Interview with a Marketing Leader / Camille Abbruscato
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Camille Abbruscato is the director of academic marketing projects andbusiness relations at Stony Brook University teaching several marketing courses that oftentimes includes a project involving a real-life client with a business purpose. In addition, Camille focuses on student-development work preparing them for the professional world. Prior to her teaching career,Camille worked at various corporate companies as the marketing head and brand management.Camille’s experience infers much of her charismatic leadership character. While being on her career path, she faced many risky decisions and self-sacrifices. Camille led by example and leaned to create the best outcome out of each situation and take every opportunity that came in her way. She was successful at overcoming uncomfortable cognitive dissonance and always stayed true to her core values. Nevertheless, her work demonstrated high commitment and conscientiousness believing she should leave every project or position – better when she left than when she first came in. Camille also had the opportunity to lead large marketing teams where she enhanced team building and mentorship.To this day, Camille still holds her students, her co-workers and society in large to the highest standards. She expects professionals to remain respectful and socially responsible. Camille believes that good managers are the people who surround themselves with people that are better than them. Tonot be threatened by competition, rather embrace it and learn from it.Camille also holds her students to high standards oftentimes pushing them to step out of their comfort zone and face new challenges. However, she is often frustrated with students who are unappreciative of this exciting opportunity. To mitigate the frustration on both sides, my recommendations are: gain the students' trust, make the assignment clear, and provide the incentive for the assignment.
a. Assessment of the leader's Environment
Camille Abbruscato is the director of academic marketing projects and business relations at Stony Brook University (SBU). She teaches several marketing courses, totaling roughly 100-150 students per semester, that are not only engaging, but oftentimes includes a project involving a real-life client with a business purpose. Camille described the way she prefers to teach: "Most of the ways I teach are hands-on I what people call active learning; it's never standing up and lecturing.” She teaches every class with a unique syllabus, as she designs specific assignments with projects for local clients: "When I first started with these projects, it used to take me months to plan them," Camille says. In addition, Camille does a lot of student-development work with resume writing, interview preparation, and career optimization. Prior to her being a faculty member at SBU in 2006, she worked in various corporate marketing positions and earned over twenty years of business development experience. Most of her professional work included a combination of brand management and strategy in marketing.
Camille’s first job out of college, after achieving an MBA in Marketing from Pace University's Lubin School of Business ’84, was at a wiring company in Long Island city named Eagle Electric Manufacturing. She described Long Island city as “awful,” noting, never anticipated working there, because, as a fresh-out-of-college professional, she had aspirations of entering into a consumer-driven company. “I had to go on a train every day and walk to an ugly building in a pretty dress. I thought to myself – Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing this." However, Camille got to travel all over the nation and gained valuable experience that prepared her for her next job, a more consumer-driven position in a family-owned cookie company. Shortly after, she realized the position would not allow her to grow as a professional. Therefore, after less than a year, she left and found a new job at a vitamin and nutrition company called Nature’s Bounty (N.B.).
At N.B., she worked as a marketing assistant in a relatively small department. Camille continued to sharpen her business skills, devoting herself to learn as much as she could about the industry. A year later, the marketing head got into an argument with the president of the company and resigned. Afterwards, the president approached Camille and asked if she wanted to stay. Camille said, “Yes, I need this job.” The president then replied – "Well, now you are the new marketing manager." Camille could not believe this opportunity occurred as early as it did in her professional career, but she took it and said "I jumped in the deep water and got started.” As the new marketing manager, Camille decided to get more in-depth with research. While she knew N.B. made an excellent product, no documentation system existed. Therefore, Camille began creating reports about the market, the industry, and the competitors.
She also innovated in the vitamin field. An original invention of hers, still used to this day, is a unique, merchandising personalized vitamin pack to be distributed and sold at “Stop n' Go” shops. The personalized daily vitamin pack was wildly successful, generating $500mm in sales at the initial presentation.
