For some reason, an aviation company is paying special attention to John Wong’s Marketing 343 Personal Sales class on the second floor of the Gerdin Business Building.
Textron Aviation, located in Wichita, Kansas, is hiring students from this class before they even graduate. Some are internships, but many are full-time positions.
It all started with Colby Creger, a business student in that class. Like many business students, he attended the fall career fair at Hilton Coliseum. He wore a suit. He brought his pad folio. He put his networking skills to work.
During the career fair, Creger met representatives from Textron Aviation, who were impressed with him from the start. “They flew me down to Wichita for the interview and offered me a job that day,” he said. His internship began in May 2015.
Textron Aviation representatives regularly attend the career fairs at Iowa State. For 2016, Textron Aviation has filled 30 intern and 15 full time positions, across the organization, with Iowa State students.
However, the relationship with the College of Business is new. The company is interested in a deeper partnership with Wong’s marketing class, perhaps being involved with some curriculum and case competitions, where students work in teams to solve real business problems.
Creger, a marketing major from Cedar Falls, Iowa, knew he wanted to be in sales, but he never imagined it would be in the aviation field.
“I’ll never forget my first day,” he said. “I walked into the hangar and saw a private jet sitting there. The owner was coming the next day to take delivery of the jet. I got to go inside and look at it. It was pretty amazing.”
During his internship, Creger conducted a competitive research project for Textron Aviation. His boss wanted to know why customers were buying a competitor’s plane instead of theirs. Creger knew just where he wanted to begin. He offered to call them and ask.
One by one, he called them to gather market research about the needs of the customers. That led to a detailed report with his findings. This was an impressive project, especially for an intern. With the help of other interns, such as ISU engineering student Shehnaz Patel, Creger was making quite an impression.
“I certainly didn’t do this alone,” Creger said. “It was a team effort.”
Textron Aviation officials were so pleased with Creger they offered him a full-time job at the end of his internship. “I told them I still had a semester of college, that I couldn’t start yet,” he said.
Company officials saw the value in staying connected, so they asked him if he would like to continue his internship remotely while he finished his degree at Iowa State. In January, he will start his full-time position as a Regional Sales Associate.
That’s the kind of news a professor, and fellow students like to hear about. The excitement from Creger’s experience was something Wong wanted Creger to share with other students.
That’s what Wong is all about. He wants students to share the wisdom. Pay it forward.
An associate professor of marketing, Wong has been teaching at Iowa State since 1981. When his students are asked to describe their experiences with Wong, there are definitely some common words used.
Honesty. Gratitude. Caring. Relationship.
He knows his teaching style may be unique, but that’s all right with Wong.
“In sales, 90 percent of the job is dealing with rejection,” he said. “So I spend a lot of time with them dealing with rejection. They need to learn now that rejection is not personal. It may just be the timing. It may be the company’s budget. I tell them, they are 20-something. They are meeting with company officials who are twice their age, and have twice as much business and life experience. Students cannot come in and act like they can solve a company’s problems the first time they meet. They need to build credibility. They need to be good listeners. These are some of the most important lessons they can learn in college.”
Those lessons served Creger very well. Textron Aviation officials wanted to know more about Creger and his drive to succeed. “I told them about Dr. Wong and what I’ve learned from him,” he said.
When Creger shared his story with Wong’s class, he captured the attention of then-student Roberto Gomez Aristizabal (Marketing, ’15), who now is a part of the sales development program at Textron Aviation.
A ripple-effect was beginning.
Jamie Rutledge, human resource business leader at Textron Aviation and Gomez Aristizabal’s supervisor, noticed something about her young employee.
“He came to us fully prepared,” she said. “I recognized that Roberto has the ability to have a strong network and also the skills to develop talent. He spoke so highly of Dr. Wong at Iowa State and the experience he had in that class.”
Like Creger, Gomez Aristizabal credited his experience in Dr. Wong’s class. He described the professor as one who taught with contagious enthusiasm, who taught students the importance of relationships, and thanking those who have been helpful on their path.
Again, Rutledge heard the name — Dr. Wong.
“I knew something special was going on in that class,” she said.
To see it first hand, Rutledge visited Wong’s Marketing 343 Personal Sales class in November, 2015. She brought Gomez Aristizabal, who was invited to speak to the students.
“I asked students to raise their hand if they had a passion for aviation. And no one raised their hand,” he said. “That’s when I told them I was in their same shoes during college. Then I learned about Textron Aviation.
