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Spotlight on: Samantha Abramson, T'09

June 10, 2018 | By Sabrina Hao and Cole Zaharris

Samantha Abramson currently produces worldwide iPhone advertising at Apple and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to that, she worked for Apple in Shanghai in a Retail Marketing role, where she focused on loyalty programs for all Apple Stores in Greater China (Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao). Before Apple, she worked at TBWA/Media Arts Lab, which is Apple’s advertising agency. After three years of working on Apple ads in Los Angeles, in 2013, she was relocated to Shanghai to oversee iPhone advertising for the China market. Samantha’s international experience helped her to develop a global perspective on marketing and brand building. She’s been focused on communications, and her first job was in Public Relations. Samantha graduated from Duke University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and a Certificate in Markets and Management. During her time at Duke, she was a member of BOW’s founding Executive Board and provided free school supplies to Durham Public school teachers as the Executive VP of Crayons2Calculators. She’s excited to come back to Duke in the spring and will be a co-chair for her 10th reunion!

Samantha Abramson

What led you to join BOW, and what was your favorite part of the organization?

I was fortunate enough to be on BOW’s founding Executive Board. I lived with one of the co-founders, Daniela Quicksilver, studying abroad, and it was really fun to watch BOW come to life. She was thinking about it constantly as she partnered with Dana to establish the organization. When we got back from Spain, BOW started. It was initially a super small group of people, which grew in the 2008-2009 year. I’m amazed at the scale of BOW today. I was the VP of Special Events, so one of the first things I worked on was planning the inaugural Spring Business Campus. Working alongside other business groups on campus to ideate and execute this event was one of my favorite BOW experiences.

How did your experiences while at Duke and/or coursework influence your career path?

I work in advertising and people are always surprised when I tell them that my degree is in Public Policy. Regardless of that disconnect, I know my time at Duke had a big influence on where I’ve ended up. A lot of career opportunities are about your network, and Duke provides an amazing network. No matter where I go in the country or in the world, there are always smart Duke grads who I can connect with as mentors, as candidates, and as potential referrals. Studying abroad taught me to be truly independent. If I wanted to travel to a new place, I needed to make all of those plans myself. I learned that I loved uncovering and exploring a new culture and connecting with people who had totally different backgrounds.

Last, a number of the classes I took at Duke had an impact on my career and who I am today. Policy Choice as Value Conflict taught me about cultural relativism and opened my eyes to people doing things entirely differently and that being okay. That class helped me develop into someone who is tolerant and open-minded. Also, my MMS capstone was awesome—each small group worked with an actual company to help them with a business need. We did weekly status updates with the client and had milestones which had an impact on the business. All of these things have led me to where I am today.

What was your favorite part about working in Shanghai? Why did you ultimately decide to move to the San Francisco Bay Area?

It’s so fun to thrive in a new place. This happened for me when I initially moved to LA after Duke. It felt like everyone was moving to NY, and I had so much FOMO. But once I established myself and my network in LA, it felt really satisfying to be successful somewhere new. With Shanghai, this was magnified, given that it was so foreign and that there were so many cultural differences! Change is one of those things that is inevitable, so I think it’s an important life skill to be able to start over in a new place and know that you can do it. I loved discovering Shanghai, seeing China, and traveling in Asia. The Eastern mindset differs from the Western mindset, so managing a team in Shanghai was a unique challenge and opportunity. I needed to see things from their point of view, not just my established Western point of view. I loved building their trust and making great work.

This experience has made me truly think globally. When I look at new ideas, I think about if they’ll work around the world, not just in the market that I’m currently sitting in. Ultimately, Shanghai was always going to be temporary, and things that are temporary need to come to an end. I was ready to be closer to friends and family and spend less time on an airplane. That being said, I miss Asia. There’s so much energy. Things are constantly changing and evolving. I definitely think I’ll want to work abroad again at some point (ideally when I have a family!)

Could you talk about your transitions between different jobs?

Changing jobs is that edge of exciting and nerve wracking. I always have a lot of gratitude for where I’ve been coupled with enthusiasm for what’s next. That was particularly true for leaving MAL (TBWA\Media Arts Lab). I grew up at MAL. I learned what it was like to work really hard. I made amazing friends. I made amazing work for the best brand in the world (obviously biased!) I traveled around the world. And at the same time, I’d grown from being an Assistant Account Executive to an Account Director, and I needed to flex different muscles and learn something new. I wasn’t quite ready to leave China, and I had a few friends who worked in the retail organization at Apple, so I started talking to them. It was a great next step, as I always wanted to be on the client side.

I was also nervous. I was leaving managing a team to be an independent contributor. I loved managing a team, and it was one of my favorite things I’ve done in my career so far. When I was ready to go to Apple, my manager gave me a piece of great advice—she said that I already knew I could manage a team, and I would again, so I should take this time to develop new skills beyond that. That allowed me to embrace the new role with a totally open mindset. And I liked being closer to the work again! Apple is a big organization, and it was definitely an adjustment. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by how welcoming everyone was.

What is the most difficult obstacle you have faced in your career?

At the time, I felt like moving back from China was challenging. I spend about a year looking for the right role at Apple in the U.S. Interviewing is an emotional rollercoaster, and I was along for the ride. I spoke to three different groups. But things that are worth waiting for are actually worth waiting for, and the role that I ended up in is a perfect fit. Also, some managers are incredibly supportive, and others are less. This will always be the case. Learning to navigate personalities is probably the thing I’ve done most successfully in my career! We as women need to keep working to support each other. Just because a woman is young doesn’t mean she’s not ready to lead. We should always give people the opportunity to reach and succeed.

What advice do you have for current Duke students trying to navigate their job search/find their path?

Try things. Be afraid to fail. Take risks. No decision is a bad decision, just a decision. You have to start somewhere, so pick something, whether it’s an internship or an entry level role, and dive in. If you don’t like that path, re-route. It’s never too late to do something you love, so don’t feel like you’re locked in now! That being said, if you find a place and a role you love, stick with it. If you invest in a company with time, effort, and energy, they’ll invest back in you. Last, find great mentors! Reach out to people when you start a job and have a coffee and ask questions about how they got to where they are today—you never know what a new relationship could evolve into, so be open minded. Oh, and assume positive intent in the workforce. Always. People are trying to do their best every single day.

What is your #1 interview tip?

You have to want the job. If you don’t really want it, the interviewer can smell it on you. So, if you’re interviewing “just for practice,” you likely won’t get the position. You’re only going to get a job you actually want. When you want it, you’re prepared. You’ve done all the research on the company and the people you’ll be speaking with. You have questions prepared that are thoughtful and smart and you’ll crush the interview.