The Innovative Marketer Reflects on Her Best Advice, “It’s All About the People.”

6.28.2023 Alumni News
Photo of people in the article

Stephanie Jack (‘13), director of marketing and product innovation at Bowery Farming, speaks with Carrie Ross, associate director of alumni engagement about her passion for working with mission-minded startups looking to disrupt their industry. Along the way, she has learned, “It’s all about the people” – who you work with, for and around to reach that common vision.

Carrie: How did Wake Forest end up on your radar?

Stephanie: My brother went to Wake Forest and graduated in 2008. I loved the blend of the small school feel where you make personal connections, combined with the opportunity to major in business and tap into a strong network with a national reputation. I knew I wanted to be at Wake Forest.

Carrie: Tell me about your first job after graduation.

Stephanie: PepsiCo was recruiting on campus, and I was a BEM (Business and Enterprise Management) major who needed an internship before my senior year. I originally thought I wanted to work at an ad agency – it sounded sexy and fun! But, as I went through the interview process, I realized I just needed to secure a solid internship. Funny enough, when I interviewed with PepsiCo, I bombed it. Fortunately, they gave me the benefit of the doubt, and I got the internship. Later, when I was an intern at Frito-Lay, the recruiters told me that in my interview they loved my passion for the consumer and how I spoke to my extracurricular leadership experience as president of the WFU student union, particularly working with teams and across functions. They thought I would excel – and I did.

I took a full-time role with Frito-Lay in Dallas after graduation and in four years worked my way up from marketing analyst to manager. As an analyst, I started on a brand team in premium healthy snacks. That role was a crash course in brand management 101; I got to “live” the brand and pull innovation, in-store programs and media directly into it. Then, I rotated to a shopper marketing role where I was able to manage a portfolio of products from one customer (Sam’s Club). From there, my last role involved working on an innovation incubator. We were designing brands rapidly with the goal to find national distribution within one to two years. It was similar to a mini startup within Frito-Lay, and I loved it. I had lots of ownership to develop the story behind the products and understand the consumer – I really got to touch each piece of the business. This experience sparked my interest in working with physical products, and I realized I enjoyed the tactile nature of seeing and feeling the actual products I was marketing.

Carrie: How did you transition from PepsiCo to Bowery Farming?

Stephanie: I found myself looking for a life change; I really loved the startup environment and had long loved the beauty world. In fact, food and beauty are very similar in terms of the consumer experience; both are intimate and illicit a personal connection. And, career-wise, I wanted to double-down on product marketing and hone in on an innovation role.

Glossier was solely an e-commerce company at the time I joined; I was only the second hire on the innovation team. Working at Glossier was the perfect marriage of art and science. I experienced a lot of personal and professional growth at the same time the company was really taking off. However, after three years I found myself working less in innovation and with a strong desire to return to the food space. I was drawn to companies that had a strong mission and wanted to be in the New York area. Bowery Farming was a startup with 75-100 employees when I joined, which was my sweet spot.

Working at Bowery has been a great blend between my two past experiences. Just like at Glossier, we are doing something super-innovative, unique and challenging but we are vertically integrated and building our own facilities, much like Frito-Lay. My job involves getting consumers excited about lettuce! Along with typical business sectors like finance and sales, I also collaborate with agriculture scientists, farm design engineers and robotics engineers. Visiting the farms to see the actual growth process and working with a blend of teammates across functions keeps my job innovative and interesting.

Carrie: Since you were unfamiliar with farming when you first started, what surprised you the most about the farming industry?

Stephanie: I did not realize how vulnerable the traditional agricultural system is. Droughts, floods and labor shortages have a vast impact on the system. Living in New York, I learned that the majority of our produce comes from the West Coast. Seeds are not selected for quality or consumer benefit, but ratherfor their ability to transport well. This really surprised me. Specific to Bowery, I was shocked at the complexity. It takes great effort among engineers, scientists and farm operators to change the way we grow produce and disrupt the industry.

Carrie: Would you say that your WFU business classes prepared you for your career?

Stephanie: Absolutely! In fact, the most valuable part of my Wake Forest experience was the interaction with professors. Bren Varner’s class was a standout; as a professor of practice, I found so much value in his teaching style. I still draw on how he broke down problems and probed with questions, as well as the way he facilitated his class. In my daily job,I flex between hard and soft skills, and having this exposure in college was so helpful.

Carrie: For those seeking to work in innovation, any advice?

Stephanie: I’m inspired to develop products that will stand the test of time for consumers. The best innovation is not necessarily developing the product the consumer wants, but the product they don’t even know they need because it serves an unmet need. My advice is to stay very connected with consumers. Think critically about shopping habits – even your own habits! How do you experience the brands you purchase? Talk to your friends about why they choose what they do. Keep your finger on the pulse of the market.

Carrie: As an alumna, how do you stay connected?

Stephanie: I’m connected informally to college friends, and I participate in the Wake alumni community in New York. It’s very important to stay connected. I’ve leveraged my WFU network before, and I’ve helped other Deacs (recent grads, career changers and current students) by taking calls and serving as a resource.

Carrie: In 10 years, where do you see yourself?

Stephanie: I love the challenges I’m solving today. With the food system, there’s a lot more to unpack and innovate in order to change the future of food. On the other hand, because I am consumer-centric and believe in building community, I would like to open a community space, shop, or restaurant and inspire others with the products I love.

Carrie: Since you love a good product, what is one of your favorites that you could not live without?

Stephanie: Easily I couldn’t live without my Dutch oven because I love to cook! It stays on my stovetop permanently since I use it so often. But, if I picked a favorite food or snack item, I would have to go back to basics and choose a Lay’s yellow bag of potato chips. It’s such a beloved and delicious brand, how can you go wrong?

Carrie: Given you are an insightful person who loves to bring people together, can you leave us with a few words of wisdom?

Stephanie: It’s all about the people – the people you work with, for and around. Especially if you work at a mission-oriented company, you must keep an eye on the mission because it’s so important. The only way to reach the mission is with your team. It’s paramount to hold hands and march towards the vision together. I’ve learned time and time again that relationships can be both personal and professional; lean on those relationships when you need to work through problems and achieve that vision. It’s all about the people.