Spotlight on MIM Alumni: Steve Fenker

Name: Steve Fenker
Company: Columbia Sportswear
Company/Job Location: Portland, Oregon
Current Job Title: Director of Sourcing and Strategic Operations
Duration at current employer: Four Years
MIM graduation date: August 2005

Steve Fenker, MIM 2005 Alumni and Director of Sourcing and Strategic Operations at Columbia Sportswear, Portland, Oregon

Steve would like to first point out that he already had an established career in the apparel industry prior to applying to graduate school. He chose to be a full time student in the Master in International Management (MIM) program and did not work while he was in school. Steve continued to keep an eye out for job opportunities while in school, hoping to find a job and start working immediately after graduation. He used Portland State University’s (PSU) resources to help him find opportunities, but his main tactic was to make sure to tell as many people as he could about what it was he wanted to do. He says, “Some people were not very interested but some people were happy to give me a lead and get me in touch with other people.”

Dr. R. Scott Marshall, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research of the School of Business gave Steve some leads, as well as Faye Yoshihara a part time PSU professor who taught a class for sustainability in the MIM specialization track. Yoshihara gave Steve two leads: the name of a start up company and a recruitment firm within the apparel industry. Steve recommends following up with all contacts and leads that people give you because you never know which one of these will open the door to an opportunity. One of Yoshihara’s leads was successful for Steve. He then smiles and says, “I guess you could say all of my hopes and dreams came true because of the MIM program.”

In all, Steve pursued probably a dozen leads that were dead ends. The recruitment firm, Yoshihara’s lead, had an exclusive job posting for Hanna Andersson that was not even posted on the company’s own employment website. He interviewed for a Director of Sourcing position and eventually got the job. He stayed with Hanna Andersson for a year following graduation from the MIM program.

In addition, Steve stayed in contact with an old colleague who took a position at Columbia Sportswear who suggested Steve look into some of the opportunities Columbia had to offer. Steve felt he should pursue Columbia Sportswear because it was a larger and more international organization than his current employer at the time and a better fit with what he had been pursuing for his MIM degree. Steve eventually found a job with Columbia and was able to easily transfer into the position with his background, experience and education.

To get the job at Hanna Andersson Steve began following up on leads sometime before the March MIM Asia Trip. He made the Hanna Andersson connection in July, applied in August, graduated that same month and about a week later had an interview with the company. By December he got a job as Hanna Andersson’s Director of Sourcing (current MIMers, take note that this seems to be a very typical time frame for MIMers looking for jobs – that it appears to be at least a six-month process!). Hanna Andersson had a three-step interview process, each separated by a few weeks before the company made Steve an offer. He met with approximately five people, including the head of human resources, a company recruiter, the recruiting firm who gave him his original lead, and their vice president and CEO.

The interview process with Columbia Sportswear was similar. It will typically start with the human resources department, followed by panel interviews that include your direct boss and others within the company who will have to work with you. Columbia interviews candidates for job fit as well as job skills.

Steve’s current job is in line with his previous work experience, however, his role at Columbia is much broader in scope than his previous roles in the apparel industry, which is part of the reason he chose to apply to the MIM program. Steve hoped “to gain the broader perspective of multi-functional areas of the apparel industry” and “wanted to find a job or have the opportunity to have a job that was broader in scope.” His previous work experience was with Nike and Under Armour in apparel production sourcing and development roles with a strong emphasis on overseas sourcing. Steve has lived overseas in Thailand and Hong Kong for the majority of the time that he worked for Nike. He believes he was hired at Under Armour specifically for his overseas experience and contacts he had made as Under Armour had hoped to establish an Asia supply chain.

About two to three times a year Steve travels internationally for Columbia Sportswear primarily to source countries, which involves two weeks on the road while in the foreign country. His most recent trip included two to five days in each location in Hong Kong, Hanoi, Taipei, and Shanghai. His tasks on these trips vary, but in a nutshell, he primarily attends strategic meetings with Columbia employees who manage local suppliers. Some of his time is spent at site visits to suppliers.

The primary reason Steve believes he was hired into his current company is due to his previous work experience, however, he feels that the MIM program helped him add some “tools” and skills to broaden the type of role that he could do within the apparel industry and at his job at Columbia Sportswear. Steve says, “MIM wasn’t the foot in the door for me, but I think it improved my skills so that once I got in the role I was able to succeed because I had these extra skills and knowledge that I didn’t necessarily have before.”

It is difficult for Steve to explain what his job is like on a daily basis because he is moving away from the sourcing part of his job and moving into more of a supply chain focus. He says he starts his day by checking his emails that came in through the night from Asia. He best explains that a typical day at work involves a mix of meetings, management duties, what he describes as “people management, ” and developing new processes and plans. He attends a lot of cross-functional meetings regarding problem solving supply chain issues. He says his role is “not about the daily fire-fighting activities” and that “it’s more about building future supply chain activities.”

As far as what the future holds in store for him, Steve does not have a specific answer at this time, but within the company he has been working on creating a more efficient supply chain with growing sales in Asia. He likes that Columbia Sportswear is a Portland-based international company, which is in a “change mode,” meaning that, “the company needs to create itself into something new to be successful in the future.” Steve works with “a good group of international-focused people which makes showing up to work that much more fun.”

When asked what is his most valuable take away from the MIM program Steve says, “It’s gotta be the people – the continued connection with the school through the alumni network, mentoring programs and exit projects.” Steve explains how MIM ties are quite strong even across cohorts. Recently he met up with a MIM alumni from another cohort on his business trip to Shanghai – a best friend of one of his previous mentees whom he had only met twice before. Steve has also been involved in the PSU Graduate Business mentor program since the first year following graduation and is proud to say he still keeps in touch with some of them. I would like to point out that Steve also likes to give tours of Columbia (as he has done for my previous cohort – thanks, Steve!)…continued NETWORKING…Steve thinks it is fun.

As far as favorite memories of the MIM program, Steve says, “It’s the fun stuff – not necessarily the classroom.” Like many other MIMers he looks back fondly on the MIM camping trip, the first time most of the cohort gets to meet and bond over roughing it in Southern Oregon wilderness. Steve says, “Yeah, it was getting to know my cohort on the initial camping trip back when MIM used to ‘camp’ in actual tents instead of cabins.”

Steve advises current and future MIMers to “take advantage of the diversity of the students in your cohort – both in a networking opportunity but also to learn how to interact and work with people from various cultures and backgrounds, because in the work environment you will be working with a wide variety of people.” He also recommends using the all the resources that students have access to at PSU such as career services, the professors, and the school’s network, so “when you start pursuing your career direction you are going in the direction that you think that you want to go.” Steve wraps up by saying, “Use this opportunity to learn more about yourself, what you want to do, and gather more information by learning about what other people do.”

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Filed under Ali's Entries, Alumni, Asia Trip, Business Tours, Careers, MIM Specializations, Networking, Portland

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