2021 CentreCourt MBA Alumni: Shannon Watkins, Indiana University (Kelley)

Shannon Watkins

MBA Program: Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Class: 2002

Current Location: Columbus, GA

Current Company and Title: SVP, Brand and Creative Services, Aflac

Why did you choose to earn your MBA at this business school? I always knew I wanted a career in marketing and brand management. As a result, I narrowed my scope of prospective schools to those known for brand management excellence as well as a legacy of brand alumni reaching senior executive positions. The Kelley School of Business met both requirements, so I applied and was selected as a Consortium fellow.

After attending a visitation weekend, there was no doubt that Indiana University would be my home for the next two years. I felt a sense of “family” from Day 1. Kelley’s commitment to growth for all students and innovation in learning through academy programs and study abroad opportunities helped build critical functional and leadership skills that I continue to use every day in my role at Aflac. I owe much of my success to the foundation built during my time at Kelley.

Pretend you are an ambassador giving a tour at your business school. Name one place you would show a candidate and why was it so important to you? The place that I would show a candidate is the Career Services Center. As a student, the staff helped me understand the employment landscape, prepare for interviews, and ensure the right fit with prospective employers. The advice and counsel I received during my time at Kelley was invaluable. As an alumna, I continue to use the Career Services Center for executive development and career coaching.

What was your favorite class and what lesson do you use from it in your role? Brand management courses were my favorite! Year 2 coursework was set up as case studies, which helped me develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that apply to any industry. This class taught me the importance of creative problem-solving, a skill I have used every day since graduation.

What was your best memory during your MBA program? I entered Kelley with an undergraduate degree in biology from Fisk University (HBCU). Beginning the business school journey without a background in business was daunting!  Graduation is a day I will never forget and is my favorite memory. It showed me that with grit, determination, and the support of the faculty, staff, and students at Kelley, anything is possible!

What is one thing about the MBA program that you wish you had known when you applied? The MBA program offers a unique opportunity to build relationships with future global business leaders. Take the time to learn and build meaningful relationships.

What has been your biggest professional achievement? I define professional achievement with things that bring me joy (versus money or status). Helping others succeed and redefining what success can look like in the industry brings me joy.

First, I have had the opportunity to coach and develop many leaders as they reach their goals and earn promotions. Seeing others succeed brings me great joy!

Second is helping to redefine what success can look like in the marketing and advertising industry. I have had the opportunity to lead some of the largest brands in the U.S. across multiple industries as an African-American mother and “just a kid from Atlanta” who, before Kelley, had never taken a single business course. It brings me great joy to be authentically me every day and still have the opportunity to build brands and drive business growth.

Today, there are many leaders across the marketing landscape who don’t fit a stereotypical mold – and are killing it! It brings me great joy to be a part of a profession where diversity — in image, thoughts and words — is celebrated.

What advice would you give to a prospective student to help them earn a spot in your business school? The fabric of a business school class is by design diverse because a core part of the business school experience is peer learning. Students are chosen for Kelley because of what they can uniquely share with others. When each student contributes his or her unique point of view or perspective, the aperture of thinking broadens for all. Kelley believes each student can contribute fully when they are authentically themselves.

My advice to future students is to be yourself throughout the entire business school process. Each person has a unique gift to share. At Kelley, what makes you unique and authentic is what makes you invaluable. Dr. Seuss said it best: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

To reserve your free spot in P&Q’s CentreCourt MBA Festival from February 23-24, click here.

DON’T MISS: Meet The 2021 CentreCourt Distinguished MBA Alumni


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