Q&A with Jonathan Wilkins ‘14, MBA Student & Former Director of Business Strategy, Vans

Majors: Interdepartmental Economics & Political Science / Minor: History

What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?

Duke prepared me for both of my roles post-college (at Vans and BCG) in a couple of important ways: problem-solving skillset and emotional intelligence. I have never been asked to draw a supply and demand graph or any of the other specifics areas of knowledge from my economics/political science major. However, I constantly draw upon my ability, gained from Duke’s varied curriculum, to problem-solve in creative ways and meet new challenges head on. Secondly, as part of my jobs, I have always needed to be a good communicator who can connect with others around me, regardless of background. The diverse group of people I met and experiences I enjoyed through my time at Duke prepared me greatly to ground my EQ in humility and candor. Now that I’m in business school, these skills are still critical and I’m excited to be back in an academic environment to further refine them.

How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?

Leaving Duke, there was the natural concern that Duke would be the best four years of my life and everything from there would be downhill. While those four years were certainly great, I have also really enjoyed my time post-college. Duke encourages you to take ownership of your life, which turns out to be an important skillset after college to both the working world and your now unstructured personal life. Another key takeaway is that learning doesn’t end simply from leaving an academic environment; the growth mindset that Duke instilled in me served me well in the first few years out of school as I was able to prioritize thoughtful introspection and learning from the varied new experiences I was having.

How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?

By my senior year in college, I was still unsure of what I wanted to do for my career. I had worked for three very different companies during each of my college summers: a science-fiction blog, a non-profit through Duke Engage, and Ralph Lauren. I decided to do consulting after Duke in order to gain expertise as well as learn more about myself: what do I enjoy doing and where am I most invigorated? By the end of my time at BCG, I realized that I wanted to feel more ownership and connection to the work that I do, while wanting to work in a more creative-space. Fortunately, my time at Vans has been able to fulfill all of those goals. Vans was a very different culture than BCG and, in some ways, more diverse in background. The core skills mentioned above (EQ, grounded in humility and candor) served me well as I made the transition.

What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?

Despite being a four-billion revenue business, Vans is still a relatively small organization. To that end, you get to make a lot of impact; you’re not just another cog on an oil tanker too large to meaningfully change direction. That ability to make an impact and take ownership is then positively augmented by the business’ emphasis on creativity and encouragement of all its employees to live creatively in how they work and live their lives. While I’m currently taking a break from footwear and apparel at business school right now, I’m excited to re-enter the industry post-graduation.

The most challenging is probably figuring out what to wear each day. As an aspiring hypebeast surrounded by fashionable people, it can be a struggle. But it’s good to have aspirational goals…

What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?

There are a lot of ways to scratch one’s creative itches beyond the jobs that first come to mind (e.g. media, writing). I may not work in a classically creative role, but I get to feel fulfilled daily. While I was at Duke, it felt like there were few options out there to find that fulfillment; my advice therefore would be that things will work out and to prioritize learning about yourself through your career choices to then find your best option. When you have an ocean of choice in front of you, it can be overwhelming, but the best course of action is usually to dive in and swim to what you find you enjoy.

Anything to add?

Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to talk more!

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