Career Spotlight: Ryan Draude (MBA'06)

Ryan Draude (MBA'06)

Senior Director, Choice Privileges (Choice Hotels' Loyalty Program)

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I am a senior director in charge of Choice Hotels’ loyalty program, Choice Privileges, the fastest growing hotel rewards program. We provides members with attractive rewards for stays at more than 6,000 Choice properties, including free nights, gift cards and points that can be used at luxurious properties around the world. My role encompasses the two most powerful and rewarding facets of careers in marketing. I get to build compelling marketing campaigns across a variety of channels, which allows me to be creative and have artistic input. I’m also able to rigorously tap into our tremendous wealth of member data to better understand their needs and build data models to help predict future behavior and what offers guests might find most compelling.

I love this opportunity because it allows me to wear both hats—arts and science—and I feel empowered by creating campaigns that are seen by so many consumers around the world. I believe every professional wants to know that her or his efforts and passion have made an impact, and direct marketing positions have definitely filled that desire in my career. I have also sought more responsibility as a leader, and I serve a team that shares my passions and philosophy.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to build something truly from scratch and take it through to a service helping millions of young people around the world. While a director at Sallie Mae, I proposed a new perspective to how prospective students and parents financed higher education: why do they not consider the estimated total cost of education up front, and more importantly, the potential monthly payment they face once that first bill arrives? The industry was built on approaching only one year at a time, which led to many surprised families once that first bill arrived showing four years of lending!

I drew up the schematic on a piece of paper and spent the next two years pushing it to senior executives at Sallie Mae. I was blessed to have an excellent leadership team that believed in the idea and in my passion. We knew we were doing the right thing for families. In 2008, the tool, Education Investment Planner, launched. It has helped several million families plan out responsible financing options using real school costs coupled with accurate grant, lending and scholarship estimates. The members of our small team that oversaw development are awaiting a patent for the predictive models that we built. This experience made me believe that you need to follow your heart when you know something is right and recognize excellent leaders who invest in your instinct.

What is the best career advice you have received?

My father is a retired Marine general who served combat tours in Vietnam and Kuwait. He is also the most compassionate and perceptive leader I’ve ever encountered. My favorite quote from him is, “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.” To me, that shows the responsibility that leaders have to personally serve their teams, guide them toward success and provide an environment where folks feel empowered to do good things. A critical part of that is the personal time a leader dedicates to being with their team and establishing trust and fellowship. It has served my father incredibly well in his military and post-military private career, and if I can be even a fraction of the leader he is, I’ll be content.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

Marketers have tremendous responsibility—consumer perception is often based exclusively on impressions derived from the experience and materials marketers provide. We have the obligation to know and understand our customers, which requires a dedication to diving deep into data and analytics to build demographic and psychographic profiles of our audiences. Those who have succeeded in this field not only have the discipline to carefully analyze objective data, but also the curiosity and imagination to take that data and ask “What if?” to develop the strategies that take that data to the next level. I’m not saying that you have to be a “quant jockey,” but you must be able to understand the key variables, formulas and metrics that are critical to your business’ success. You must also communicate the data in a way that anyone in the organization—those on your team, in finance, legal, sales, etc.—can readily understand.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

I am often faced with subjective opinions and must use objective data to convince a team’s leadership to try a different strategy. For example, while at Capital One, I was in charge of direct marketing development for our online banking products. The business team was set in certain procedures and policies for marketing financial products. By introducing objective third-party research that showed how different levels of testing could optimize results, I was able to influence the development of a new testing philosophy that supported the “let’s do things that customers tell us they want, rather than just what we think is going to work” philosophy. The more you offer objective analysis rather than just “I think” statements, the more credibility you’ll get as a thought leader and influencer.

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

For marketing careers, I highly recommend courses in consumer behavior and sociology to truly understand the needs of those you serve. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the most powerful frameworks I use. Couple that with analytic-based marketing courses that stress rigor around benchmarks, modeling and forecasting, and you have a great recipe for putting customer needs first while building strong predictive models. I owe a lot to Professor Ken Homa at the McDonough School of Business—he knew how to mix frameworks with ideation and theory with real-world business war stories.

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

The American Marketing Association (AMA) and Direct Marketing Association (DMA) are must-have relationships to keep on top of trends in marketing. The marketing landscape is changing so rapidly with the advent of social media and digital channels. With even more macro-level elements like the recent economic downturn and technology adoption patters, you have to stay on top of how consumers engage in different channels to ensure that you are a complement to and not a intrusion into their daily lives.

Anything you would like to add?

I often am asked if getting my MBA was worth it, and I always say, “Absolutely!” I think it has more to do with my experience at McDonough than anything else. The program really put me through the wringer, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure at first if I was cut out for it. I’m so glad I hung in there—the combination of the education, the network and the relationships made it worth every cent. I am extremely proud of my connection to Georgetown and to McDonough. It really was a turning point in my career that I will always look back on with fond memories.