Two high-profile College of Business graduates returned to FIU, sharing the importance of passion, determination and emotional intelligence–must-haves to stay ahead of the curve in the business world–with sales and marketing students.
Michael Kappitt (BAAC ’92), president of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Eric Maldonado (BBA ’86), managing director of sales at information and analysis firm IHS Markit, hosted informal sessions with students on January 26, 2017, offering details of their early challenges and rise to success.
Their common message: if you don’t have passion, do something else.
“I was able to find things that I had a lot of passion for and excelled there,” Kappitt, who became president of Carrabba’s in 2016, told a group of students from the American Marketing Association’s FIU Collegiate Chapter, AMA@FIU.
A marketing veteran who originally majored in accounting at FIU, Kappitt is the first marketer to run one of Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant chains, which also includes Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.
Kappitt was quick to respond to a student’s question: what is marketing?
“Marketing is an area where you can touch a lot of things,” said Kappitt, who spent nine years at Burger King and eventually became North American CMO. “At Burger King, I ran global business intelligence. You can be a finance guy and there’s a place for you in marketing; you can be a creative and be in marketing.”
Kappitt joined Bloomin’ Brands in 2011 as chief marketing officer for Outback Steakhouse and in 2013 was named global CMO of the full company. He started his career at Alamo Rent a Car, and spent 13 years there working in a variety of leadership positions.
At Carrabba’s, success depends on listening to consumers, knowing what makes them tick and responding quickly. Kappitt pointed out that his marketing background allows him to be more “risk tolerant” and look beyond the ROI.
“Not everything is black or white. I deal with gray all the time,” he added. “That makes me willing to try new things, to let marketers have more creative opportunities and to be more insight driven.”
Determination trumps challenges.
Maldonado, an FIU Business Hall of Fame inductee, and his wife Sandi (BS ’89), fund the Global Scholars Program, which takes College of Business students to New York for company visits and tours.
“My primary strategy was to look at the macro picture; you have to get ahead of the curve,” Maldonado told FIU Sales Society members. “There’s so much to do. Look around, see what’s happening and capitalize on it.”
He told students of his days as a new FIU graduate who started “driving around Miami in a minivan for three-and-a-half years selling copiers to local businesses” and how it became a stepping stone to his successful New York career path.
Drive and intellectual curiosity, he noted, are key.
“When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Maldonado. “Later it clicked that sales is a very open profession because everything in this world is bought and sold. If you’re in a revenue generating position at a company, you’re very important.”
At IHS Markit, Maldonado’s division builds, designs and hosts front-end interfaces for global financial companies. During his chat with FIU students, Maldonado highlighted the importance of FinTech, the intersection of finance and technology that will drive a huge sector of the economy going forward.
How do you face challenges? Head on.
“Early in your career it’s tough. When I first started, it took me months to make my first sale,” Maldonado said. “You have to stay the course and don’t doubt yourself.”
Sales is all about conversation, Maldonado noted, and listening lays groundwork for that dialogue.
“Cold-calling isn’t dead and word of mouth today has gone viral through electronic and online messaging,” said Maldonado. “The access to information that you have today is incredible; you can accelerate the conversation before you meet the person or walk in the door.”