Commerce student gets real-life CEO experience
By Wanda Praamsma, Communications Officer
It’s easy to see why Queen’s Commerce student Stephanie Spagnolo (Com’14) was selected recently to spend a day shadowing the CEO of a top sporting goods firm in Toronto. In conversation, she sits tall, looks you directly in the eye and speaks confidently and enthusiastically. She seems a natural leader herself.
“The experience surpassed my expectations,” says Ms. Spagnolo, of her day at adidas Group Canada with CEO Jim Gabel. “From the moment I walked in the door, Mr. Gabel and all the staff were very welcoming and made every effort to include me. It was a great introduction to the business – I had one-on-one time with Mr. Gabel but also got to attend a product launch meeting, a pricing meeting and a pay equity meeting, and in all of them I was asked for ideas and my opinion.”
Ms. Spagnolo got the unique chance to experience CEO life through a nation-wide competition called CEO x 1 day, run by talent management firm Odgers Berndtson. After hearing about the competition from her father, Ms. Spagnolo applied at the last minute and ended up making it through several rounds of a rigorous selection process, which included a leadership test and phone and in-person interviews. She was one of seven Toronto-area students chosen to participate in the program in February.
One of the highlights of the day at adidas was the product launch meeting for a new sneaker debuting shortly. At 21, Ms. Spagnolo represents the target demographic (female and 20-30 years old) for the trendy, machine-washable shoe, and she was the perfect person to give the company feedback on their launch plans.
“I felt the most comfortable in that meeting, as I could really connect with the product and make comments that I think were really helpful for their marketing and branding campaigns,” she says.
Ms. Spagnolo also has significant experience to fall back on. In the past two years, she decided to pursue marketing (over the accounting and consulting streams offered in Commerce) and last summer, she interned at Kraft Canada doing everything from a website refresh, business assessments and pitches, all for the cheese snacking department. And at Queen’s, she co-founded the student-led Queen’s Marketing and Advertising Association, which works to inspire students to pursue a career in marketing and holds several networking, mentorship and agency visits throughout the year.
“I feel like in the last two years of my degree, I’ve really gained momentum and confidence. I have felt a huge shift moving into marketing and getting experience in the field. I found my place and I am a better student and a better leader – I now really want to help other, younger commerce students, including my sister who’s in her second year, get the best experience and leave feeling as good as I do.”
Graduating this spring, Ms. Spagnolo is indeed well-positioned and ready to lead. She’s already signed on with Kraft and will start working at their Toronto office in August. While she’s open to what happens next, she says she is keen to work at the CEO level, as she finds managing others both challenging and rewarding. The CEO x 1 day experience has certainly helped solidify her leadership goals.
“It has been really important for me to get these kinds of out-of-classroom experiences. The hands-on, real life experience is so different than what happens in the classroom, and I’m really ready for that,” she says. “It was also great to see Mr. Gabel up close in his role. It’s clear with him how important interpersonal skills are. He was friendly and had a lot of charisma – he knew how to motivate a room.
“I know there is not one way to lead, but you could tell he was very well respected.”