Lisa Brooks, `92 had business on her mind when she took her first class at Grand Valley State University towards her bachelor's in business degree. With a passion for marketing, an eye for networking, and a willingness to live outside her comfort zone, she's now a successful marketer for a Fortune 500 company. And she's contributed to growing several national brands, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's and TGI Friday's.
Brooks is a senior customer marketing manager for Coca-Cola Refreshments, USA, working in Dallas, Texas for its Food Service and On-Premise division. Her title may be a mouthful, but it boils down to serving clients who sell Coca-Cola through fountain service in restaurants, theaters, amusement parks, and other food service venues.
"It's the most enjoyable job I can imagine," she says.
"My work isn't as simple as saying that I market Coca-Cola products," says Brooks. "I work more as a business marketing consultant, helping our customers achieve their goals for their brands." She assists in multiple ways, often providing market analysis, information on economic trends, and proprietary research done by Coca-Cola.
She has also helped her customers adopt new beverage technology such as Coca-Cola Freestyle, a touch-screen fountain machine that dispenses more than 100 beverage brands from one machine. Brooks describes it as a 'game changer' and "the biggest innovation in Coca-Cola's history."
Brooks' current clients include TGI Friday's, a popular chain based in Dallas with approximately 600 restaurants nationwide. Other clients are strong regional chains in the Southwest. Wingstop, which focuses solely on flavored chicken wings, has more than 445 restaurants. Another client, Taco Bueno Restaurants, has about 190 quick-service Mexican eateries.
It's rarely easy to find the most enjoyable job you can imagine and to secure work at a Fortune 500 company. Brooks credits her current position, first and foremost, to networking. "I had a great preparation--my Grand Valley education, the right work history, the right skill set. But it also came down to the right place, the right time and knowing the right people- people I met through my earlier positions."
In 2004, while Brooks was looking for a new job, a former boss mentioned that a woman executive was leaving a marketing position at Coca-Cola, and that she should apply. She contacted the woman, who turned out to be one of her former neighbors. The neighbor happily gave suggestions about pursuing the position. Brooks got the job, starting in Chicago and then competing successfully for a promotion to Coke's office in Dallas.
Lisa's career has connected her with some of America's most well-known brands. Before Coca-Cola, Lisa was assistant brand manager for Alberto Culver Co., based near Chicago, where she worked on their V05 Shampoo & Conditioner line. For another Chicago company, she helped McDonald's Corporation with marketing and advertising for the African American consumer market, including Happy Meal campaigns and promotions.
Brooks gives praise for her Grand Valley education. "The Multicultural Business Education Cohort (MBEC) program laid a very valuable foundation for me," says Lisa. "We were mentored, there was practice in speaking publicly, we gained leadership skills, and that made the difference."
"Perhaps the program's key strength was its internships. My internship at Amway in marketing cosmetics had the greatest impact for me," Brooks said. "The skills I learned helped me get a permanent position at Amway right after college, where I stayed for five years. Amway helped me move beyond sales and straight into marketing and product development."
Reflecting on reasons for her success, Brooks says: "I think it is because I have been willing to change and adapt, to let go of my fears of not being in my comfort zone. I did not settle for the status quo. As a networker, I've kept my eyes and ears open for opportunities, I've recognized how important timing is, and I have not been afraid to `go for it.'"
Brooks, who grew up in Grand Rapids, also credits her success to willingness to move when necessary. "When I went to Chicago, it was one of the best moves I made. It gave me a broader exposure to many industries, which I was looking for."
Mentors were important for Brooks at Grand Valley. Dean Emeritus Don Williams, who led the MBEC program, helped in many ways, including steering her toward marketing after she decided her first academic choice, accounting, was not for her. Brooks also acknowledges Jean Enright, the retired special assistant to the President, for mentoring her during and even after Grand Valley.
As for the future, Brooks says she continues to enjoy the independence of her job, as well as all the change and excitement it holds. "Someday, I want to evolve to become a greater contributor, managing other marketers," she adds.
Wherever life and work take her, Brooks will always remember Grand Valley. "When I think of the good friends I have now, most are from Grand Valley. I hold their friendships in the highest regard; I'm still good friends with my first college roommate," she says.
"Looking at the success I've had and the friends I've made, that says a lot about Grand Valley being a special place."
Added July, 2011.