That’s when they listened to my story.”
This class is unique, Gomez Aristizabal said. “It’s unlike anything else at ISU. It’s more like an internship.”
The passion coming from Wong is contagious, according to many of his students, current and past. “He lets you know that he really cares about you,” Gomez Aristizabal said.
Marketing major, Tara McKee, was in the room when Creger spoke to Wong’s class. Once she listened to Creger explain his experience as an intern, she was hooked. “He had such a genuine excitement when he talked about Textron Aviation. I knew I wanted to meet them at the next career fair,” she said.
McKee, a marketing major from Lake Zurich, Illinois, did in fact search for the company recruiters when they attended the pre-Career Fair reception. They were so impressed with her resume, experience and personality that they flew her to Wichita for dinner along with student applicants from the University of Kansas, Purdue, and Miami of Ohio. The next day included interviews, the opportunity to present conclusions from pre-work case scenarios, and a tour of the facility. “They really treated us like VIPs,” she said. “It was so exciting.”
Even though she does not graduate until May 2016, McKee already has a full-time position waiting for her at Textron Aviation. It was her experience in Marketing 343, “and especially Dr. Wong,” that prepared her.
“This is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken,” she said. “What I love about Dr. Wong is that he really cares about us. This class is very hands-on. He teaches us about knowing the value of what we’re selling. He teaches us that sales is all about building relationships.”
In addition to Wong’s wisdom, McKee said she couldn’t have landed this position without the advice of Angela Wagner in the Business Career Services office. “She gave me such good advice and provided so many helpful tips during this entire process,” McKee said.
Wagner, career coordinator for management and marketing students, gave a presentation to Delta Sigma Pi, a professional and co-ed business fraternity open to all business majors, which fosters the study of business in universities.
“That’s when I met Tara,” Wagner said. “From there, we just connected.”
“Tara had many interviews with different companies. She really is motivated and I knew she would do well. I love it when students keep me updated on how their job searches are going. This is a very rewarding process for me, too.”
Emily Tobin, a junior in marketing from Waukee, Iowa, has an internship waiting for her at Textron Aviation this summer. She also gives credit to Wong, stating that he has left a lasting impression on her.
“I feel like Dr. Wong is a life-teacher,” she said. “He teaches us so many important life lessons. He was my breath-of-fresh air.”
Wong is known for encouraging students to write thank you letters and also read books that may not seem to coincide with his class.
“Tuesdays with Morrie,” Tobin laughed. “I had never read that before, and you wouldn’t think a marketing professor would assign that book. But it’s funny. Now I see Dr. Wong as Morrie.”
The book chronicles the experience of newspaper sports columnist Mitch Albom who recounts the time spent with his 78-year-old sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Georges Niang, a marketing major who took Marketing 343 last spring, said the class and Wong, especially, helped shape his future.
“Taking that class with Dr. Wong is what helped me decide on being a marketing major,” Niang said. “Even though I don’t know anything about Caterpillar equipment, I learned a lot about sales and marketing. Dr. Wong really taught us that it’s all about relationships. That’s the kind of lesson that sticks with you, long after the class is over.”
Dr. Wong is known for challenging his students to go visit companies directly to learn about their products and business styles. “He pushed us, but in a good way. It’s not like he said ‘you’re going to get through my class.’ He said ‘we’re going to get through this class together.’ It’s like he’s taking the class with us.”
Niang sees Dr. Wong as a parent figure to the students. “As a student, you don’t want to let him down,” Niang said. “The way he teaches it is like a baby starting to walk. The baby takes a few steps and falls down, but the parents help him up. That’s how Dr. Wong is. When we make mistakes, he picks us up and helps us through it.”
Even though the class is long past for Niang, he said he definitely plans to stay in contact with Dr. Wong, who has been somewhat of a mentor for him. “He’s top of the line.”
The students have a special place in Wong’s heart. At the end of each semester, Wong is happy and sad at the same time. He’s proud to see them graduate and make their way in the world, but also sad to say goodbye. “I fall in love with them, and then they have to leave.”
For Wong, who grew up in Malaysia “on the wrong side of the tracks,” gratitude for his education, his full life in the United States, and the chance to have a positive impact on students are at the heart of everything he does.
“A life best lived is a life lived in gratitude,” he said. Those are the types of comments students hear often in Wong’s class, so much so they are called “Wong-isms.”
“We enter this world alone, and we leave this world alone,” Wong said. “In between, we hope to have a few people who really love us.”