Meet new faculty: Felipe Thomaz, business

Name: Felipe Thomaz

Current job: Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Darla Moore School of Business 

Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Degrees: B.S. animal science, University of Florida; master’s and Ph.D. marketing, University of Pittsburgh 

What got you interested in your field of study?

I come from a line of marketers. My dad was vice president of sales and has been a sales and advertising guy for the entirety of his life. As much as a youngster, I tried to deviate from that and attempt a number of other things in college, engineering, medicine, but all paths lead back to marketing. So I really couldn’t get away from it. It turns out I enjoy it too much. I have a science bachelor’s – some pretty hard core bio-chem type stuff, but with an econ-business minor. And I just honestly, thoroughly enjoyed that part of my education more than the science. I ended up in business and industry, even using the science background and just kept pursuing that, went for my MBA, enjoyed that a lot more than anything I had done previously and kind of got recruited into academia from there. Probably because of my personality traits and how many questions I asked. I am far more suited to be in this chair than a manager position. 

What U.S. city do you think of when you think of home?

Orlando (Florida), that’s where I went to high school. It’s home because it’s where we landed when we moved from Brazil. I was there about three years before I went to college.

How did you get started in your field?

I went into the food industry, which is one of the two options for animal sciences graduates and I didn’t want to go to vet school. I ended up working for a food ingredient company, working in food research and development, coming up with new products and new menu items for McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Sarah Lee and companies like that. That company moved me to Pittsburgh. So I was a sales manager for years for them to cover the Northeast. It was just a central location and I had access to a really good airport. It was a pretty good gig for a recent grad. A lot of undergrads snub their noses at sales because they don’t understand the job. They think it is going door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners. It’s pretty intense once you actually get into business-to-business sales, negotiations, contracts, million-dollar deals, traveling, meeting people, going out for dinners. It’s very interesting, very challenging, and involves a number of things we stress when we teach it: Communications skills, people skills, all the soft skills come into play. But you can’t get away without all of the hard skills, too, of knowing what you’re doing. All the analytical pieces and finance comes into it. You have to do a good proposal, you can’t just hard-sell somebody on things that are not solid on the basics of business. It has to make sense for them and you have to do it better than the other guys. It’s very competitive and it’s very fun once you get into the thick of it. But it’s not without its costs, there’s a lot of travel, a lot of stress. Good sales people are hard to find; they’re hard to train; and, they’re hard to keep. 

How did you get into academia?

I got an MBA with marketing and finance concentrations. Then transitioned immediately after that into Ph.D. program. I was very fortunate. The biggest hitters in marketing that the University of Pittsburgh had to offer, I ended up in their classes during the MBA program – people who have now transitioned into dean positions at the school. I benefited tremendously from that exposure. At one time, one of those professors Jeff Inman – who is a tremendous name in our field – brought some of his doctoral students to our class and made them present their research so people would get a sense of what it was that a marketing professor did because it is not limited to the classroom. They wanted us to understand how the field grew. And what he was teaching us in intro to marketing – where it came from – he wasn’t pulling that out of the ether and there wasn’t a textbook that was handed down from the gods. I was fascinated by what they were doing, not necessarily the subject matter, but the process intrigued me, that somebody’s job was to ask questions and answer those questions. They offered me opportunities to sign up and take some Ph.D. seminars while I was getting a master’s, just to see if I could handle the workload, which is significant. I just loved it. I loved the discussion. It was an area of honest questioning and discussion. You were encouraged to question everything, which fit my personality. 

What was your dissertation?

My dissertation is on the effects of social networks in marketing – at all levels. I look at how to use a social network concept as a theory to explain a number of phenomena. One of those is digital, so I use information from social media to make better predictive models. But I also look at social networks of firms about how those firms interact through their agreements and joint ventures and alliances, and we map those marketing alliances between firms to show how they are all interconnected and use that information to show how that structure can change the risk profile for the firm, sometimes to the worse. There’s hidden risks in some of these decisions that firms are taking. I continue to be fascinated by these social networks whether it’s people and how information flows amongst those consumers in digital environments and nondigital environments, how networks of products interact when people choose things. How networks of brands can assist a business because brands are relative items, they’re not absolute concepts. All the way to firms that can have huge impacts on financial markets because there are all these interconnections that are not immediately obvious but can have vast impacts on markets. The scary thing is that sometimes we teach a certain managerial approach that says you manage your direct contacts. You have this portfolio of people that you are in contact with that you pay attention to, but there is a whole host of other parties behind them that might connect them all that is not visible until you look at a network. So it’s not just your friends, but your friends’ friends. It might be a common bank and what happens when that bank goes down. It’s more of this broader view of the market. A lot of this has direct ties to this financial crisis that we had. These firms are entirely too intertwined. Communication and consequences travel too fast. It was too easy to feel the pain of something that was supposedly far away from you.

What are you researching now?

Part of my research touched on the digital components of the market. Firms fight tooth and nail for a “like,” “give me a like,” like that’s a measure of anything. A lot of this environment is a mirror of things we have known forever. A lot of the same things that were done in the past are repeating themselves in the digital world. The value of that click will change. The thing that we can’t forget is basic marketing principles still apply. People tend to forget that. They forget that you need to talk to your target audience. There’s too much attention on trying to make everything go viral. If you’re a niche product it doesn’t make sense trying to go viral. Not everything is mass communication. Not everything is reach.

What are you looking to accomplish in the next five years?

I just want to expand upon this body of work that I have been building upon. There are so many questions and so little time. I am feverishly working with researchers from everywhere to try to address these questions that are just hanging there. Some basic understanding of these digital environments. 

What is something about you that people might be surprised to learn?

I came to this country when I was 14, I’m 36 now and I am still working on becoming a citizen. I spoke no English when I got here. I started in these English classes that were embarrassing and belittling. And 9-11 completely destroyed our process. I was required to leave the country and reapply to come back in. I left, reinterviewed and was allowed to come back. I think people don’t often see the series of struggles that get us where we are. 

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about