Living through the pandemic has opened us all to the world of indoor possibilities. Some began by bingeing Tiger King last March and then proceeded to grind their way through the never-ending catalogs of streaming services. Others took up knitting, puzzling, woodworking, dog-walking, or baking sourdough. Along the way, perhaps we fell in love or rediscovered the joy and release of music, filling our homes as the doldrums of everyday life persisted. For Graham Bullis, a product manager for Sonos, a high-end manufacturer of speakers and audio equipment, music is much more than leisure. It’s the focus of his working days, as he creates experiences that resonate with consumers as deeply as bass drum booms.
Before joining Sonos, Graham worked as a project manager for a design agency in Seattle. Graham’s focus was on the intersection of digital and physical marketing on behalf of firms like Carnival Corporation. As Graham progressed in his early career, he saw Carnival employees empowered to perform large-scale innovation from inside the company through investment that came directly from the CEO’s office, encouraging them to develop the future vision that would drive the firm.
I saw them managing so many aspects of the redesign of Carnival’s marketing offerings and saw how business-driven their decision-making process was. It was around this time that I was considering the idea of going back for my MBA. I thought that getting my MBA would allow me to better speak the language of the people with whom I was working and knew that the MBA would provide me with a strong opportunity to shift to the next phase of my career.
A local Seattle-ite, Graham saw the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business as a perfect fit for achieving his professional goals while staying close to home. During his time in the program, Graham’s perspective widened through courses like Lance Young’s Entrepreneurial Finance.
On its face, it sounds so simple but what I got most out Lance’s class was a clear understanding on just how companies make money, handle that money, and reinvest their profits. It really was illuminating to see ‘Ok, this is how a business works’.
Applied Strategy Sponsor
In addition to classroom studies, like every Foster student in their first year of the program, Graham took part in an Applied Strategy project. Applied Strategy projects pair teams of students with Seattle-based businesses to solve real-world problems through strategic evaluation and recommendations. Many annual projects are sourced from recent Foster alumni, so when the opportunity arose for Graham to serve as a project sponsor at Sonos, he quickly signed on.
At this point, I had been in my full-time role for a little over six months. I saw the opportunity to work as a sponsor on an applied strategy project to not only provide a unique experience to the next generation of Foster students, but also an opportunity for myself. If I could tell my own strategy story and explain my role and project at Sonos, then I would be better at my job while at the same time paying it forward and passing on lessons I’d learned from my past experiences.
With Graham at the helm as sponsor, the applied strategy processs was a success, with several of the solutions suggested by the student team now actively being incorporated by Sonos product managers into their software product roadmap.
The Road Ahead
As Graham looks back on his time at Foster, he notes that his ambitions upon arrival were not the path he ultimately ended up pursuing. Graham came into the Foster MBA with what he believed to be a breakthrough idea, coffee delivery via scooter. Naturally, when it came time for summer internship recruiting, Graham had set his eyes on Starbucks as a target destination. Unfortunately, neither the scooter idea nor the internship with Starbucks ended up panning out. Instead, Graham landed an internship with Sonos, an experience that translated into his current full-time role as a Product Manager.
I thought that I could do the MBA and go to Starbucks and enter product marketing all in one shot. It was a total failure, but it was also a valuable lesson. I came out swinging because that’s who I thought I wanted to be, but I got knocked down doing it. I went back and re-read the essays I wrote to Foster and re-centered around what I came to school looking to achieve.
Now looking to the future, Graham sees that his time at Foster was formative for both his short and long-term goals. The business acumen that he acquired and the relationships he formed supported both his professional and personal goals.
Ultimately, I want to take the lessons I’ve learned from Sonos and apply them to a smaller company or start my own. I am still surrounded by many of my classmates who I can see myself loving to work with and having a blast coming into work each day. Time is the most precious resource by far, so you may as well love what you’re doing.
Graham’s quarantine experience centered around mostly one thing; fatherhood. With two young boys arriving in the last few years, time and silence have been precious. Good thing he has plenty of experience handling noise.
So whether you consider your personality to be as forward-facing as the scream of a guitar riff or believe that you work best in a back-up vocal role, the Foster MBA will bring you together with classmates from the world over, each with uniquely tuned experiences to help you launch your future career. Put it all together, and the melody becomes greater than the sum of its parts.