Paris Proves Perfect for Stephanie Swannack’s International Career
Stephanie Swannack MBA 07 came to UC Davis as a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, but “quickly discovered that a Ph.D. wasn’t the right path for me—too theoretical and removed from the industry I had been born and raised in,” she says. Shifting gears and heeding the advice of her new friend Alex McCalla, a professor of agricultural economics and the founding dean of the Graduate School of Management, she applied to the UC Davis MBA program and enrolled as a member of the full-time class of 2007.
Her management studies included a summer internship for Dole Fresh Vegetables, where Swannack worked on numerous projects with Catalina Marketing. “Afterwards, I kept in touch with our key contact, who, upon my graduation, offered me my first opportunity at Catalina as an on-site strategic consultant for one of our largest retail clients, Safeway Inc. I used my strengths in translating dense amounts of data into meaningful insights to enable accurate decision making and support the growth of Catalina’s Safeway business,” she says.
The following summer, Swannack met the EVP of Catalina International at a conference. “I immediately started asking him about international opportunities and what type of skill sets they are looking for. I’d spent a year studying in Australia during college and knew I wanted to live abroad again—and now I might even have a chance with my current company. I immediately started working closely with HR and my manager. A few good career opportunities arose in the U.S., but I remained true to my dream and waited for something abroad. Finally, at the end of 2010, there was a perfect fit between my skills and experience and the company’s needs in Europe. The process was fast: five months after hearing of the opportunity I was signing my lease in Paris!”
Today, Swannack is based in Catalina Marketing International’s Paris office, where she manages the loyalty strategy for her client Intergamma, the largest DIY retailer in Holland.
What drives you in your work?
I’ve always joked that the second language I speak is SQL—in fact, one of my favorite courses at the GSM was Database Management. I love the structure and logic of a customer database, and working daily with massive amounts of behavioral data to glean powerful insights is the best thing about my job. I enjoy working with a client who understands and values the power of data and has made a commitment to make business decisions based on the customer insights we identify. It is incredibly satisfying to see my client’s CRM strategy grow and solidify their place as market leader, and to know that I helped to drive that strategy.
Where is your career headed?
There continues to be great opportunity for me at Catalina International. I would like to stay abroad for a few more years, and down the road there is the possibility of leading a team in the UK, which is our fastest-growing market.
How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?
The full-time program provided a great opportunity and a lot of structure for developing interpersonal, collaboration and communication skills. In Europe, I work with an international team, in an open office setting and on average only spend 10 hours a week working independently. The lively classroom discussions and team collaboration I experienced at the GSM has strongly contributed to my success at Catalina. (And, of course, the ability to manage multiple type A personalities all at once!)
What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?
Of course, the interesting thing that happened is my international career opportunity… but the most amazing part is that I ended up in Paris! Every time I pictured myself living abroad it was in an English-speaking country like South Africa, Australia or the UK. So when the first opportunity with my company was in Paris, it was something I had never considered before. But I wanted this opportunity so much I was willing to move to a foreign country without knowing the language, and now that I’m here I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My French is improving a little every day, and the culture is amazing. No regrets!
Your favorite GSM memory?
Our class retreat just before graduation. We came together in South Lake Tahoe to relax, reflect and celebrate our accomplishments! It was a few late nights, dozens of fabulous photos and hundreds of great memories.
How do you support and participate in the GSM now?
I contribute to the GSM annual fund every year, knowing that even a modest amount of support will help our school. Also, since arriving in Paris I have met a few other alumni, graduates or study abroad students from various programs at UC Davis and even a fellow GSM alumnus. I am becoming more involved in UC Davis’s international alumni network and contributing my time as often as I can for recruiting and networking events.