The road less traveled: How Alex Ruiz ’90 carved a career in digital marketing and advertising
Back when he was a student at the Dyson School, if someone had told Alex Ruiz ’90 that he’d one day be working at Accenture Interactive, he probably wouldn’t have believed it. After all, Ruiz had an entrepreneurial mindset, an interest in digital marketing and advertising, and a desire to work with a relatively small, cross-functional team—not a typical combination for an employee at Accenture, a massive digital consultancy consisting of about 500,000 workers globally. But surprisingly, Ruiz’s interests are fulfilled in his current role as New York studio lead and north east region lead at Accenture.
“The area that I lead is focused on marketing and communications—how you brand companies and create holistic omnichannel connections to their customers, internal stakeholders, and employees,” Ruiz says. “That can manifest itself in different ways, including the development of websites, microsites, mobile apps, and campaigns. This is a fairly new arm of service within Accenture, and it’s really a culmination of what I’ve been doing in my career, which is digital marketing and advertising.”
Now, almost 30 years after graduating, Ruiz is glad he didn’t go after the traditional consulting or management career that many of his classmates pursued, instead opting to follow his interest in the up-and-coming digital marketing space. “I’ve walked to the beat of a different drum since day one, and it has been rewarding for me,” he says.
Finding entrepreneurship in unlikely places
Ruiz has spent most of his career helping build digital marketing agencies, improving their client service offerings and setting them up for growth or acquisition. One agency he worked with grew from $2 million in revenue to $20 million in just six years thanks, in part, to his strategic insight. In fact, his work at this agency brought him to Accenture when the company bought the agency to grow its new marketing and branding service and Ruiz came on board, as well.
“Before I came to Accenture, I asked myself how I would fit in here, coming from a smaller, almost startup-like environment,” Ruiz says. “But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are aspects of Accenture that are very much like a new business. As we build up the services offering, we’re working across the organization to create a singular solution to go to market and help our clients. This is something that I’ve found to be supremely enjoyable and refreshing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
As the lead of the creative marketing services arm for Accenture’s New York studio, Ruiz’s role is four-fold and represents the kind of work he relishes most, from motivating a team to finding innovative growth opportunities. He helps educate clients and internal consultants on what the creative services team does in an effort to better identify opportunities and grow revenue; he leads engagement, working with clients to develop product and packaging ideas to drive growth; he handles some operational aspects, driving allocations and resources for a team of designers, user experience professionals, and strategists; and finally, he serves as a cultural leader, helping develop an identity for this part of Accenture’s growing practice.
Though, in the past, branding wasn’t really an area where Accenture had deep roots, today it represents one of the fastest areas of growth for the company’s business, Ruiz explains. This is perhaps why he feels so at home in the environment that he’s in now, regularly exercising his passion for entrepreneurship. “Accenture’s flat structure is very entrepreneurial—they’ve given me a lot of autonomy in helping build this growing and exciting part of their business,” he says.
Knowing what you don’t know
As Ruiz reflects on his time at Dyson, one of the experiences he enjoyed most was an entrepreneurship course that took him outside the classroom and into Ithaca, NY, where Cornell is located. Ruiz’s class worked with local businesses to help them identify a problem, come up with ideas to solve it, and then implement those ideas. The experience inspired Ruiz to be pragmatic and find enjoyment in the cross-functional aspects of working with engineers and art students, all of which prepared him for his career.
“At school, I remember being shocked by how much work had to be done in a short period of time, and the way you survive is being pragmatic, talking to classmates and leaning on them,” he says. “All those skills weren’t necessarily taught in the classroom, but we had to develop them. We had to learn to understand the need for collaboration—bringing in people that may be better than you at some things.”
Knowing what you don’t know and when to ask for support is critical in business, and today, Ruiz still enjoys this aspect of his work the most. “I work with really smart folks, and I enjoy being challenged, whether it be by a market or company problem, or by the people around me,” he says. “I’m constantly turning to colleagues across the organization and across teams to get their input. It brings me back to the days of asking my math genius friends for help with a statistics problem set.”
Forging a unique path
Another uniquely Cornell experience Ruiz has held onto over the years is the memory of walking to class up Libe Slope from West Campus in the icy Ithaca winter. “I remember climbing uphill, only to slide down because of the icy surface, and having to discover the right direction to go to find the least slippery spot,” he recalls. “It was actually a very valuable lesson for life—the path to success isn’t linear or straightforward.”
Ruiz says he didn’t follow what was considered a “traditional path” for a Dyson graduate. He wasn’t interested in consulting, investment banking, or being a brand manager—and he’s glad he didn’t follow any of those routes. “The education that you get at Dyson doesn’t have to translate to just one thing,” he says. “You can start businesses, you can run restaurants, you can work in marketing and advertising. The school prepares you to do exactly what you want. That was the value of that education for me.”