Paul Palmer

Paul Palmer Jr. II

The 1989 mechanical engineering alumnus has 30 years of experience in industry and higher education after earning a reputation as a leader in targeted marketing, licensing/partnership development and non-traditional marketing. He currently is a professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
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Paul Palmer Jr. II grew from humble intercity Indianapolis roots to earn a mechanical engineering degree at Rose-Hulman (1989) before becoming senior brand manager for Hasbro Inc.’s Star Wars toy line and promoting iconic brands for Procter & Gamble and American Greetings. Now, he’s using his career lessons as a college marketing professor and giving back to his alma mater as an alumni representative to the board of trustees.

WHAT LED YOU TO ATTEND ROSE-HULMAN?

As a young, poor Black kid in inner-city Indianapolis, I saw football and grades as my ticket to a better life. When the football coaches visited my house, they were the only ones who did not talk about football. They talked about the quality of the Rose-Hulman experience – a top-flight STEM education, a culture that was nurturing and “family-focused”, and the support that I would receive from all of the staff and people at Rose. They talked about all the possibilities that existed with a Rose-Hulman degree and the strong alumni network that I would always be able to leverage.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF ROSE-HULMAN?

There were so many things about Rose that I remember and cherish. There is pretty much everything involving Speed Hall my freshman year: Tom Miller’s son riding his Big Wheel through the first-floor lobby, and sitting on the second-floor deck during the Henry Lee Summer concert. Talking to (President) Hulbert about anything and everything. Hitting the cereal bins in the dining hall for seconds and thirds every day for breakfast. Winning two conference championships in football. Graduation day … realizing that those four years had gone by like a blink of an eye.

HOW DID YOUR ROSE-HULMAN EDUCATION PAVE THE WAY FOR YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

Rose gave me a really good, practical hands-on STEM foundation. I’m a mechanical engineering graduate, so you understand how manufacturing and mechanical systems really function. It gave me a great base of understanding in core areas like mechanics, dynamics, thermodynamics, materials science, structural analysis, computer-aided design (CAD), and product lifecycle management.

When I was in marketing, I was able to leverage that knowledge in working to take conceptual ideas for products from consumers’ minds to the production room floor more easily. The ME degree helped me work more collaboratively with my peers in product development and product supply. I spoke “engineering” as well as “marketing,” which gave me a better sense of what manufacturing or engineering changes could be done, or needed to be done, to help us create and manufacture products that meet our consumers’ needs. You have better communication and give more insightful direction and perspective to your engineering team. You understand the nuts and bolts of the manufacturing work, the detailed development and processes needed to bring products to life as real finished goods.

WHY DID YOU GO INTO MARKETING, INSTEAD OF ASPECTS WITHIN ENGINEERING?

I loved the complex problem-solving, design and development aspect of engineering. However, I wanted to be more than just a function resource. I wanted to be more involved in the decision-making as it relates to how we holistically plan and run our business, and how we make decisions that determine how we go to market to meet consumer needs.

Early in my career, I routinely saw engineering and manufacturing treated as a secondary, functional resource and not as a valued stakeholder that could help plot the company’s path in the consumer marketplace. I wanted a better seat at the table. I wanted to be involved in the strategic planning of the business, and I found that marketing is where the consumer interfacing roles were/are. These roles interfaced with consumers and external stakeholders to determine the product and retail plans that ultimately drive transactions at retail. And those transactions at retail ultimately determined whether I had a job and a future.

WHAT'S THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TODAY’S STUDENTS ABOUT THE FUTURE?

The best advice I ever received was “achievement and success are processes easily implemented when you know what you want, how you want what you want and in what time frame. In short, (make) a plan.” This advice was so true, and really highlights the need for us to plan the work and work the plan. Make sure that you develop your own vision for your life and for your career, and don’t let others discourage or delay you from executing your plan or vision. Be aggressive with your plan. It’s OK to wait for experience, but make sure those experiences are building blocks that enhance your ability to meet the needs of your plan.

Lastly, treat people with respect and value everyone, big and small, on your life’s journey. The person who is your secretary today may be an Academy Award winner tomorrow. That actually happened to me. Hannah Beachler, 2019 Academy Award winner for her work designing the sets for the blockbuster movie, “Black Panther,” was my secretary back in the late 1990s.

HOW EXCITING WAS IT TO BE BRAND MARKETING MANAGER FOR HASBRO’S "STAR WARS" TOY LINE?

“Star Wars” was an experience like no other. The “Star Wars” franchise is one of the most successful in the world. As a 10-year-old growing up on the west side of Indianapolis in 1977, I was a huge fan. I used to evade theater ushers so I could stay for multiple screenings of “Star Wars.” I had never seen anything like it. Then 20+ years later, it was kind of surreal, if not improbable, to be a senior brand manager for Hasbro Inc. helping develop its product lines for Episodes I and II of the classic science fiction franchise from 1999 to 2003.

It was crazy. In 1977, George Lucas took our imagination to a place we had never been before. The culture changed dramatically when “Star Wars” first hit theaters. He made geekdom mainstream. There are more opportunities today for people to expand their interests and live, dream and create worlds of possibilities. In the late 1990s, I had an opportunity to be a part of the rebirth, the next chapter, in truly an evergreen saga that resonates with fans and moviegoers across a broad spectrum around the world. To meet the actors and actresses and the folks who created the magic of this evergreen saga, and then to be tasked with creating and managing the toy line that brought this fantasy home to families and kids of all ages was challenging, scary, and personally rewarding. I can still remember the first time I went to Skywalker Ranch in NIcasio, California. It was like stepping right into the fabric of “Star Wars.” It is the pastoral home to Lucasfilm’s celebrated sound design, mixing and audio post-production facility, Skywalker Sound. Best day ever and I loved every minute of it.

   

WHY DID YOU BECOME A COLLEGE MARKETING PROFESSOR?

I wanted to make a difference … to be able to support young people and give back some of what was given to me at Rose and throughout my life. I think it’s critically important to invest in our young people. They truly are our future, regardless of background, ethnicity, and demographics and no matter their desired industry, profession or geography. I believe universities are at the intersection of education and business. We grow people with concentrated opportunities for learning and intellectual engagement. I love working with and nurturing people, especially bright, young minds. They help you see the world through the lens of possibilities and innovation. Teaching, especially in the marketing profession, allows me to leverage many of my passions into a career that has meaning, one that has an immediate human impact and one that embraces innovation, creativity, and diversity.

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST LESSON THAT ENGINEERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARKETING AND FINDING A MARKETPLACE FOR THEIR PRODUCTS?

For engineers, I would recommend that you not get locked into the functionality of your product and the mechanics of what it can do for consumers. Move beyond the technology to connect with the people, with the human benefits your products deliver. When thinking like a marketer, understand that consumers see products as a means to a set of outcomes, so expand your point of view to leverage the psychological benefits and attributes of your products. How do your products contribute to a positive set of outcomes? What compelling consumer/human story can your product tell or support? For consumers, when evaluating options and alternatives, the focus often moves to how a specific product, good or service inherently makes their lives better.
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