My advice? Manage your pizza: Angela Horstmann, MBA ’08, shares wise words at JWiB

Photo of Angela speaking at the keynote event

How can you tell if someone is made for a career in marketing? Ask them how they spend their Super Bowl Sunday. In the case of Angela Horstmann, MBA ’08,  consumer head of the Digital Experience and Innovation marketing team for GlaxoSmithKline, Christmas comes twice a year: There’s December 25, and then there’s Super Bowl Sunday. As a self-described advertising geek, she admits the football is far from her main focus. Naturally, she’s much more interested in the commercials, and she invites her friends from work for a night of sharp analysis by industry insiders.

Speaking to a record 160 participants, Horstmann gave the keynote address at this year’s Johnson Women in Business (JWiB) Symposium. The event brings together a world-class community of female business leaders, offering a chance to spend a Saturday connecting and recharging within a community of Cornell women and allies. The symposium followed the annual JWiB admissions event, for which we welcomed 64 prospective women MBAs to Johnson.

How to beat imposter syndrome

Photo of Angela speaking to a room full of JWiB visitors
Angela Horstmann, MBA ’08, speaks to JWiB attendees

“When you head off to school, people in your life often wish you good luck. I’m here to tell you that luck has nothing to do with it,” says Horstmann, “It’s not just by chance that you’re sitting where you are today. It’s because of all that hard work. Hard work has gotten you there and will help you get where you want to go.”

As a first generation college student, with a loving father who worked as a plumber and a caring mother who didn’t go to college, Horstmann learned early on that education would be an opportunity that she could not take for granted. As a young girl, she remembers what her father said to her: “Angela, I don’t want you to use your hands for a living. I want you to use your mind.”

Although she may have felt imposter syndrome once she graduated high school and received a full-ride scholarship to Villanova University, Horstmann slowly learned to own her identity as the first person in her family to attend college. “I combat imposter syndrome by thinking about those that came before me and those that will come after. I think about how hard my father worked to get me here, and now this is my opportunity to capitalize on it. And then I think about those that are coming after, the next generation that is going to learn, and I tell myself, ‘I have to do it for them.’”

Making sure to manage your pizza

After a successful four years at Villanova, having made the most of that opportunity, Horstmann found herself deciding between five offers from competitive employers. She ultimately chose to start her career at Accenture, where she worked in a project-based consulting role that challenged her to think strategically at all times.

It was there that she learned how to “manage your pizza.” If you think about your life and your responsibilities as a pizza, you can divide everything up into a handful of slices. What you will quickly learn, Horstmann explains, is that your work will take and take and take, if you let it. “That’s why you have to ask yourself: how am I managing my pizza? How are you making sure that you’re saving that slice for the things that are important you.”

Horstmann then decided to pursue an MBA at Johnson, intent on jumpstarting a career in strategic brand management, an idea she had in her head from her first day at Sage Hall. During her time in Ithaca, she experienced the strategic brand management immersion and took an international trip to Shanghai to meet with fellow MBA students in China. Looking back, Horstmann says one thing became abundantly clear from her two years at Johnson: You are who your friends are. “What helped me here was when I surrounded myself with really great people, it raised me up. It raised my ambitions, it raised my acumen, it raised my game.”

Following her graduation from Johnson, she worked in a number of marketing capacities, landing at Comcast within their strategy team. She shared what she learned in the process of these many career changes during that time of her life: “What I learned was to think of my career not as a ladder, but as a jungle gym. Instead of focusing on the name of the role or the position or the promotion, I think about what’s the impact I’m going to make, what will I learn in this role, and what are the homeruns that will become those things to build my resume.”

Photo of Angela holding a microphone

Don’t leave before you leave

Within a few years, Horstmann found herself at a critical juncture in her career, just after she came back to work after the birth of her second daughter. Her hard work had gotten her recognized by another company that was preparing to embark on a brand launch and wanted her as part of their new team. “I could take the path I was on and take the foot off the gas by settling into this role at Comcast, or I could move and take on a brand launch, which was something I’d always wanted to do as a brand marketer, literally being able to create a brand from nothing.”

She drew on the wise of words of Sheryl Sandberg, specifically a lesson she learned from Sandberg’s book Lean In: “Don’t leave before you leave.”

Horstmann explains that she sees a lot of women making decisions early on in their careers about how they want to pace their career, and then when they find themselves presented with these pivotal moments where they can either settle down or press ahead, they limit themselves by the plan they’ve made long before those decision points actually occur. “What’s fascinating, now that I’ve lived through this, is the more you actually do put your foot on the gas and start to accelerate, you’ll get those great experiences. And you’ll actually have more experiences—so now that I’ve spent all this time accelerating my career, I have more flexibility because I’ve earned it. Now my team will actually flex around my schedule, whereas earlier in my career, I would flex more around my leader’s schedule.”

Love your job? Ask your alarm clock

Today, Horstmann works at GlaxoSmithKline, where she is responsible for advancing digital capabilities and accelerating digital innovation to improve the consumer experience and drive performance. When asked by a participant about knowing when a job is right for you, or when it’s time to seek out another opportunity, Horstmann shared another of the tricks she learned over the course of her career. She calls it the alarm clock test.

“When you wake up in the morning and your alarm clock goes off, are you jumping out of bed, saying ‘I’m going into work today, it’s going to be great, I’m going to kill it’—or are you saying ‘oh no, I don’t want to do that.’” Horstmann advised the women in the audience to really ask themselves to use this test around the places that they are and the companies that they join. “Ask yourself if this opportunity aligns with the purpose that you have. How does it help you think about the bigger picture of what’s important to you in your life?”

Since the start of her career in marketing, Angela Horstmann has shot more than 13 commercials. She shot her latest commercial just a few months before JWIB, in Portugal. “As you can see by the look on my face, this is what makes me most happy. It’s what I love to do and what I get really excited about.”

From humble beginnings, Horstmann’s career thus far offers two key lessons: love what you do and be driven by a deep purpose that defines who you are. Wherever her work ethic and gifts as a marketer happen to take her next, two things are for certain for Angela Horstmann: she will make the most out of every opportunity in front of her, and come Super Bowl Sunday, she’ll be glued to the television. Anyone with a marketing mind as brilliant as Angela’s wouldn’t miss it for the world.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant young woman. Glaxo is very lucky to have a share in her time.

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