All roads lead to Rome, or so says the ancient proverb. While Michelle Aragon does not reside in the Eternal City, the sentiment does apply to her path to MAGNA Global, the investment arm of the Interpublic Group, and her current role as Senior Vice President of Business Solutions. From positions in creative and digital agencies to marketing and brand management, her career has been shaped by a network of different routes, all of which have led to her current destination.
"What I love about my professional journey is that I've found value in every role and situation, and each experience, good or bad, has ultimately helped me become a multifaceted leader," she told me over a recent conversation. Michelle's diverse background has equipped her with a wide range of knowledge and perspective, versus expertise in a single subject. This versatility has served her well in both her current role as the "strategic connector" across a varied set of discipline groups at IPG Mediabrands and as a member of the board of the John A. Reisenbach Foundation (JAR). As an active member of the board, Michelle co-chairs the newly-developed Trailblazers Council.
Michelle and I met when I joined the Trailblazers Council last year. Together, we work with other young professionals to provide a better, safer New York through grants and strategic support to nonprofit partner organizations throughout all five boroughs in the areas of Youth & Education, Neighborhoods and Criminal Justice. While JAR was formed over 25 years ago, the Trailblazers Council is a new initiative. "The Trailblazers are activating the next generation of New York-based professionals who want to make a difference in the local community," Michelle explained.
She knows all about making a difference. In addition to her work with JAR, Michelle serves on the boards for Friends of Mount Sinai and the New York chapter of Step Up and co-chairs the She Runs It Executive Achievement Committee. "A lot of people want to give back, but they struggle with how they can do it," she said. "Organizations are looking for people with not only skills but new and different ideas."
The Trailblazers Council just announced its 2018 grant recipient, Bottom Line, an organization offering support services to low-income and first-generation-to-college students. This recipient is especially meaningful to Michelle, as she was the first in her family to attend college -- at the University of Idaho. It was challenging for Michelle to go through college without role models in her immediate circle, and equally as challenging upon graduating to enter the workforce without a mentor. "I was really unprepared and didn't know the importance or value of a mentor," she recalled. "There are a lot of unwritten rules and nobody is just going to automatically tell them to you. On most of my career path I've had to stitch things together and learn lessons the hard way."
Michelle was eager for a career on Madison Avenue and moved to New York City from Idaho, where she had grown up and always felt out of place. She had no contacts to leverage in the city, though, so while tirelessly submitting resumes she began work as a hostess. Ultimately, with her finances dwindling and few job prospects, she moved back to Idaho "totally crushed." The unexpected reroute and opportunity that followed taught Michelle her most important lesson -- be nimble!
Once back in Idaho she got a job as a field marketing manager with MillerCoors, where she was tasked with launching a new beer brand. In fact, Michelle was the only one in the Boise market representing the brand. "I did everything, from soup to nuts – marketing, events, sales, working with distributors," she recalled. "I had to be all things to everybody and I was building a brand. That to me was such an amazing opportunity." From early morning meetings with distributors to late-night promotional events, Michelle was learning how to be flexible and adaptable around the clock.
Michelle was able to parlay that experience into a position at a promotional marketing agency servicing a large spirits brand, a role which brought her back in New York. A couple of career moves later -- and the decision to forgo full-time employment for a six-month internship at a digital innovation agency, which she looks back upon as "the best thing I ever did" -- Michelle found herself client-side as a brand manager for Constellation Brands, where she was surprisingly tasked with creating a brand plan for Svedka Vodka.
"I was focused on the fact that someone had just dumped this on me and I needed to figure it out," she admitted. "I called [a former colleague from the promotional agency] who reframed it for me as 'think about it as a huge opportunity to learn something critical.'"
The advice clicked. Michelle was able to draw on her multidimensional experience as a field marketing manager at MillerCoors to build the brand plan. "Solving a problem or approaching a challenge in a new way, that's really what I truly love," she said.
It makes sense that Michelle has found her way to MAGNA, which offers the industry a birds-eye view of where business is headed. She notes that it is both fun and exciting to be "at the nexus of everything." Her boss, MAGNA President David Cohen, refers to her as an "eternal optimist." It's a moniker she has picked up through her own perseverance and self-determination. Michelle used to look upon her career hurdles as reasons for self-doubt, but now she sees them as opportunities for strength and growth. "I used to beat myself up about the challenges I faced," she noted. "The most important thing is learning from obstacles."
It also makes sense that Michelle is sharing her lessons with those she encounters both in the office and through her non-profit work -- serving as a mentor and role model to many.
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