I wrote the following essay for Progressive’s internal magazine in August 2012, near the end of my summer internship
Ever since I left my radio career to go back to business school, people have been asking me whether I miss it. I’m never quite sure how to provide a short answer to that question. I can tell you I don’t miss navigating Cleveland’s snowy roads at 4 a.m. Nor do I miss the angry emails from listeners regarding the inaccuracy of my weather forecasts. Nor the grilling I took from a Secret Service agent for stepping a little too close to Joe the Plumber at a John McCain rally. But I do miss the people my job allowed me to meet–Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden, Tom Hanks, Oscar the Grouch, LeBron James, and countless economists, astronauts, politicians and business leaders. It was some of those business leaders who got me thinking about making a career change.
When I started the MBA program at Case Western Reserve University, I had this belief that there were interesting businesses and boring businesses (I would have lumped auto insurance into the latter category). Then a group of executives from Moen came to speak with my class and I was riveted by a three-hour conversation about faucets (I’m not being sarcastic). So when Progressive came to campus to recruit, I was open to their pitch. But more importantly, they were open to mine.
When I interviewed with other companies, I found that my journalism experience was a liability. Hiring managers didn’t see how my previous work experience related to their field, and I did a poor job helping them see that connection. One day, a friend helped me see it. “It’s all storytelling,” he said. “In journalism you conduct interviews and create a story for the listener. In business you take data and craft a narrative around what you see.” When Progressive called to tell me I got the job, they made it clear to me that they wanted me because of my background; not despite it.
I’m working this summer in an analyst-type position under the CRM umbrella. When people call 1-800-PROGRESSIVE, one of 5,000-plus people will take their call. My project this summer has centered on how best to schedule those people in a way that meets their needs and the needs of our customers.
On my first day I was apprehensive, to say the least. Would my radio experience really prove to be relevant in the world of insurance and call centers? On my first day, my manager told me to ask lots of questions, and to not be afraid to ask tough ones. “Great,” I thought, “now that’s something I know how to do.”
I’ve found myself drawing on my journalism experience a great deal this summer. Every day, reporters have to quickly learn a lot about things they know little about. One day I’d be delving into urban policy, the next I’d be exploring the pros and cons of the hydraulic fracturing debate. I call it “becoming an instant expert.” I would learn enough so that, while I didn’t know everything, I would at least know what questions to ask. So when I arrived here at Progressive, I found myself highly prepared to become an instant expert on the call center industry.
I discovered other transferable skills. When I worked on the radio, I conducted research which had to be condensed into a three-minute story for broadcast. At Progressive, I’m conducting lots of research which needs to be condensed into a PowerPoint deck. The presentation may be different, but the skills are very much the same; using data to tell a story. As a host, I liked to picture a woman driving a minivan full of screaming kids as my audience. If I could get through to her, I did my job. The world of business is not unlike that chaotic minivan; we’re all busy and there are lots of distractions. Whether I’m presenting my findings to thousands of faceless listeners or the senior leadership of CRM, I’ve got to be clear, concise, and compelling in my narrative.
So do I miss radio? I do miss the medium. I miss having the privilege of waking up hundreds of thousands of people every morning. I miss keeping them company as they sip their coffee and eat their breakfast. But one thing I don’t miss is the ability to tell stories. That’s something I get to keep doing here at Progressive.