One day, a friend of Camille’s called her regarding another job opportunity: a marketing research analyst position in Manhattan at a tobacco company called Philip Morris (P.M.). Camille politely explained, "Research is only a small part of what I do, and not my expertise. I really love it here at Nature’s Bounty, and I am learning a lot, it’s only convenient to only be twenty-five min[utes] from my house...” However, her friend kept insisting that she should go to the office for an interview, arguing she would be wonderful at this job. Ultimately, she decided to interview.
Camille went to the interview and carefully listened to the marketing research position. In the back of her head, she thought to herself that while the research position is interesting, it was not for her. A month later, after attending both a second and third interview, Phillip Morris offered Camille the job. Surprising to her, the company offered more than $30,000 than her current salary at N.B. "I didn’t know what to do because I didn't really want to work at the city at capacity I didn’t think I was qualified for," Camille says. "But when someone is offering you that kind of money, you have to take it for the experience... So, I accepted the position.”
Camille worked at Philip Morris (P.M.) for seven years, and she even kept a part-time position after giving birth to her first daughter. Additionally, in 1992, she earned her M.B.A. in management at Dowling College while working full time. She said her days in the city were quite tough. Camille would wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, commuted to work for two-and-a-half hours one way, and started her work-day at 8 a.m. “As soon I would get to the office, we would just hit the ground running, she explained. “I would be dealing with research, ad agency, reports, creative, direct mail, editing, input for mail programs, and more.” Phillip Morris’s had a rather rich marketing budget while she worked there, standing at $160mm a year. A part of Camille's job including informing upper management how she planned to spend the money. Camille says she would have four or five projects at the same time: she generated market research, created new media strategies and new merchandising programs, as well as made collateral materials. Thus, prioritizing was challenging, especially when management surprisingly often called her into meetings. "It was a very hard day, but very rewarding," said Camille. Her campaign work contributed to retail visibility in the U.S. and generated $700mm in an annual sale.
Nowadays, Camille is teaching at Stony Brook University, and testify that she sees herself teach from now and for the next ten years at least.
Analysis of the leader’s behaviors:
One quality that stands out the most about Camille's leadership skills is her commitment to her work, as well as her team-building and coalitions. For example, when Camille worked at Nature’s Bounty, she realized the company did not document much. Instead of conforming, she began generating reports and organizing the company’s resources. According to Kotter (2001), leaders align the vision of others. "This means communicating the new direction to those who can create coalitions that understand the vision and are committed to its achievement” (P. Kotter, 2001). Camille formed a coalition by organizing the company’s resources and refer the employees to a consistent policy. She built a team with a common goal and specific tasks, worked towards fixing a hole in the organization's day-to-day operations, and made future decisions smarter by making them rely on research. Moreover, by staying committed to her organizational skills, she helped integrate the person taking her position after her, creating a smoother entry to the role. This behavior also demonstrates conscientiousness, a vital feature in leaders defined by one's organizational skills and emotional stability.
Conscientiousness is one of the "Big Five Personality Model" and is considered the most influential on other's work, according to Robbins and Judge (2015). Robbins and Judge also said in their book that, unlike other "big five" personality keys, the more conscientiousness leaders have, the more successful they tend to be.
Another critical aspect of Camille's leadership is her calculated risk-taking. Although she did not think she had the qualifications to work in a research marketing position, she took the risk when offered the job. Camille said, “When they called me with a job offer, I just busted out laughing, I was like – really? I was really surprised because my skill set wasn't marketing research. I didn't think I am a research analyst. It wasn't my focus; my job was more multifaceted, the social aspect.” According to Day and Antonakis, one of the seven model factor models of leadership include calculated risk-taking and self-sacrificial behavior (2012). When Camille took the job, she did it because it was an incredible opportunity for her and her career while still being in her twenties. While she could have failed miserably because of her lack of research skills, her determination to learn allowed her to succeed. Camille also said the learning curve for Phillip Morris was the longest out of all her jobs because she does not smoke and therefore could not identify with her target audience. She took the position sacrificing her quality of life, having to commute five hours a day while performing at a highly stressful job.
