28 Feb 2014
The First Five Years: Omowale Casselle (MBA 2009)
SAMPLEit Director of Product Management on awesome experiences, making the right decisions, and what really matters to him.Topics:
What does your work involve?
"My official title is director of product management, SAMPLEit, a new venture at redbox. In this role, I'm responsible for leveraging technology across our different product lines—kiosk, mobile, and online—to deliver an awesome experience that exceeds the expectations of our consumers, retailers, and brand partners.
"In addition to managing our product lines, I also lead our operations team, which means that I make sure that each retail partner (Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger, and Meijer) has the right sample mix on a weekly basis, that we keep track of incoming samples from our brand partners (P&G, Unilever, Elizabeth Arden), that our field team keeps our machines running and fully stocked with sample inventory, and that we are able to successfully launch and sustain each new market by getting the right team in place."
How do you use what you learned at HBS in this position?
"The primary things that I leverage most heavily are effective team leadership—defining the vision, setting the right incentives, providing actionable feedback, and asking the right questions.
"When team members bring an issue to me, it's because they have exhausted all other possibilities and have now escalated to me so I can make a decision. Knowing that decisions have consequences and not making the right decision can mean that our new venture may not get to the next milestone, creates a lot of pressure. As a result, I've become increasingly skilled at asking the right question to really get to the heart of the issue. To me, this is the essence of the case-method: learning about an issue, asking the right questions, and then making a decision, based on currently available information, about how to proceed. The only difference here is that instead of the protagonist coming in and talking about how things went, my team and I get to see the decision play out in the immediate future."
What are the best and most challenges parts of this job?
"The best part is that we have identified an opportunity—interactive sample distribution platform, in high traffic retail locations, that will help consumers trial, discover, and ultimately make more informed choices about their most important purchase decisions in health, wellness, beauty, and household—and now we are taking steps to bring this new concept to reality. It is very exciting to build something new and see those early wins that come along with gaining initial traction for a concept you believe in. The challenges are that, because SAMPLEit is a startup, things don't always go up and to the right. Occasionally, there are setbacks, roadblocks, and hiccups. As a team, we have to find ways to manage through these opportunities while remaining laser-focused on building a new venture."
What's been most surprising about post-HBS life?
"For me, the biggest surprise has been just how hard it is to build something new. So much has to go right for something new to work, and not all of it is within your control. In actuality, it becomes an exercise in relentlessly managing what you can control to reduce the risk of failure."
What advice do you have for current HBS students, career or otherwise?
"Attending HBS is an amazing experience. Graduates go on to achieve unbelievable professional success. However, the personal relationships with family and friends are what make life truly worth living.
"As I graduated from business school in 2009, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Within a few months, we made the difficult decision to place her in an assisted living facility as we could no longer manage her 24/7 care needs on our own. In the course of a few short months, I went from a professional high to a personal low.
"Since that time, I have sought to better balance personal relationships with professional success. While it may seem like we have all the time in the world to put our personal relationships on hold while we attain professional success, this is not always the case. There isn't one thing on my résumé that I wouldn't immediately trade for more time with my mother."
Follow Omowale Casselle on Twitter at https://twitter.com/omowalec.
Class of MBA 2009, Section G