Searching for Solutions

by Natalie Grillon, MBA '12 (9/24/11)

Natalie Grillon, MBA '12

My summer internship as a marketing and sustainability intern at S. C. Johnson focused on three challenging projects requiring a strong ability in both marketing and sustainability skills. 

When I began researching business schools on the dial-up connection at the internet café in Bamako, Mali, West Africa, I was searching for solutions.  I’d experienced the best and the worst that government programs and NGOs had to offer international development and I was convinced there were more efficient ways to address global health, environmental, and social problems.  As a result, the private sector’s resources, results and ties to market dynamics appealed to me as both effective and sustainable.  I knew I wanted to explore and understand the role business could play in development, specifically at the corporate level. 

As I looked at the various business school programs, Johnson’s SUstainable GLobal Enterprise (SGE) program stuck out for its view that “solutions to environmental and social problems (are) business opportunities, not a cost of doing business.”  A project that caught my attention was the collaboration between the Center and S.C. Johnson and Son (SCJ), a consumer packaged goods company based in Racine, Wisconsin.  Together they were working on a social business innovation project in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.  Little did I know that two years later I’d be spending my summer working at SCJ on the most recent developments of that project that originally drew me to Johnson.

My summer internship as a marketing and sustainability intern at SCJ focused on three challenging projects requiring a strong ability in both marketing and sustainability skills.  I was able to work on both new product innovation as well as current marketing campaigns already in the pipeline.  In addition, I learned about the feasibility of prioritizing and the reality of justifying sustainability issues in a top tier marketing organization.  Sustainability, specifically related to the environment and sustainable development in emerging and developing markets, has been a key focus and value for SCJ for decades. 

My first summer project focused on consumer behavior change and communications for a brand centered initiative.  The project offered me the opportunity to better understand the complexities of sustainability messaging and implications for a brand and its various stakeholders, including not only its consumers but the retailers as well.  I also learned to manage across various partners, including three ad agencies, a social business, and the brand team.

The SGE immersion project I had just completed in the spring semester helped me tackle the large amount of research and analysis required for my second project focused on SCJ’s strategy development in international markets.  This project was in the early stages of strategy development so I was tasked with accumulating both internal and external perspectives and cases to inform recommendations for the company’s next steps.  Interacting and learning from those involved in SCJ’s international business across departments allowed me to see sustainability at the corporate level and the challenges associated with strategy innovation in a rapidly changing landscape of emerging and developing markets. 

My final project provided me a first-hand look at the daunting task of launching a new product.  Tasked with a very small component of the strategy, and yet buried under data for more than a month, I came to truly appreciate the immense amount of work needed to bring the best products to the SCJ consumer. 

Now back at school, I feel enlightened with experience applicable to the questions we explored in our courses.  I’m content with the great benefits of my internship, including the hard skills in data analysis and decision making, the exploration allowed on sustainability issues at a corporation, and the connection I made to my initial questions in the steamy internet cafe around sustainable development and corporate involvement in developing markets.  I have yet to develop conclusions to my initial questions but believe the lessons I learned will continue to come alive in the coming months and years.