Conger and Kanungo also agreed that leaders are more likely to be viewed as charismatic if they make self-sacrifices, take personal risks, and act in an unconventional manner (1987). An excellent example of Camille's nonconventional behavior was returning to work after giving birth to her daughter. Hewlett and Luce of Harvard Business School found that 43% of highly-qualified women (at the time) with children either leave their careers or take a career break (2005). Also, Valenti of Princeton University found that women are most likely to go to the labor force after the first child (2018). Even though social norms dictate mothers generally stay at home with their baby, Camille reentered the workforce. Camille kept on working three-fourths of the time, as she stated: "My husband and I divided the workload between us, and we got some help from our family, and so I kept working for two more years.” Going back to work was a charismatic move on Camille's part because she came back to work – an unconventional mover as a new mother. Additionally, she made self-sacrifices by not spending a lot of time with her new baby.
Another critical characteristic Camille demonstrates as a leader is overcoming her cognitive dissonance, something many struggle to achieve. Cognitive dissonance is an inconsistent attitude through thoughts and behaviors. The dissonance is likely to create distress in one's mental state. (Griffin, Ledbetter and Sparks, 2015). Camille said that taking the job at P.M. conflicted with her values because she not only never smoked a cigarette, but she also does not support it. To reduce dissonance, people activate their self-affirmation because high self-esteem reduces dissonance among people. Thus, to handle the dissonance, Camille focused on the quality of her work: “I think that what made my job as a brand-manager so rewarding is forgetting what the product is. All I see is the product, a target audience, and my goal. This is how I managed it. I was focusing on the process of what to work on."
Not only that, but Camille also found a way to handle her dissonance by transforming the dissonance to resonance, an essential skill for leaders. Goleman and his associates recognized that unlike managers, leaders are more likely to create resonance in the workplace. Leaders that are visionary, coaching, affiliative, or democratic tend to reason their conflicts, while managers that are pacesetting and commanding are likely to create dissonance. Camille said, “It helped that I had a lot of respect for the company. They took great care of the employees.”
Hunter and Cushenbery suggested viewing creativity as a set of processes, such as creative performance, creative products, creative teams, creative inputs, and creative processes, instead of a unitary phenomenon. To that extent, it is easy to see Camille as a creative leader. When she worked in P.M., she explored her target market and studied ways to increase brand awareness among customers. Despite being a non-smoker, she learned that people have preferences for the both the flavor of the cigarettes and the type of cigarettes. In turn, she fostered a brand called “full flavor” and “light” cigarette. Camille saw an opportunity to create mint flavor cigarettes and presented the idea to the C.E.O. of the company. She outlined where in the country this product would be successful and worked with the agency for packaging, branding and marketing strategies, and more. This marketing idea received the backing of management, as the company approved the product and put it into production. According to Hunter and Cushenbery, "Leaders play a primary 11 role in helping to facilitate original thinking as well as guiding instantiation of those novel ideas that are worthy of exploration" (Hunter and Cushenbery, 2011). On her team, Camille facilitated a safe space for ideas and innovation, resulting in the promotion of creativity and the creation of novel ideas. Coming up with this new product idea that generated over $700mm in annual sales also proved that Camille is a multidirectional influence that expands available options. Zaleznik said in his research on leaders in comparison to managers that leaders work in the opposite direction of managers: “Where managers act to limit choices, leaders develop fresh approaches to long-standing problems and open issues to new options" (2003). Zaleznik would agree that by bringing up the fresh idea of mint cigarettes, Camille expended the target market and allowed new options for consumers.
As a professor, Camille demonstrates a different type of leadership, mentorship. She said, “I review students’ resumes, I show them how to align their resume with their career positions that they are interested in. I also practice with students for interviews.”
