Less than a year after graduating from Fisher and joining the software company Autodesk as a community program manager, Rachel Hartley found herself crisscrossing the globe on a two-month, nine-country listening tour designed to better connect the company with its customers.
While daunting, the experience was tailormade for the former marketing and design thinking student, as it provided her the opportunity to utilize and build on the global business skills she cultivated while at Fisher.
Bring us up to speed on some of your recent accomplishments.
After graduating from Ohio State, I launched my career at Autodesk as a community program manager. Within this role, I’ve been able to step into a strategic position to expand our Autodesk community by co-building a global user group program alongside our customers and colleagues. When I joined Autodesk, I was a part of the research, design and launch of the Autodesk Group Network in November 2019, and since then, the network has grown to reach over 180 user groups worldwide and touching 1.7 million customers.
Within my first year at Autodesk, I embarked on a tour of nine countries, meeting with customers and employees around the world to foster stronger relationships and learn what can be embedded into our program’s design as we continue to grow. The global competencies I developed while at Fisher, especially working in the Office of Global Business supporting the Ohio Export Internship Program, set me up for success in navigating cultural differences, approaching new business environments and developing localized experiences for our customers.
You credit three areas of your Fisher and Ohio State experiences — your design thinking minor, the programs available through Office of Global Business, and Fisher’s curriculum — as being vital to your journey thus far. How have each of those shaped you?
Entering the software technology industry and working on the west coast, design thinking is a rising buzzword and an applied principle in the working environment. Stanford built an entire design thinking institute, commonly known as the d.school, to help people become everyday innovators, while Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and other large tech giants are applying the frameworks in real business settings. During my studies at Ohio State, I paired my BSBA with the design thinking minor offered through the Department of Design. To be honest, at the time I did not realize the future potential of having these skillsets.
The minor allowed me to understand frameworks that can be applied to any business problem and learn tools on how to effectively collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders, lead design sessions, and ultimately how to put your customer needs first. Almost any product or service you will be supporting involves a human at the end, and the design thinking minor coursework ensured that I was approaching problems and developing solutions that has the customer at the center — a set of skills that, I’ve learned, are not held by everyone.
I served as a global student ambassador at Fisher during my four years at Ohio State, supporting the marketing and mentorship of undergraduate students seeking global business opportunities and the management of the Ohio Export Internship Program. This position strengthened my global mindset and developed global competencies far beyond what I could have imagined. It created a synergy, allowing me to apply my coursework to a real organizational environment and vice-versa. I was introduced to subject matter that included increasing exports of small to medium size businesses, managing global stakeholder relationships, website design, organizational efficiency and event planning.
I attribute part of my success in this role to participating in the programs myself. Most notable was my internship abroad in Singapore with a clinical trial logistics company, Marken, where I worked to develop company success stories across Asia and the Pacific region. My most rewarding and humbling global experience was travelling to Cape Town, South Africa as a consultant for a social entrepreneur in the local village of Philippi. These experiences taught me how to approach international business problems, recognize diverse perspectives and take action. I strengthened my cross-cultural communication skills, created space for intelligent humility and encouraged diversity when problem solving.
In program management, often you wear many hats that spread across a multitude of skillsets. Sometimes it feels like I am running a mini organization inside a company. As I reflect on the curriculum at Fisher, I am more and more impressed with the breadth of knowledge we had access to across all specializations. By taking an intro level course in each specialization, you learned just the right amount to navigate each business function. Whether you are wanting to become an entrepreneur, a consultant, program manager or just effectively manage a team, understanding each business segment is crucial to success. A high working knowledge across all business functions helps lead to less narrow mindsets and keeps your mind open for future opportunities in your work environment.
Do you have a favorite faculty member or mentor who helped shape who you are today?
Joyce Steffan, the senior director of the Office of Global Business. I met Joyce during my freshman orientation and after 10 minutes of speaking with her she said, “I saw something special and knew you could go far.”
I am so thankful for meeting Joyce that day and for the spark she saw in me as a young freshman. Joyce shaped my next four years at Ohio State, providing me opportunities to grow within the Office of Global Business and outside of it, attending global events, speaking on Capitol Hill, and supporting me as I curated my identity. Through Joyce’s mentorship, I developed the core pillars of my professional identity and broke through barriers as a female striving for success in the corporate world.
