Go make your own luck.
It’s an important message for students from Chris Sutton, a 2011 Kelley School of Business Evening MBA graduate and the senior vice president of marketing at Indianapolis-based hhgregg.
“Go make your opportunity,” said Sutton. “My advice to students is to figure out first what you want to do in life and where you want to live. If you spend all your energies honed in on those two things, you’ll find a job, and you’ll find a job you like. Too many times I see students get their degrees, then blast out their résumés to California, Chicago, and New York. I say to that—you’re not focused enough.”
Sutton grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, and he received his bachelor’s degree in 2000 from the Kelley School in Bloomington. After graduation, he found a job with Disney’s Home Entertainment division in Los Angeles.
His first job wasn’t an easy find. He knew he wanted to start in entertainment marketing, and he worked to secure the contacts and experiences that would eventually lead to an internship and, later, a full-time job.
As a junior marketing major, Sutton became the director of advertising for the Hometown Cinema Film Festival at IU. He met an IU alum who offered him a brand marketing internship at Disney, which he completed the summer before his senior year. Sutton returned to LA for a full-time job in brand marketing following graduation.
Sutton and his wife, Angela (also an IU alum), moved back to Indiana after a couple years in California to be closer to family. Sutton worked for Hirons & Company (a locally based advertising and PR agency) as an account supervisor before starting at hhgregg in 2009. He has risen through the ranks since his initial position as marketing director, having recently been promoted.
“You have to make your own luck. So many people think, ‘Oh, you had this opportunity come up, that was kind of lucky.’ It wasn’t lucky. You have to put yourself in the right positions with the right people so that luck can happen.”
“With your career, always challenge yourself. There’s doing your regular job, and then—what are you doing as an individual to go above and beyond that on a consistent basis? That, I think, is where you can set yourself apart from other individuals. Everybody works hard in life; everybody’s always busy. So what are you doing above and beyond the person next to you that makes a difference for the organization?”
Is there ever a right time?
“I decided to go back to school for my MBA after about nine years of working in the marketing field,” said Sutton. “It was something I always wanted to do. I didn’t know when the right time would be, but I would tell people that there’s never a right time. You just have to set the goal. Tell yourself: I’m going to go get my MBA, whether it’s in a full-time program or a part-time program, like the Evening MBA Program at Kelley Indianapolis. You just have to decide: I’m going to go do this. Now is the right time.”
“I had a mentor who told me once, ‘time passes by either way, and it’s what you do with your time that can become rewarding.’ I decided in the summer of 2009 that it was the right time.”
Sutton’s decision to choose the Kelley Indianapolis for his MBA wasn’t hard, mostly because he realized he needed to be challenged.
“As I was trying to decide which MBA program to choose, I was debating between Kelley and one other school. I knew Kelley was the best school in the region, by far, but at the time, I thought I wanted to take the quickest and easiest path.
“So I called my mentor, and he said to me very simply, ‘Chris, why are you calling me with this decision? The answer is easy, and you should know what the answer is.’
“And the answer was easy. The Kelley School of Business has the best program in the region – and beyond that, far and wide. I chose IU for that reason. At the Kelley School, you have to earn it. You have to want it. You have to put in the hard work.”
“I chose Kelley Indianapolis for that reason. I knew it would be the best for my career and the best opportunity to meet other business professionals throughout Indianapolis. I knew it wouldn’t be the easiest program, but I knew it would be worth it,” said Sutton.
“When I started my MBA program with Kelley in 2009, I was working with hhgregg, and we were growing—adding 30 to 40 stores every year, essentially. The Kelley MBA gave me an appreciation of the executive decisions my leadership at hhgregg had to be making. What are some new marketing tactics and technologies that are in the marketplace? We learned how to understand financials, how to understand operations, and how to get your product from the manufacturer to the warehouse and to consumers’ homes,” said Sutton.
“An MBA really walks you through all those decisions and how those decisions are made. It gives you an appreciation and an understanding of the thought process that goes into those decisions, which can be challenging and tough at times.”
Sutton says his Kelley MBA has helped him become more of a decisive leader – remembering back to an intensive weekend experience during the Evening MBA Program. Students are assigned a role within a business, attend various meetings, work to solve a particular problem, and present to faculty and peers.
“That is what an executive goes through every single day,” Sutton explained. “You have to be able to take information from different groups or departments, formulate an opinion, make a decision, and live by the decision—sometimes in hours and sometimes in minutes.
“I think the Kelley School of Business does a nice job of training executives to make tough decisions and to live with those tough decisions. In my career, it’s not easy at times to make the hard decisions, but I think the Kelley School gives encouragement and teaches that it’s okay to make the decision. And it’s okay to make the wrong decision, as long as you learn from that decision. Reflecting on my Kelley experience, that weekend sticks out in my mind as a true Kelley moment.”
The Kelley network
Sutton has stayed in touch with many of his Kelley Evening MBA classmates since that time, and he says they still get together to this day. Also, Sutton often visits the Kelley School to talk to current students as a guest lecturer.
“I enjoy using my story to help students make important decisions in their careers,” he added. “Whether it is to go into marketing or another business field, I use what I’ve learned in life to help them in their decision-making.”
Because making the decision to go for it—to seize the moment–is crucial. Sutton says finding that moment and using it to build momentum is what will set you apart from others.
“When the opportunity comes, you have to recognize it. It seems simple, but very few people recognize when an opportunity is in front of them. Or they are afraid to take the initiative to get what they want,” said Sutton. “I also encourage students to get to know alumni and professors. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want in life and in your career. Because if you don’t ask for it, no one’s just going to give it to you. It seems simple, but very few people do it.”