Alumna Jordan Banks (‘18, MSM ‘19), Customer Account Lead at General Mills, speaks with Alumni Council member Mona Baset (MBA ‘12) about the importance of being your authentic self in work and life.
Mona: At Wake Forest you were very involved as a student athlete, particularly as Captain of the Track & Field Team and President of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). What did you learn about yourself from these experiences?
Jordan: Graduating high school, I was overwhelmed with the number of university choices across the country, so I let athletic recruiting help with my decision-making. I did not know a lot about Wake Forest, but I fell in love with the University during the recruiting process – the track team members, the coaches and the athletic leadership. Wake Forest was meant for me and allowed me to excel as a student, leader and heptathlete (track and field combined events contest made up of seven events). I learned that I’m at my best when I’m busy. Each day was already filled with academic commitments, and then I had to layer athletic schedules on top of that, including two to three hours of training a day, plus weekend track meets. I had to be very strategic with how I spent my time and learned that if I had a detailed schedule and plan, I could execute.
Mona: How did that time management as a busy student athlete help prepare you for your career?
Jordan: My first job was an analytics-focused role with General Mills in Tampa, FL. I was in a new city, in addition to having to learn a new role. After spending every waking hour at school focused on academics and track, I had to learn how to be an adult on my own. I didn’t know what to do with myself after 5 p.m.! For many student athletes, starting their first job feels like an extreme drop off. I used my scheduling skills to learn and excel at work, and then began planning how I would fill my newly found free time. I leveraged my network to meet new people, socialized and began coaching a local high school girls’ track team. I found that many of my peers did not know how to create a schedule and prioritize to achieve their goals, both professionally and personally; thankfully, I did!
Mona: After completing your communication degree, what led you to pursue the Masters in Management (MSM) degree? Why business?
Jordan: After receiving my undergraduate degree, I went straight into the MSM program. I must admit, I was not ready to enter the workforce, but I always knew I wanted to do something in business and eventually run my own company. As an undergraduate, I was not admitted to the School of Business, so this was my chance to expand my knowledge and achieve an unfulfilled goal. Many of the skills I learned in those 10 months I was able to transfer directly into my work. An important part of the program was learning to work with a team who has very different strengths and weaknesses. We had to learn to work together to deliver successfully. Transitioning to my career, I’ve found that’s exactly like the working world. You don’t get to choose who you work with, and everyone has a different style and set of skills.
Mona: How has your career changed over the four years you have worked at General Mills?
Jordan: My first role was very analytics-focused, which was daunting as an undergraduate communication major. General Mills has a wonderful new hire training program and has supported me along the way ensure I am successful. Today, I am the customer account lead on the Target account for the Progresso and Pillsbury Refrigerated & Frozen brands. I spend my time focused on customer relations, service, driving financial results and forecasting. I own Target’s P&L at the end of the day. A couple times a quarter, I have some type of in-person interaction with my General Mills team or Target Buyers in Minneapolis. We have an upcoming event just for Target to introduce and sample new items. Now when I shop, I love watching people and how they interact with the products I manage.
Mona: You work remotely. Can you share any lessons learned about how to effectively work from home?
Jordan: I now work remotely from Charlotte, NC. While most of us are remote, there is no replacement for in-person engagement. General Mills is focused on maintaining the work-from-home benefit, and also bringing people together in person for moments that matter. I personally get together in-person with colleagues and my client once or twice a quarter. Outside of that, good managers and effective teams are the ones who specifically plan for virtual engagement activities, such as happy hours, and setting aside time for informal chats before meetings start. It’s so important to be intentional and take the time to connect with people in this virtual environment. For example, I’m part of the Black Champions Network at General Mills (I serve as the recruiting co-lead for Sales, ensuring we are creating a diverse applicant pipeline), and we set aside time every Tuesday morning for members to connect, pray and encourage each other – it feels like family time.
Mona: As a young alumna, what advice would you give a graduating student?
Jordan: Everyone tells you to dive into your role, figure out the office norms and culture, and see how you fit in. I think that’s fair direction as part of onboarding into a new company. But, then you need to figure out what your true voice and personality are – and how that translates at work. You must be comfortable being you – and if you feel that you can’t be, you may not be in the right place. I show up as Jordan, and that informs all my work and relationships. I also feel comfortable providing feedback, speaking up, and offering ideas about better ways to do things. I couldn’t do any of that if I didn’t show up as my authentic self.
I often hear imposter syndrome discussed amongst young professionals, especially women. I came to General Mills with minimal experience in data analytics, but my managers have spent the time training and supporting me. I was promoted to the Target role and knew finance would be a new muscle I’d have to flex, and I worked hard to figure it out and continue to learn every day. I remind myself that I was their first choice for this role – and that I know a lot more than I give myself credit for. We are all here learning every day, doing our best to deliver for our clients, our company and each other. Never let the learning curve deter you.
Mona: What is your favorite product you manage?
Jordan: I have a crazy sweet tooth, so I love the Pillsbury products most, especially the cookies and cinnamon rolls. One good thing about being remote is that I’m not in the office around delicious and irresistible things that are always plentiful there!
Mona: You recently visited the School of Business as a Black in Business panelist. Tell us more about that experience. What advice did you give the participants about navigating their own careers?
Most of the students I had the opportunity to connect with are very early in their college career. My advice to them at that stage is to never be afraid to rise to the challenge and tackle the hard things. My current role is hard, yet rewarding, and I’m glad I took this leap to better position myself for future opportunities in leadership and highly influential roles. The students attending the panel struck me as looking to achieve greatness early in life! I was impressed by the number of students that approached me after the event and even reached out to connect further. They’re taking advantage of their network!