Going From An MBA To A Marketing Job At British American Tobacco

Katarzyna Majewska understands the concerns you might have about working in the tobacco industry. Marketing cigarettes is tough, but she says the industry is changing

Consulting, finance…tobacco? The tobacco industry might not be your industry of choice.

Tobacco firms face severe restrictions in some countries, with high taxes, packaging regulations, and tough laws on advertising.

There’s the obvious public concern over tobacco’s health implications. And there’s disruption from cigarette alternatives like vaping.

But for Katarzyna Majewska, the tobacco industry represented an exciting challenge.

Katarzyna worked for a small, local government-run cultural center in her native Poland before she decided to do an MBA. Keen to study in Italy, she chose MIP Politecnico di Milano School of Management over its city rival Bocconi, for its focus on innovation.

When she returned home after graduation, she got a job at British American Tobacco (BAT) in Warsaw, starting as a marketing intern before joining its global graduate program, rotating across different functions.

Right now, she’s working in the brand department, on flagship tobacco heating product (THP) glo. THPs are devices that heat, rather than burn, tobacco to produce a nicotine-containing aerosol with a tobacco taste which the user inhales.

Katarzyna says she understands the concerns people have about working in tobacco. But she says the industry is changing, offering lower risk alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

BusinessBecause caught up with Katarzyna to find out more.


How did your MBA help you land a job at British American Tobacco?

Before the MBA, I did not have any experience in international corporations. Without it, it would have been extremely difficult to find a job at such a big corporation.

At British American Tobacco, Poland is part of the North Central Europe Area cluster, and there are many foreign nationals in the office. During the recruitment process, international experience was also vital.

Moreover, the MBA helped me realize what I wanted to focus on. Marketing classes with Professor Carsten Bartsch not only provided me with helpful knowledge, but also motivated and encouraged me to develop my marketing path. 

I also has an amazing boot camp with Professor Emre Soyer, a behavioral scientist who showed us research on the decision-making process, which is vital in marketing. 

These two classes pointed me the way I want to follow in my professional and educational life.


What challenges do you face in your current role?

In every country, restrictions are different. There are some with a plain packaging policy, such as Australia or France, but this policy has not yet been implemented in Poland. 

However, as part of the EU we need to follow the TPD (Tobacco Products Directive), which places limits on the sale and merchandising of tobacco and tobacco-related products in the EU. 

Tobacco products are not easy to market, but that is what makes my job interesting.


What would you say to people who have concerns about working in the tobacco industry?

At BAT, we’re providing a range of potentially reduced-risk products, including vapor, tobacco heating products (THPs), modern oral products, as well as traditional oral products.

For me, the most valuable thing is the freedom of choice we provide. You can quit using tobacco products altogether, which we support. You can switch your habit to a potentially reduced-risk product. Finally, you can smoke cigarettes while being fully aware of the consequences.

We do not encourage people to smoke, we educate them about possibilities they have.


How are you applying your MBA learnings in your everyday work?

My MBA taught me the ability to work in groups of totally different people, representing diverse cultures and approaches. Dealing with such situations was challenging, but extremely satisfying. We needed to find one common solution, while everyone had a dissimilar point of view. This experience definitely helps me today.


Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at MIP?

First of all, the location. I wanted to improve my Italian skills, as I love Italy for the language, people, food, atmosphere and landscape. 

I then needed to choose between MIP and Bocconi. This decision was not easy and required deep research about both MBA programs. 

It transpired that MIP is focused more on innovation, new approaches, and solutions for business. On the other hand, Bocconi is more suited to students interested in law and finance, areas that appeal to me less. 

So in the end choice was easy—MIP suited my interests better. 

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