What’s a favorite memory of your time at Fisher?
One of my favorite business memories from Fisher was my BUSMHR 4204 capstone marketing project with Roosevelt Coffee Roasters. At the time, the Roosevelt Coffee Roasters was just launching its new business, and our project was to present a go-to market strategy for the roasting company.
What made this my favorite memory was the amazing project team I was fortunate enough to work with, and the consulting experience we had working with the team at the coffee house. We didn’t treat this like any school project. Each of us put our heart and dedication into developing our strategy, working late into the evenings and delivering a proposal we were proud of. This project exhibited true collaboration and taught us how to bring together a wide range of skillsets to a project in the most beneficial way. We were able to have a coffee cupping experience at the roaster, meet with the company’s social media lead and have ample one-on-one time with the owner, Kenny Sipes. The hard work did pay off as we were announced as the winning proposal — but regardless of the outcome, it would have still been my favorite memory by far.
How has your Fisher experience, particularly your engagement with global programs, helped benefit your professional growth as an employee at Autodesk?
I strongly believe I would not have been presented the opportunity to complete a world tour at Autodesk if it were not for my experiences participating in the global programs at Fisher, and other areas of international focus.
After traveling as an undergraduate student on the Fisher Global Labs to Switzerland and Italy, interning in Singapore, and completing a Global Projects Program in Cape Town, South Africa, I demonstrated not only a strong level of self-independence, but the ability to navigate cultural differences, examine my own perspectives and assumptions while learning about those of other people, honed my observation and listening skills, and recognized diverse perspectives. The Community team at Autodesk is global, with colleagues representing over eight countries and local regions. When I launched the Autodesk Group Network, it was critical our program was inclusive worldwide and not just in English. Navigating how to build a global program is one thing — carrying it out and forging relationships with key stakeholders in each critical market is another.
My experiences at Fisher, alongside my world tour, are reflected in the Autodesk Group Network program design to ensure it embodies cultural differences and inclusion.
How would you describe the value of having a global perspective in today’s business environment?
Everything about today’s business environment is global — increasingly so with the pandemic moving everything digital. It is just as easy to connect with someone in Asia as it is to say hello to your mailman — you might actually catch your colleague in Japan quicker. Building strong relationships and navigating a diverse set of skillsets is hard work — and when you add in diverse cultures, perspectives and work ethics — it gets that much tougher. As you grow your global competencies and develop a global mindset, the more adept you become at working in complex business environments, tackling strategic initiatives and building solutions in an ever-changing, interconnected world. Step outside of your comfort zone and get curious — you will continue to grow your competencies and become a valuable asset your company won’t want to lose!
Did you have a favorite spot on campus? Why was it special?
My favorite spot on campus often was the Buckeye Reading Room at Thompson Library. I felt the most productive and consumed to cranking out my final exam studying when I was in this room. I always say to curate your spaces that make you feel most inspired. Maybe it was the natural light, the tall ceilings or more modern feel of the room — either way I always felt motivated and inspired to study and ace my next exam.
Graduating from Ohio State meant….
Continuing my adventure with a foundation built on knowledge, community and a strong sense of pride. I knew that even though I was leaving campus, I would be joining a community of alums that have a unique bond over our beloved experiences at Ohio State. Graduating from Ohio State is something special that can’t quite be put into words — but guarantees you will always connect with a fellow Ohio State graduate.
What advice would you give to a current student or recent Fisher graduate?
As you navigate through your time at Ohio State and Fisher, be kind to yourself as you hone your identity. When I began as a student, I had no idea the direction I wanted to take my business career, but through self-reflection and endless trial and error I developed a strong, authentic identity as I entered my first career.
Be open to new opportunities. Be in tune to what excites and motivates you in the classroom. And most importantly, be reflective so you can start to understand the key parts of your professional and personal identity. Your confidence, authenticity and strong sense of identity will become a competitive advantage that can’t be overlooked. Turn that into a powerful story — and you’ll be on the road to success.