Today we’d like to introduce you to Carolyn Kmet.
Carolyn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
As part of my Masters of Journalism from Northwestern University, I spent almost a year in the Czech Republic working for Radio Free Europe. I reported for the business desk, writing articles about the Eastern European economy. This was the first time in my life that I really understood how intricate and entwined the global economy is, how a decrease in resources in one country can ripple out to impact the rest of the world.
When I returned to the United States in 1997, the internet was just starting to take off as a consumer channel. I was hired by Arthur Andersen to develop content for their client portal, called KnowledgeSpace. We essentially built an in-house content development agency from the ground up. Everything from ordering equipment, to figuring out the best compression rates for our streaming video content.
Then, a company called MyPoints called me out of the blue. They were a consumer-focused incentive site, offering points back for purchases at retail partners. Back then, that was a brand-new concept! They were recruiting anyone that had a dotcom in their resume, and that’s how they found me. I had no prior marketing experience. The conversation essentially went:
MyPoints: “Do you know anything about affiliate marketing?”
MyPoints: “Neither do we, go figure it out.”
And off I went. I was able to build their affiliate channel from nothing, to the second most-visited website back in 2002. It was an amazing ride and my first taste of marketing. I enjoyed the experience so much, I decided to pursue an MBA. Loyola University of Chicago offered me a very generous scholarship, so I left the workforce to earn my degree. Earning my MBA was the best career decision I ever made.
As soon as I graduated, I was hired as an affiliate marketing manager for The Bradford Group, tasked with building performance-based relationships with third-party entities. From there, I went on to manage the Orbitz affiliate program. At Bradford and Orbitz, I worked on the retailer side, marketing to consumers. Both of those roles positioned me for my next position as director of client services with ShareASale, which developed the technology to track consumers as they went from one website to a retail site, and through to a completed transaction.
At ShareASale, I built the client services division from the ground up, working with retailers to develop and fine-tune their marketing strategies. In 2010, I was recruited over to Groupon. At that time, Groupon was growing really fast, and I was very excited to work with some of the best and brightest in Chicago. A couple years later, I was recruited to be CMO of All Inclusive Marketing, a digital marketing agency based out of Vancouver. There, I oversaw multiple marketing channels and worked with clients of all sizes, from a small natural foods and product reseller to the largest supplier of beads and craft supplies in North America. But through pretty much all my jobs, I was moonlighting on the side.
While at Groupon, one of my mentors from Loyola asked if I could teach a marketing class for the business school, and since I figured I owed Loyola pretty much my entire career, I said, “Sure!” Well, I absolutely fell in love with teaching. Working with students energized me. They asked great questions, we explored real-life case studies together and debated possible solutions. In 2016, Loyola offered me a full-time position on their faculty, and I accepted. Never in my life did I think I would end up in academia, yet here I am, quite possibly the happiest I’ve ever been in my career.
I ended up teaching part-time for Loyola up until 2016 when they brought me on full-time.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In Chicago, getting your foot in the door is always the hardest part. I’m originally from San Diego, California, so I didn’t have much of a network here in Chicago. I got rejection letter after rejection letter trying to land my first job. I actually still have them in a file, to remind me how hard it is to get that first job.
It is also sometimes challenging to be a woman in a male-dominated workforce. I think this is changing, I am also the faculty advisor for Loyola’s Women in Business undergraduate organization, and we work really hard to ensure that this next generation of women has the support and resources they need to succeed in any environment.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Loyola University of Chicago story. Tell us more about the business.
I am part of the Information Systems and Supply Chain Management department at the Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University of Chicago. One of the classes I teach is an introduction to information systems, where students learn how to organize, analyze and utilize data. It is a core class, which means all business students have to take it at some point during their college career.
Let me tell you, no one wants to take a class called “Intro to Information Systems.” But, my favorite part of that is seeing them get excited about data and analytics! Their eyes light up when they start to see how every decision made in any function of a business, is informed by data. They thrill at learning how to elicit the information they need, how to distill some insightful finding out of the terabytes of data that companies manage. I’m most proud of getting students engaged with data and technology so that they approach it with excitement rather than apprehension.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck has played an incredible role in my life. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as the internet. So when you asked me what I wanted to be, I said I wanted to be a paleontologist. Today, I can’t even find my keys, much less some fossil buried in dirt. So I was really lucky the internet came around.
I was also lucky to stumble into teaching. I was not a fan of college. I spent most of my college career chasing internships at various radio and television stations. The very last thing in life I ever thought I’d love, was teaching in college. I was lucky that my mentor took a chance on me when he asked me to teach.
I do believe that luck plays a role in our lives, but luck is also influenced by privilege and hard work. I was lucky to be born into a family that was able to send me to college. I am sure there are people who are smarter than me, who struggle more simply because they didn’t get the opportunity they surely deserve.