Finding the Right Path
Nicole Westervelt, Eller MBA ’06
VP Marketing, Spellbinders Paper Arts
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Nicole Westervelt has three stepchildren, and as they start to think about what they want to do with their lives, she said they often get stressed. “I just tell them, ‘Go to school, get a degree, and you’ll figure it out.'”
It was a strategy that paid off for her.
An influential high school teacher in her native state of Washington inspired Westervelt to head to Washington State University, where she planned to study to become an agriculture teacher.
“It turned out that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. “I spent two years as pre-law, but during that time, I visited a prison where I realized there was no way I could be a criminal attorney. At WSU, I just kind of landed at the business school, and it was in marketing that I found my passion and energy.”
After graduation, she joined Washington Mutual as a research analyst. “I loved the culture, and it got me back to Seattle and the western side of the state,” she said. “I liked the work, but I didn’t see myself doing it for the long term.”
After four years, a combination of forces in her personal life and professional life got her thinking about grad school. “The UA was a bit of a fluke,” she said. Westervelt read about the Eller MBA program in a grad school book, and the description resonated with her. “I said to myself, ‘Why am I applying, I’m never going to go! I can’t afford it!'”
But she was accepted and offered a tuition reduction. “It was time for an adventure,” she said, “so I packed up my car and made the change.”
Westervelt moved to Tucson without knowing anyone. “I figured I had a plan and a built-in network of classmates – part of why I wanted to go to Eller was because it was a nationally-ranked program with a small cohort.”
She landed at Dial Corporation – now Henkel – for her internship. “I loved brand management, I loved Scottsdale, and I loved the culture,” she said. “Unlike some other companies in consumer packaged goods, the culture was collaborative, not competitive. They didn’t have a formal training program – it was more about learning on the job, which I liked. During my internship, I felt that I was able to add value right out of the gate.”
Westervelt travelled around New Zealand after graduation, then joined Henkel full time. “It was a great place for me, I learned a lot about marketing and the ebbs and flows of the CPG industry.” During her seven years with the company, she experienced Dial’s integration with Henkel, which gave her the chance to travel to Germany several times, work with global colleagues, and develop and market products in a variety of categories.
“Strange as it sounds, I had a lot of fun on insecticides,” she said. “There’s a ton of untapped potential, and it’s an interesting category because it’s a highly functional product that has deep, complex emotions attached to it.”
She wasn’t looking for opportunities, but then a former boss from Henkel came calling. As CEO of a growing craft company, Spellbinders Paper Arts, he was looking to build out his team. “The company is the classic entrepreneurship story,” Westervelt said. “The founder started it in her garage and built it into a $20M company. She then realized she needed help to take the company to the next level, so found an equity partner and brought on Greg Tipsord as CEO.”
Westervelt met with Tipsord and liked what she heard, so started with the company in January. “It got me really excited,” she said. “I’m a crafter and a marketer, and this job allows me to marry my two passions. I felt like it was the perfect job for me.”
Top photo courtesy Spellbinders Paper Arts.