Steven Van Vechten
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
“Ever-curious and constantly looking for new ways to improve myself personally, professionally, and socially.”
Hometown: Canandaigua, NY
Fun Fact About Yourself: While living in Wales, I mastered the pronunciation of the longest town name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch
Undergraduate School and Major: Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY; Double Major in Psychology and Media Studies, Minor in Sociology
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: MMB Advertising, Senior Account Executive
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My favorite (and perhaps most challenging) professional project to date was working with a small team to identify areas for growth for the Toyota Prius. At a time when the 2016 presidential election had polarized the U.S., my team sought to make the Prius, which has always been an icon of liberalism, culturally relevant and appealing to consumers, in some of the most historically conservative states in the country.
What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I knew I had found my tribe when my level of curiosity and excitement was matched by the Johnson students I met. Johnson students are incredibly accomplished individuals, but never flex their egos. I found the passion and humility at Johnson to be refreshing and love that it is a place where everyone encourages one another to dream big. The Johnson community motivates you to achieve more than you ever thought you could.
Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Some aspects of my MBA search were nonnegotiable. Because I plan to pivot to brand management, I wanted a program that would allow me to delve deeply into marketing, such as Johnson’s Strategic Marketing Immersion. I was also adamant that my program would have strong recruiting relationships with top consumer packaged goods companies. While speaking with current students, alumni, and career management staff, it was clear that Johnson had the necessary recruitment pipeline. I was also highly motivated to find a program with a robust leadership development curriculum. With the rate that technology and business are evolving, I believe that the most valuable hard skills will change. Opportunities such as Johnson Leadership Fellows, Leadership Expeditions, Board Fellows, etc., will help me to develop the soft skills that will maintain their value throughout my career.
What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? International travel. Johnson offers phenomenal opportunities for international travel, and I plan to take full advantage of this offering. While some trips are designed to expose students to international business, others focus more on leadership building in unpredictable situations, like the Leadership Expeditions to Patagonia and USMC Quantico. I am a firm believer in the value of regularly vaulting outside of my comfort zone so I am eager to get uncomfortable and grow alongside my classmates.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Working at an advertising agency was energizing, and I enjoyed working with clients to solve business problems, but ultimately I wanted more ownership over the brand and to be the final decision maker. Pivoting from an agency to brand management will allow me to widen my scope of influence to include new product development, innovation, R&D, as well as augment pricing, supply chain, packaging, and the sales experience.
How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Pursuing an MBA certainly requires both a financial investment as well as a substantial time commitment. Diving into an MBA program was primarily about elevating my career to a level where I could grapple with big, messy questions and make a greater impact. After speaking with some Johnson alums, I was certain that Cornell’s MBA program would springboard me directly into a career that would stimulate me.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? Fuqua, Tuck, Darden, Yale SOM
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I wanted a program with a “bunker mentality,” where all students are invested in seeing their peers succeed. Many programs tout their schools’ “tight-knit community,” and this idea rang truest at Johnson. One strategy that was helpful in assessing programs was to visit schools and sit where students congregate, observing the tone of their conversations and the expressions on their faces. In Johnson’s Sage Atrium, which is bathed in natural light, it was clear to me that the students were extremely bright and high-achieving, but also they were enjoying themselves. They were just as passionate about the successes of their peers as they were about their own. In this regard, Johnson was truly in a class of its own.
What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? As a freshman undergrad, I auditioned and was selected to become “Bart” the Statesman, the school mascot and singular personification of Hobart College. A great way to get comfortable with laughing at yourself is to dress up as an eight-foot-tall colonial patriarch and dance in front of hundreds of sports fans. I never expected “mascoting” to change my career path, but while sweating profusely under the layers of the woolen costume and peering out through a nine-inch-wide smile, I discovered the power of a brand. “Bart” sparked my passion for branding.
What do you plan to do after you graduate? My primary strengths and interests lie in the fusion of business and the psychology of consumer motivation. After Cornell, I plan to work in brand management at a CPG company, where I intend to help steer brands through exciting new trends in consumer preferences and e-commerce.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Though my current five-year plan has me climbing the brand management ladder at a CPG company, heavily investing myself in innovation roles, penetrating emerging markets, and landing an international job posting, I am also refusing to close any doors. Things are changing rapidly these days, and I know that taking a brief detour or exploring an entirely new path might turn out to be the best career decision I ever make.