Creating Happy Careers Leadership Spotlight: Lauren Hougas, Director Marketing Analytics, Land O’Lakes

Lauren Hougas  is the Director of Marketing Analytics at Land O’Lakes, Inc. Sitting down with Lauren was a treat – this woman exudes passion for her work, for her employees, and isn’t afraid to share her professional story with openness. Lauren is proof that spending time building and maintaining relationships can help guide you to your passion. And, that passion can lead to great successes if you take ownership of your career.

Jenna Carr, Content Marketing Specialist at Celarity (JC): Let’s start at the very beginning: before you went to college, did you have specific career dreams and aspirations? Did you know what you wanted to be?

Lauren Hougas, Director Marketing Analytics at Land O’Lakes (LH): No, not at all. I always knew I wanted to go to college and have a career. But, I had no idea what. When I finally got to college, I had some really amazing professors who helped me figure out what I wanted to do.

JC: What was your first job?

LH: I started teaching swim lessons and babysitting in 8th grade. And then, like every swimmer, I was a lifeguard. My favorite early job was working in a haunted house where I got to dress up in costumes, jump out, and scare people – it was awesome.  I waited tables through college which gave me a whole new perspective on the restaurant industry and am now a chronic over tipper.

JC: Your undergrad was in Psychology. Why did you choose that subject?

LH: I found it interesting to understand how and why people make decisions. I started getting course credit for spending 4 hours a week in the research lab – and I loved it. Pretty soon, I found myself spending 30+ hours trying to work with as many grad students as I could.

As I was getting closer to graduation, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was meeting with my psych advisors and deciding if I should pursue a PHD in Juvenile Forensic Psychology.

JC: While you were studying psychology during your undergraduate education, what sparked the interest for research?

LH: I liked figuring stuff out. I’m generally a curious person. That’s actually one of the things I always try and hire for – intellectual curiosity. It’s hard to define but you recognize it when you have somebody who starts asking questions and building on those ideas. I’m also analytical to a fault; I need logic and numbers and reason to make sense of things.

JC: It sounds like you really had a passion for the research lab. Why weren’t you sure that’s what you wanted to pursue?

LH: I wasn’t sure I wanted a life of research. I had worked on a project that I poured my heart and soul into about the increased incarceration rates for women. I put my project on a poster and I took it to the forensic psychology conference.

I was ready to change the world. But everybody just walked by, nodded and said, “okay.” That’s when I realized I didn’t want a life in academia.

JC: What lead you to go after your Master’s in Marketing?

LH: When I was sure I didn’t want to go into academia, I went back to my professors and asked them, “What do I do?” My psych professor, who I am so grateful for still to this day, said, “This is going to sound weird, but I need you to talk to somebody. Have you ever thought about Market Research?” I answered, “I don’t even know what that is.”

I went to talk to this marketing professor and I learned that in market research, you get information about why people do what they do, how they feel about things, and how to make things better for them. And then, the business acts on that information immediately.

It was a very, very significant shift for me but I loved it! So, I ended up getting my Master’s in Marketing at Alabama (Roll Tide!)

JC: How did you land your first job out of college as a Market Research Analyst at Capella? After all, you were coming from Alabama!

LH: My husband (fiance at the time) and I were ready to leave Alabama. We literally had no other destination in mind other than we knew we didn’t want to move to New York City or LA. He had an interview at U.S. Bank and was really excited about it (it was springtime – a very important part of this story!).

After his interview, he called me and said, “I think this job is really great and I think you’ll love Minneapolis.” So, I went back to visit my marketing professor and mentor at that time, and told him we were thinking about Minneapolis. As I sat there, he quickly drafts an email, hits send and says, “just one second.” Then, he looked at me and sighed, “Oh good. You’re all set in Minneapolis.”

As it turned out, the University of Alabama had a relationship with Carlson Wagon Travel.  My professor reached out to his contact who responded to that email and said he’d be happy to help me navigate the Minneapolis area and job market. He had been a director at Carlson but had since moved to Capella where I ended up joining his team.  He’s still a mentor to me today.

JC: So, you’ve already discussed how mentors and networking has played a role in your career. Do you think having a mentor and networking is necessary to get a great job? 

LH: Mentors and networking have been critical in how I’ve gotten some of my jobs. But other jobs, I just applied! I think that sometimes, people put too much emphasis on networking to find a job – you really can just apply or work with a recruiter. Networking is not the only way to get a great job.

JC: What’s one big challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

LH: I’ve found that I can let work be all-consuming and it can take over my life. I don’t want that; I’ve got two little kids, I have a husband, I have friends, and I have so much more.

I had to make a decision to leave a job where I loved the work because I didn’t want the travel, long hours or stress.

I found myself where I am now: a job where I get to use all my passion for the work that I love and lead a balanced life.

JC: What do you love most about directing your own team? 

LH: I like watching my team grow and develop and seeing them have wins and moments when something just clicks. I really love when I sense frustration or an obstacle and I’m able to help make that go away for somebody. A nice thing at a director-level is being able to organize processes and the teams and the way we work to help people get the most benefit and joy out of everything that they’re doing.

JC: What advice would you give other women who want to work their way up to a high-level role such as “Director of Marketing Analytics” at a major company? 

LH: Own your career- don’t just let it happen to you.  You have to advocate for yourself!

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