lululemon athletica has been one of the decade’s fastest growing companies. They have stores in Canada, the United States, Australia, and even China. And they’ve done this on their own terms, without standard forms of marketing and advertising. In fact, they’ve even done this without a communications and marketing director. Instead, they have a “Director of Community,” a title which speaks to the company’s preference to focus their marketing strategies on the very neighborhoods in which they operate. It’s an innovative, sincere approach to branding and marketing, and we were able to speak with the person responsible for painting the lulu yoga portrait — Eric Petersen, Director of Community.
Eric Petersen studied global political economics at Colorado College. He spent seven years as the marketing director for EA Sports in Vancouver, London, and San Francisco. Now, Eric is a lone male ranger among an executive family primarily dominated by women.
Like many students today, you went to school studying something different than the career path you chose. How did you make the transition from school to work?
When I left university I spent a year travelling. I worked and travelled my way around the world with a year long ticket, and then I landed in New York after a year, and used my contacts — literally the friends I had in university — to land a job.
What can you tell students who are concerned about the relevancy of their education in terms of finding a career?
I don’t think what you study, or what your first job is, or what your second job is, will dictate what your career will be. Having the ability to communicate well, both written and orally, and being able to think analytically, is significantly more important than what you study.
Before lululemon, you worked for EA Sports as the marketing director; if you could go back and change one thing, what would it be and why?
Looking into the past, I would have maintained better relations and kept a stronger database with some contacts.
It seems lululemon is fairly female saturated; how do you work in a female dominated office, and how has this compared to your past experience?
We are probably 85 percent female. I love it. Women can sometimes be more emotional working with so many other women, but it’s wonderful. We’re a women’s brand, and we need to be run by women; I’m just fortunate to work with so many powerful women. Regardless, it’s not so much about gender, as it is about people who are passionate about their job and their community.
To which parts of your character do you attribute your success as a lululemon senior?
Adaptability, creativity, and just a positive attitude. I’m always thinking about possibility — and the glass is always half-full.
In the event that lululemon athletica decides to hire executive staff, what might a key candidate look like to you?
They have to have passion, and leadership skills. They have to be a great team player. And they have to be humble, somebody who is willing to check their ego at the door, because as much as you have to have an ego to get ahead in life, you also have to be able to put it aside. Confidence and experience are also two key attributes. I want somebody who is confident, so that no matter what situation he/she is put into, they’re going to take it on. And finally, somebody with experience, because it’s not somebody who has worked one specific job, but somebody who has a variety of experience.
What advice can you give graduate students who are still unsure of what career they want to pursue?
Do something! Try anything! Try different jobs while you’re figuring it out. Don’t be afraid because it’s better to try something new than sit around waiting for a perfect career. Dive in and if you don’t like it, you’re still going to learn from it. It’s important to have a wealth of experience.
Do you think it’s important for young professionals to have a mentor?
I think it’s very useful. As professionals, we’re always in need of coaching. I have several different mentors who I learn from, and who I turn to with a variety of questions.
What piece(s) of advice did you receive, and from whom did you receive them, that have had a lasting effect on your professional endeavors?
It wasn’t a person, but rather an experience. It was through travel, getting out of my comfort zone and going on the road that provided me with more perspective and learning, than any one piece of advice. jp