Camille said she pushes her students to do more than the minimum and to do business work that will be beneficial for them. According to MacGregor-Burns, this type of leadership is called intellectual stimulation, where leaders stimulate followers to be creative and innovative (1978). She said, "In class, I use real-world client projects." The students in her classes get a client project where they need to collect and analyze data and show it all to an executive committee. Camille continued saying: “Not all students enjoy client work, because it is a lot of work. I have students sometimes come up to me and say – can I please just write a paper instead? I tell them, is that what you are going to say to your employer? Can I just do a paper? This is supposed to help you prepare for what it's like to work in the workforce. Some students don’t really want to go the extra mile and step out of their comfort zone to try something that is more challenging with rules that are vague and unstructured. But that's the real work, really.”
The notion to which Camille encourages her students to step out of their comfort zone shows that she is has a high degree of intellectual stimulation. “The leader challenges assumptions and takes risks, and solicits followers' ideas. Leaders with this style stimulate and encourage creativity in their followers. They nurture and develop people who think independently.” (MacGregor Burns, 1978). This shows Camille’s unique client work projects very well.
Nevertheless, Camille holds society to high standards. When asked what she wished professionals do more often, she answered: “Be more respectful and more socially responsible. Expecting people to care for the social good, respect others, and do things for the environment.” Ciampa explained in his analysis that a senior-level manager gains an advantage when he or she becomes concerned with what is best for the whole company as well as with what is suitable for the units that report to him or her (2009). Camille shows that she cares for society and for the new generation of professionals in the discipline. Camille also mentioned she believes the best managers are people who surround themselves with people that are better than them. Obviouslly, she is confident about what she does and is hungry to learn more.
Camille is an outstanding, inspirational leader that is a role model for young professionals in the marketing discipline. There are many aspects of business I can learn from her. Still, some of Camille's best qualities also put her in conflict with her students. She has high expectations of her students, and she challenges her students to explore more of the discipline in a non-traditional way. For most of her classes for both undergrads and graduate students, Camille assigns a real-life-scenario project with a local client. Yet, she is often frustrated with students who are unappreciative of this exciting opportunity. This phenomenon of people in an organization resisting change is common. Kotter and Schlesinger would agree with Camille and her challenge of generating change: "Individuals or groups can react very differently to change – from passively-resisting it to aggressively trying to undermine it, to sincerely embracing it" (Kotter and Schlesinger, 2008). To overcome this frustrating situation, my recommendations are: gain the students' trust, make the assignment clear, and provide the incentive. Kotter and Schlesinger said that in many cases, the resistance happens because of both misunderstanding and lack of trust. Meaning, people do not understand the implications of such productive assignments. These situations often occur for the lack of trust between the leader and the followers (2008).
Thus, Camille should start classrooms with an introduction – present to the class some of her past experiences and accomplishments and tell the students about her corporate work as a successful marketing brand manager. Sharing one’s expertise is essential to gain the followers' trust; it is not bragging per se. By sharing knowledge, Camille can make her followers excited about the future in the field and gain authority. Then, she should explain to the students the benefits/incentives of participating in such projects that involve working for a real client over just "writing a paper." Some examples include: gaining experience, a resume builder, and expanding network.
Another notable aspect to consider is that the classrooms are made by students of different personalities. Camille should understand that some students operate better in the right circumstances for them. Thus, let the students pick their own team members and allow them to work alone. Dalton and Francie explained in their study the seven different types of personalities in the workplace, one of which is "the avoider": "Quiet and reserved, avoiders prefer to work alone. If forced to work on a team or committee, they speak only to validate what others have said” (2005). Allowing students the freedom to create their own team is important too: "Studies on team composition show that how leaders staff and design their teams have important consequences for promoting voice and knowledge sharing. Size, organizing style, tenure, position, and team history are relevant aspects that innovation leaders should consider when designing a team" (Kremer, Villamor and Aguinis, 2018).
Even more so, Camille should allow students to pick their own clients from the clients she is offering and also bring their own client to the classroom. Giving students the freedom of choice will make them more engaged in the class.
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