Augustana Means Business: Lifetime of Learning, Agility Leads Alumna to Career in Marketing
Written by Senior Director of Alumni Engagement Joel Gackle
Michelle (Kamrath) Fields ‘95 has spent her career pursuing new challenges and helping organizations grow. The communication studies major has demonstrated the value of a liberal arts education throughout her career. Fields is the chief marketing officer at Burwell Enterprises, a family-owned business that operates the Madison Concourse Hotel, the Ingleside Hotel, Echo Mountain Ski Resort and C & B Operations, one of the largest John Deere dealerships in North America.
Q: How did you discover Augustana?
A: I grew up in Canby, Minnesota, more than 100 miles from Sioux Falls. I had two aunts, Sheryl (Kamrath) Curran and Diane (Kamrath) Paulson, who attended Augustana, and glamorized Augie for me as a child. I remembered hearing their stories about Augustana when they would come home, and I couldn’t get enough. When the time came for me to decide on a college, I looked at a few other institutions, but my heart was set on Augustana.
Q: How did you decide on your field of study?
A: Before I arrived at Augie, I knew I wanted to study communications because I wanted to end up in broadcasting. I took several journalism and communication courses, and I remember dreaming of what a career might look like discovering and sharing people’s stories. To get experience, I interned at the local FOX station, and worked locally at KDLT (TV) while attending Augie. Beyond communication and journalism, my time at Augustana prepared me well for my career. I remember taking classes from Professor (of Psychology) Michael Nedelsky who motivated me to learn more about human behavior, and being inspired by Dr. Sandra Looney (professor of English) to be a better writer.
Q: Your career had several pivots, will you tell me more about them?
A: My Augustana education helped prepare me for several career opportunities. After working in journalism for a time, I was ready for something new. I reached out and worked with the Career Center (now the Student Success Center) to update my resume and prepare for an interview in another field.
I applied for and landed a job with Nike, working on corporate accounts. I transitioned to working in planning which skills helped me transition into marketing because I needed to understand segments, customers’ interests and also understand trends in the market. After a move, I worked for Eddie Bauer before I began a career in technology — first with Classmates.com and then with Napster.com, where I led their marketing efforts. We moved back to the Midwest, and I worked for Ashley Furniture as their director of e-commerce.
Q: You moved from broadcasting to marketing to e-commerce. Could you share how you made those decisions?
A: I have always been interested in how people make decisions. When I was working at Nike, I completed an MBA (Master of Business Administration) in technology management. I really wanted to be in the technology field because I knew it would be growing, changing and ever progressing. It has allowed me to follow my passions and apply for roles that have been really fulfilling.
Q: Have there been any surprises along the way?
A: There have definitely been surprises because the business world is always evolving. While I was with two separate companies, they were acquired by other organizations, and through restructures, everyone was given the opportunity to find work elsewhere. These times were challenging, but both allowed me to grow and discover new opportunities within the fields I pivoted to.
Q: What role do you think Augustana played in your career?
A: One thing I appreciated about Augustana was the small, tight community. It helped me develop strong relationships and showed me how to form connections after I graduated. The lessons learned at Augie taught me that I need to find commonality with others so that I could blend my strengths and enhance relationships with others.
Q: In your career, which undertakings bring you the most pride?
A: There are two that immediately stand out. When I was with Ashley Furniture, I helped establish their e-commerce business. Helping the company move from a history of manufacturing and retail to offering their products online was incredibly rewarding. The second one is the company I currently work for — Burwell Enterprises, a privately owned company that owns companies in several sectors. One of their largest is a John Deere dealership group. When I started, we owned 25 locations in five states, each with different names and branding. We have grown to 37 locations across six states, and I led rebranding efforts for the company to make each location consistent and under one name. Rebranding every aspect of physical and digital assets was a broad and extensive undertaking, and our team did so with excellence. Our marketing team has also become a leader in digital marketing — on the forefront of digital technology — within the agriculture industry.
Q: What advice do you have for those looking for new opportunities?
A: Always be agile. Every industry is changing and adapting. Take ownership in your skillset and always be looking to improve, regardless of what you are doing. Take free online courses, read white papers and watch the webinars. There are countless ways you can continue to grow!
Questions: Contact Joel Gackle, senior director of alumni engagement.
Media Inquiries: Contact Jill Wilson, public relations and communications strategist.