Madelynn Brown

For Madelynn Brown, coursework related to gaining internships reaped the most success — leading her on a career path that leveraged all of her skills and experience, and took her from fashion to technology.

Brown, a 2013 LIM College graduate, serves as the senior program manager at Microsoft, and is working to develop the digital platform transformation between Adobe and Microsoft. She specializes in working at the intersection of tech and marketing, driving customer-focused innovation for omnichannel programs.

See related story: LIM Alumna to Students: See Setbacks as Lessons to Grow

As a student at LIM, Brown held marketing internships at Henri Bendel and Bag Borrow or Steal. After taking on a full-time position at Bag Borrow or Steal, she “developed an interest in digital marketing and expanded her tech skill set so that she could both create and execute marketing strategies,” noted a LIM College spokeswoman. Later, Brown worked at Expedia, “where she was promoted to senior manager, managing the U.S. e-mail program and the development of marketing tools and platforms,” according to LIM College, adding that she later held a role at Amazon “where she worked on the Alexa launches and managed the central digital marketing team for Amazon Web Services.”

WWD: How did your coursework and your experience at LIM help inform your career decisions?

Madelynn Brown: I attended LIM College with the initial goal of working in fashion merchandising and ended up in tech marketing/engineering. At LIM I took courses such as global retailing, economics, business accounting and marketing — and those classes helped me develop the skills I use today. In addition to the basic coursework, the most meaningful classes I took were those relating to my internships. Learning how to create an effective résumé, develop my personal pitch and make professional connections really gave me a head start on getting my foot in the door at a big company.

WWD: If you could go back in time and give career advice to your younger self, what would you say?

M.B.: I would remind myself to say yes to new opportunities even if they are not the ones I envisioned. Be open to new challenges, and really continue to learn and improve my skill set. I have found it’s the people who are curious and who want to continuously learn who are the most successful. I would also tell myself to never compromise my happiness and values to advance my career. Helping others rise doesn’t take away from your own success — it actually makes it more fun when you climb the ladder with your friends.

WWD: How would you describe your career path? What were some of the challenges you faced?

M.B.: If you asked me when I was a senior in college where I would be in 10 years, I probably would have said fashion merchandising at Nordstrom. (I am a Seattle girl, after all.) I always knew that I could do anything I put my mind to, but it was actually figuring out what that was that took some time. My career path has been anything but what I had originally thought it would be, but I am so happy with where I am and where I’m going.

I’ve learned that the only person who is going to give me the life and career I want is me. In the beginning, it was a challenge to find my voice — everything from speaking up in meetings, pitching my crazy ideas, to negotiating my responsibilities and compensation. Learning how and when to use my voice in the workplace was something that took time and reflection. Many of my mentors helped me develop these skills. I also take pride in helping those on my team do the same. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is “people only respect your boundaries if you make them known.” As soon as I really took that in and began communicating how I do things and why — what my expectations are and how I manage my time — my career changed.

Another obstacle I faced early in my career was around my age. I was a senior manager with direct reports by age 22. When many people would realize my age, I would notice their tone would change. I would be called “honey,” and they would move the level of the conversation down. This made me self-conscious, especially when I was managing people who were older than me. It wasn’t until recently that I realized age is just a number. In today’s world, it’s not about the number of years you’ve been working, it’s about the impact you make.

I don’t think the obstacles ever stop coming. As I prepare to become a mom in January, I’m now focused on tackling balancing a career and making sure I can be present at home. (Hello Skype calls and meetings during nap time.) I’m looking forward to being an example for my daughter of how a woman can have it all.

WWD: Have you had mentors at LIM or in the industry? If so, how have they helped you?

M.B.: A few of my bosses throughout my career have become mentors. I have been very lucky to have managers who invested time in helping me not only develop my skill set but who also gave me opportunities to show what I can do. That’s half the battle. It’s great if you are smart and have good ideas but being able to gain visibility and share those ideas with people who can empower you makes a huge difference. I recommend everyone find a mentor who is where you want to be in five to 10 years — both professionally and personally. Even if you are successful and know what you are doing, it’s invaluable to have people you can bounce things off of.

WWD: What advice would you give someone considering a career in the retail and fashion apparel market?

M.B.: It’s OK to start at the bottom. Get your foot in the door however you can and work hard. I started as an intern doing gift wrap at Henri Bendel — literally tying bows all day. Now, as a manager, I always shadow my team to make sure I know everything from the ground up, so that I can be a more informed leader and really understand all their perspectives and workloads.

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