics and wanted to pivot into a new industry. I was drawn to Wharton’s strong Marketing department as well as its reputation of developing analytically minded leaders and decision-makers across industries. In addition, after nine years away, I was excited by the prospect of rediscovering my hometown and being close to my family in Philly.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
There were three key aspects of my experience that prepared me for my career: First, Wharton gave me the opportunity to explore various industries and roles within them. While I arrived with an interest in marketing and analytics, I had had very little exposure to CPG (consumer packaged goods) as an industry or the brand management role. Through both my coursework (shout out to Professor Patti Williams’ Strategic Brand Management) and interactions with various companies, I realized how my passion for food, academic interests, and desire to lead teams were perfectly suited for brand management in Big Food. 

Second, I learned state-of-the-art analytical methods at Wharton. While many of them are far too intensive to use in my day-to-day life, it inspired me to find ways to use more rigorous methods in my role. It pushed my thinking and mathematical abilities more than they had been in many years, and that was exciting for me. 

Finally, Wharton gave me a strong entrepreneurial mindset that I use every day. As the “mini CEO” of Lucky Charms, I am constantly asked to make decisions that affect my cross-functional team. Whether it’s deciding to spend more on packaging to drive stronger product trial, aligning on a new product pipeline, or developing contingency plans when something goes wrong, being able to think about the business as a whole has been immensely important to my success in the past year and a half.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
After weighing multiple internship offers, I decided to intern at General Mills and was placed on the Pillsbury brand. Despite the challenges of interning during COVID (the internship was virtual, and I missed the opportunity to live in and experience Minneapolis for the first time), I was energized by my projects and found the brand management community at Mills incredibly strong and supportive. It absolutely solidified my desire to work in the industry.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I received a return offer after my internship. While I was nervous to move to a new city that was far from my family and friends, I ultimately decided to return to General Mills for three reasons: 1) it was a house of fantastic brands, meaning I could have a big impact on any desk, 2) Mills had a great reputation for building strong brand managers, so I knew it would be a great development opportunity whether I stayed long-term or not, and 3) I felt a strong sense of community from the very start.  

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
The most important thing I did during my search was to get to know the culture of the companies I was interested in through their people. I spent many hours reaching out and talking to various people in various roles to understand if and how I would fit in at each company. Ultimately, I went with the company where I felt most at home with the people and that decision has served me well.

–One thing you would change or do differently as part of the job search?
I would try to be a lot less stressed during the process. Not only is the recruiting process a way for employers to evaluate talent, but it’s an opportunity to find the best fit for you. You should certainly prepare and utilize your classmates and Wharton’s resources to do that, but you should enjoy the process as well. It’s about finding a company and a role that makes you happy.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I was surprised by the recruiting team’s willingness to help candidates throughout the process. The General Mills team held multiple events as well as an interview prep session that was open to any student interested in CPG, not just those interviewing for Mills. In addition, every interviewing candidate was offered the opportunity to participate in a mock interview with a member of the team, which certainly helped ease my nerves for the real interview. Finally, the entire team, including leadership, made sure all of my questions were answered and concerns addressed before I made my final decision. As a member of that recruiting team now, I recognize the amount of time outside working hours all of this takes and I continue to appreciate General Mills’ level of commitment to Wharton students.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
I wish someone had told me to worry less about my major and just take classes that interested me. After graduating one credit away from three majors, I realized that a major comes together quite easily; you don’t need to spend time actively planning it. Learn from professors you find intriguing, leave room to explore brand-new topics, and be open to redirection. While I was interested in analytics coming in, I didn’t end up majoring in it and there is nothing wrong with that. I still ended up in a role and at a company that I love!

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.