Michael Moynihan ’89 reassured a group of business-minded Bowdoin students sitting down with him for lunch recently that they should not lose confidence in their liberal arts background as they prepare to launch their careers.
“I know it’s easy to say, ‘It’s a tough job market out there, and I have a liberal arts degree and I might be competing with business school graduates’,” he said. Instead, Moynihan argued they should have faith in their Bowdoin education because it’s more relevant in the business world now than ever.
“The world of business is more tumultuous than it ever has been,” he said. He pointed to all the forces roiling industries, such as social media, online marketplaces, the rise of tablets and smartphones, and the uneven economy. “Why play a board game when you have an iPad?” he asked rhetorically when describing some of the difficulties his own toy industry is confronting. “Why play Scrabble when you can play Words with Friends on your iPhone?”
In the past, Moynihan continued, left-brained people could thrive in business because they could fall back on trusted formulas. But a formula these days may work for a few weeks or months before it’s outdated. Continually inventing new products, new marketing strategies, or new ways of doing business requires “a whole different way of thinking. It requires people who can think critically about formulas and what we need to do to tweak them,” Moynihan said. “What you guys are getting trained for is very relevant to the world of business.”
Moynihan, vice president of marketing for LEGO Systems, Inc., visited campus recently to share his wisdom about the business world. He has worked for Monitor Co. and General Mills, and has been with Lego now for 16 years. Moynihan graduated from Bowdoin in 1989 after majoring in economics and math, and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1993.
As head of marketing for Lego, Moynihan is familiar with selling toys that help children develop their skills while delighting them. And while he didn’t advise Bowdoin students to play with building blocks, he did offer thoughtful advice on how they could develop their careers. One of the more practical tips he suggested was to go into consulting if they weren’t sure what they wanted to specialize in.
“I went into consulting after graduating from Bowdoin, and consulting is like the liberal arts of business,” he said. “It gave me an idea of what I liked and didn’t like. If you have any intention of going into business, consulting is a good way to get exposure to a bunch of relevant areas of business.”
He also recommended looking for companies that encourage cross-promotion. “Look for industries or companies that allow a bit of breath out of the gates. Careers are marathons, not sprints,” he counseled.
Though he didn’t know it when he left Bowdoin, Moynihan learned along the way that he “had a real passion for marketing.” But it took him a couple of jobs and companies to find the right fit, he said. At Lego, Moynihan’s involved with product development, advertising, marketing analytics, event marketing (such as fan conventions), market research, competitive intelligence and public relations.
He recommended that students be as selective about choosing an employer as they were when they picked a college. “Do not underestimate the importance of corporate culture. Make sure you’re going to a company according to your own values,” he said. “Apply the same rigor in your job search to cultural fit as you did in your college search.”
Finally, he gave students an oft-repeated bit of advice from Bowdoin grads. “Tap into the Bowdoin alumni network, it’s an unbelievable network,” he said. “The people who graduate from this place have a sincere passion for it, and that passion only seems to grow the longer they’re out.”