Sonya Duffin, Strategic Leader and Marketer
Master storyteller with over 20 years of experience bringing marketing and creative expertise to the business world, Sonya (BA Class of ‘98, Executive MBA ’19) worked in various roles in Marketing Communications and Marketing Operations for a variety of industries, including private and public sectors. Ready for new challenges, career development, and excited to take on larger roles, Sonya dived into the Leavey School of Business’ Executive MBA program with an open mind. After being inspired by her learnings, professors, and classmates, Sonya made the move into Product Marketing after the program completion.
In addition to her business career, Sonya also trains and coaches young dancers. Driven by the philosophy that “dance training is life training,” she feels strongly that the leadership, collaboration, discipline, perseverance, goal setting, work ethic, and professionalism skills that she developed as a young dance student, set her up for much career success in the business world. She has dedicated much of her life and free time to continue to share those lessons with her students along with the athletic and artistry needed to be an accomplished dancer.
We spoke with her about her time at the Leavey School of Business and how her degree has impacted her life and career.
Why were you seeking an advanced degree?
An MBA was an aspiration for many years, as I knew that I wanted to take my career into more leadership roles and a higher degree would be necessary. I have always felt that it was a priority for me to have options and the ability to drive my own career, I believe that an MBA really provides that flexibility and opens more doors as I move into my future.
Why did you choose the Leavey School of Business?
I evaluated several MBA programs, around the Bay Area and SCU was the clear winner. I should be honest that I am a very proud BA graduate from SCU’s School of Arts and Sciences. I can attest first hand that the SCU Alumni network is extremely strong. As network and relationships are a priority to me, the valuable Alumni connections at SCU was a clear priority and definitely helped keep SCU at the top of my list. What I love about SCU is the small class sizes, I value that faculty and staff know your name and have regular interactions with you and know your name inside and outside of the classroom. Looking back, a significant part of the quality learnings came out of the lively discussions in the classroom with both professors and classmates. The wealth of knowledge and experience in the room really lent to learning from each other as much as our professors. I value relationships and the network that is built during your time in the program. As I value social and environmental responsibility in business along with ethical and moral standards, I am aligned to the Jesuit philosophy and value a program that is led by that ideology.
I specifically chose the Executive MBA because of the emphasis on leadership and entrepreneurship that the program offered.
What was your most memorable class/professor? Why?
My favorite EMBA course was centered around innovation and included a team of instructors led by Professor Tammy L. Madsen. Titled, "Defining and Exploiting White Spaces: Sustaining Innovation for Long-term Growth," the class explored strategic, organizational, individual, and new product innovation. As someone with a creative background, innovation in the corporate setting has always intrigued me. I found it so interesting to study from the business perspective and think through how I can better bring my creative expertise to the corporate environment. It has always fascinated me that so much of what we have put in place to make organizations more efficient and productive, actually stifles innovation. I left this course with very practical and strategic knowledge of how to be a better innovation leader in the future and in my current role today. Extra plus—the case studies, class materials, and reading were fascinating and engaging!
Now that you’re a few years out, how would you say your degree has helped you in your career?
Thanks to the wonderful EMBA program I have been enjoying the excitement of a new role and promotion at Veritas. I was able to make the move from Marketing Communications over to Product Marketing. My official new title is Product Marketing Manager, Virtualization Lead for NetBackup and it has already been about 7 months in this new role. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to advance my career and I have really been enjoying the challenge of learning and putting my new skills to work.
The MBA helped me fill in the knowledge gaps on subjects that I may have never interacted with over my career, to be well-rounded in all things business. For example, I now feel very confident that I can walk into a room of finance professionals and speak their language. An MBA helped me to be knowledgeable and ready to take on any task in my roles, more importantly, it has allowed me the confidence to ask for and push my career in new directions.
How has your perspective on business changed as a result of furthering your education?
Business is ever-evolving and innovating, it is crucial to continue learning, stay informed on world events, try new things, and push yourself to experience new perspectives. I have always thought of myself as a strong leader, but the program helped me hone in on what is needed to be a great leader. Armed with all this clarity, knowledge, and skill development, I am set up for success!
What advice would you give to young professionals thinking about earning a graduate degree?
I have always been a strong believer in the power of education. As Nelson Mandela’s famous quote shares, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” My mother always said growing up that education is something that no one can ever take away from you. Once you have earned those degrees, they are yours! That has always stuck with me during my career. Regardless of whether the MBA changes your career or life drastically or subtly, the gains you will get from the learnings, skill development, perspective, and self-knowledge are always extremely valuable. I could argue that the lessons learned from the MBA program are truly unique and proved to be extremely valuable to me.
For me personally, I put myself into situations far outside of my comfort zone. I challenged myself to learn new technologies and work styles, as well as connect with new people. I pushed myself to try new things at work and moved my career into a new area of expertise focused on product marketing. On reflection, the personal development alone feels extremely worth it!