Q&A with Jeff Livingston (MBA’05)
Since graduating with your MBA what has your career path looked like?
I’ve been lucky to work in a variety of industries for an even wider variety of companies. I started in fintech, where my product marketing background helped me communicate the benefits of the intangible. Marketing to me has always been about identifying a need and telling a story.
In my spare time I taught marketing and corporate strategy for a few colleges and universities, growing my love for communications but also recognizing a gap in my skill set. I was teaching all about PR and media, but I wasn’t living it. It’s like reading a book about how to rebuild an engine—you don’t know what it’s really like until you do it. Until you take one apart, re-assemble it, feel the weight of the tools in your hand, and scrape your knuckles.
I decided to leave the B2B space for what felt like a PR bootcamp in not-for-profit. For the next five years I led the PR, communications and fundraising teams at some of Canada’s leading health charities. I got to work with the media, researchers, donors and families living with medical challenges every day. I looked at things through a practical marketing lens rebranded one organization and shared countless heartfelt and impactful stories. After six years of constantly improving my own skill set in communications and raising tens of millions of dollars for important life-changing research, I returned to the for-profit sector where I am now.
How do you believe you achieved your success?
I’m still working on it. In my career, I play to my strengths. Why focus on what you don’t enjoy doing? You should be spending 80% of your day working with people and projects that engage you. If it’s less than that, find a new role where your strengths are appreciated and where your weaknesses are balanced by the team members’ complementary strengths.
Outside of my career I give back and work on my weaknesses, building those areas that require improvement. Join a board or volunteer in a field that’s completely foreign to you. If you have the attributes and desire to spend the time giving back, you’ll always make an impact. Explore roles that introduce you to parts of a business you might not know much about. Exposure to a new industry and its subject matter experts will help close your professional gaps.
Tell me about your extracurricular activities at Dalhousie.
I participated in the Centre for International Business Studies’ European Program where we developed a marketing strategy and product marketing plan for a Nova Scotia–based business that wanted to expand into the EU. We wrapped up that project by traveling to Europe with their CEO and CMO, meeting potential partners and clients. We were fortunate enough to secure new business and break into new markets.
Another project that crossed over into the world outside Dalhousie was with the support of Professor David Roach. After I completed his entrepreneurship class, David encouraged me to take the business plan I had created to that fall’s CIBC’s International Business Plan Competition, representing Dal. It was a great experience because I competed against students from around the world and actually ended up winning the competition.
What advice would you give to Dalhousie students?
Be bold. Everyone has been bold at one point in their life, whether it was when they asked someone out on that first date, took that first swim or interviewed for the job they really wanted. Just be bold and be bold more often—it will soon become second nature to you.
Speed is a game changer when it comes to most everything, especially now. Go from idea to execution as fast as possible. And by the time that project succeeds or blows up, you’ll already be onto your next breakthrough.
Learn to communicate your contributions; don’t assume people are always aware of or appreciate your role in their success, or the company’s success.
Be curious. Be a philomath, someone who enjoys learning and wants to learn about a variety of topics. Don’t be afraid to try something completely new. Start that podcast. Break down that wall in your home (double check that it’s not load-bearing). It might not be perfect the first time, but think about the satisfaction you’ll receive when the project is complete and you’re onto your next one, with the new skills you’ve mastered.
Embrace those hurdles and setbacks. Because without the struggle, without being pushed to your limits, you’ll never know how far you can push things and how much more you’ll be able to achieve the next time around.
At the end of the day, be authentic—be true to your principles and present the “real you” to those around you.