Chris Hellmann, BSJ ’87, global vice president and general manager at Coca-Cola Freestyle®, returned to his alma mater Nov. 8 to speak to students and impart some wisdom about career planning, change and innovation.
Hellmann fills a vital role at the Fortune 100 company. During his visit to campus, he had lunch with representatives from Ohio University’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and presented to a combined class of students from the Scripps College of Communication and the College of Business.
The presentation traced the arc of a career that has spanned advertising, marketing, sales and global commercial leadership. Hellmann calls his current role in the innovation division with Coca-Cola Freestyle® “the coolest job I’ve ever had” and advised students who are looking for their own dream job to prepare a personal value statement.
“The secret to a long and well-thought-out career,” Hellmann said, “is having a pretty good idea of what you’re good at and then working that plan and building experiences with it.”
The advice resonated with his audience.
“Something I really liked about Chris was his authenticity. He told us real stories about how he wasn’t always some stellar student destined for success,” said Schuyler Morris, a fourth-year student studying strategic communication. “It’s really inspiring to have an accomplished professional say it’s okay to mess up and not be perfect right now.”
A leadership role in technology and innovation was not necessarily the career Hellmann had planned when he and his wife Jennifer moved to Atlanta the summer after they both graduated from OHIO, but he assured his audience that unexpected career moves are nothing to worry about.
“It’s OK if the plan changes along the way,” Hellmann said. “What’s not OK is if you don’t have a plan.”
During his lunch with PRSSA, Hellmann fielded questions that touched on his career advice and industry knowledge. He eased some of the students’ worries about the future, even offering to introduce students to his own professional contacts in Atlanta.
“He helped me out a ton personally when he made that connection with me,” Morris said. “He definitely became the ‘Bobcat Network’ I needed to make some important connections.”
After lunch, Hellmann spoke to an audience of 120 students, sharing personal anecdotes before moving on to the topic of disruptive innovation.
“Disruptive innovation is setting a new course,” Hellmann said. “It’s using technology, or fundamentally shifting how you’re delivering your product or your category.”
Students were eager to ask questions at the end of the presentation, and Hellmann welcomed them to do so, remarking on their accomplishments.
“I’m glad I graduated so long ago,” he said. “The competition level is crazy-different than it was when I was in school.”
During their visit, the Hellmanns were recognized for establishing the C & J Hellmann Family Scholarship, an endowed scholarship gift designated for students in the Scripps College of Communication who demonstrate financial need.
Qualifying for the OHIO Match program, which matches 50 cents on every dollar donated, the scholarship is intended to lessen the financial burden of college costs for future awardees, allowing them to focus on their studies.
“If a student wants to get an education I think they should be able to,” Hellmann told Tom Hodson during a taping for the Spectrum podcast, an interview which rounded out the official portion of the visit to campus.
“The C & J Hellmann Family Scholarship is an incredible gesture by Chris and Jenn to pay it forward to future students,” said Ryan O’Connor, director of development. “We are grateful for their continued efforts to remain connected with our alma mater.”
After the podcast interview, Chris and Jennifer headed out to visit their “old stomping grounds,” continuing a celebration of their 30th wedding anniversary in the place they first met.