From Pizza To Profit Projections: Rising Through Portland’s Retail Industry

by University Communications,

Nick Arneson’s (MBA’12) career path traces through iconic local institutions.

If you had sought nominations for ‘Most Improved Student’ for the MBA for Professionals class of 2012, you would have heard Nick Arneson’s name.

The Assistant Merchandise Manager for adidas’s Originals will be the first to accept his candidacy; “I probably transformed more than anyone else in my class, if only because I had such a long way to come,” Arneson admits. “Many of my peers were already well-established in their careers, and wanted an MBA to move up. In my situation, I’d spent my 20’s chasing the rock-star dream. When my wife got pregnant, I realized that if I didn’t make a change soon, I wouldn’t escape retail management at all.”

“I had to do something drastic.”

Arneson’s pre-MBA career path passes through two of Portland’s most recognizable food institutes: Hot Lips Pizza and New Seasons Market. In the former, he served as a store manager for seven years, then joined the latter seeking more opportunity. Still, he realized, “Retail management wasn’t my interest. It wasn’t a viable career option for me, long-term.”

The winds of change also blew through Arneson’s home life; while he was just starting Willamette’s MBA for Professionals program, his first child arrived, and his wife was finishing her own graduate studies. “It was a weird dynamic, with lots of school and the new baby,” Arneson recalls. “Though she was normally a better sleeper than most newborns, sometimes she wouldn’t sleep all night, and then we’d go to work and class the next day!”

Arneson persevered, immersing himself in his MBA experience, and cultivating relationships; “As soon as I learned that one of my fellow students worked at adidas Originals, I hounded her for a recommendation. With just two months of our program left, she told me after class one day, ‘There’s a position open in my department. I’ve entered your name into the system.’ I was overjoyed.”

Excitement wouldn’t suffice.

Arneson entered adidas’s interview process with more enthusiasm than industry experience; “There’s no chance that I would’ve gotten this job before entering Willamette. My experience in the Integrative Management Project [the MBA for Professionals program’s capstone experience] was instrumental to my success.”

For the first part of his interview, Arneson recorded himself answering preliminary questions. “I felt like I totally failed,” he recalls. “But I guess I didn’t do as poorly as others, because I advanced to the next step.” Next, he had to analyze a spreadsheet of financial information, and prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Again, “Without my MBA, I wouldn’t have known how to analyze the financials, my PowerPoint would have sucked, and I wouldn’t have known how to present to a group of senior management.”

Evidently, Arneson had what it took; adidas hired him for a 6-month contract. Two months after renewing, he was offered a full-time position. Today, he draws on his MBA constantly; “From tracking metrics like sell-through, to understanding consumer- and market-research, to building marketing plans, Willamette gave me a whole new level of understanding of how business functions work together. Having had no corporate experience, I didn’t realize how much that would come into play. The MBA program shows that relationship well.”

Case in point.

Arneson spearheaded a yearlong market-research effort within his division at adidas Originals, complete with focus groups, and user-experience interviews. “Without knowing how to build out a marketing case, -as well as knowing how to put together and pitch a business plan- there’s no way I could have done this,” he explains. “This is a big success for me. I got this going, got senior management sign-off, formed a team, and received a small budget. Without Willamette, I wouldn’t have known where to start.”

-Mike Russell