Four years ago, then a first year student at Purdue on his way to a bachelor’s in biomechanical engineering, Jacob Wagner interviewed for a project assignment at Procter & Gamble (P&G). To hear him tell it, he crashed and burned: “The worst interview I think I’ve ever done.”
In June, he’ll return to the consumer goods giant with operations in some 70 countries, this time joining the company as a senior financial analyst. And this time he’ll bring with him an Eller MBA, a master’s in finance and a very clear idea of what it means to succeed.
If You Bomb, Bounce Back
As befits a good redemption story, it was that first, terrible interview with P&G that set Wagner on his current course. “I was nervous and stumbling over my words,” he says, and the words themselves were a problem. Among other issues, “They wanted to hear about how I’d be a leader—from an ‘I’ perspective. I was always talking in terms of ‘we.’”
The clincher was that Wagner didn’t have to figure that out on his own. “The woman who interviewed me was so nice,” he recalls. “Even though it was clear I wasn’t getting the position, she gave me so much feedback. For me, especially being a lifelong student, to get that type of feedback meant a lot. And then I wanted to just keep learning from them.”
Wagner got that opportunity during summer 2017 in a 12-week internship: profit and loss analysis, forecasting, margin analysis for every single SKU in the company’s extensive beauty and hair care division, all with great management, coaching and mentorship. He admired P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters, respected how they invested in the community. “And then, on top of that, they were the ones that believed in me,” he says. So when their job offer joined others earlier this year, Wagner said yes.
Scope of Work
What was he saying yes to? What does a senior financial analyst at P&G do? “First and foremost, I’ll be looking at profit and loss,” Wagner explains. “I’ll be analyzing performance for all the different products in my portfolio… forecasting where the margins will be, who my biggest buyers are, who’s able to push the product best.” It’s a B2B role, working closely with data from information systems teams to track markets and segments, and with marketing, which owns that last sales leg from store to consumer.
“Effectively, I’ll be sifting through mass amounts of data to figure out the growth opportunities.” Wagner says. “Where should we be positioning ourselves? Because if you walk into any given bathroom, we know someone will probably have three to four bottles of shampoo there and one of them will always be a P&G product. But how do we get the second or third bottle to be P&G, as well?”
Secret of His Success
Landing that second bottle is one way to measure success. There are others. “At P&G, we have what are called our ‘five rocks,’” Wagner notes. “These are five goals that you’re trying to accomplish over the span of six months to a year. So for the long term, measuring success will always be those five rocks.” But what about day to day? What defines success at that level?
That’s where Wagner takes a cue from his mother, who passed away earlier this year. “Initially, I’m going to model my career after her,” he says. “Work my tail off, really get to know people, both on a professional and personal level. And make sure I’m always a student. I always want to be in learning mode. If I really want to succeed, move up and get more challenging roles, I have to deliver on what I have, and at the same time, always be open to learning about what’s next.”