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Kalina Newmark, MBA ’19: Nestlé Brand Manager, Indigenous People’s Advocate

By Leslie Ellis

Weaving together the storytelling tradition of her indigenous culture and a fascination with consumer behavior, Kalina Newmark, MBA ’19, serves as an advocate for indigenous people and a brand manager at Nestlé in Seattle.

Newmark manages the Starbucks Premium and VIA Instant packaged coffee business for Nestlé, where she has also helped to establish an indigenous resource network to connect and lift up fellow indigenous employees. Newmark says she loves that her job requires a mix of analytical thinking, creativity, and consumer research. 

It’s a role that perfectly builds on her background.

‘Everything begins with a story’

Kalina Newmark with her father, sister, and
two nieces in her hometown of Tuktoyaktuk

Newmark, who is Shúhtagot’ı̨nę Dene and Métis from the Tulita Dene First Nation, grew up in Tuktoyaktuk and the Okanagan Valley, Canada. Newmark’s  father, a fellow University of Michigan alum and native New Yorker, is a successful entrepreneur in the Northwest Territories. Her mother is a residential school survivor and instilled values of kindness and respect for others. Newmark absorbed her father’s business acumen and her mother’s indigenous culture and teachings like a sponge.

Newmark followed her passion and pursued a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies and anthropology modified with linguistics at Dartmouth College. She also served as president of the Native Americans at Dartmouth student organization. After graduation in 2011, she was selected to work in the president’s office when then-Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim became president of the World Bank. The opportunity gave her a first-row view of the world of finance and politics.

In 2013, Newmark landed a marketing communications role with Cargill in Minneapolis. That work experience struck a chord within her. She realized it was an opportunity to use the storytelling skills that were intrinsic to her indigenous culture to connect with consumers and become an example of corporate success that other indigenous people could follow.

“For Indigenous people, everything begins with a story,” she said. “These stories are used to pass on histories, to pass on important lessons within our community, and, most importantly, stories are rooted in our experiences. As a marketer, this is what I do — I use stories to share the experiences of our consumers. Storytelling allows me the opportunity to connect the dots between what the consumer wants and how we as a brand can deliver on this need for them. By pairing together my cultural, educational, and professional experiences, I am able to connect with our consumers in a way that feels authentic and genuine.”

Ross emphasis on teamwork key to success

After her role at Cargill turned her on to the idea of a career in business, Newmark decided an MBA would give her added legitimacy in the field.

She chose the Ross School of Business because of its tight-knit community, diversity, and the kindness of its students and staff. The school also offered her the opportunity to study abroad and get real-world business experience via the Multidisciplinary Action Projects course. Newmark received a full-tuition scholarship as a Consortium for Graduate Study in Management fellow to attend Michigan Ross.

The emphasis on collaboration at Michigan Ross has stuck with Newmark in her career and as co-founder of the Canada-based Indigenous Leadership Circle, which aims to elevate First Nations, Metis, and Inuit business leaders. She said the collaborative Ross approach mirrors the value her indigenous culture places on each person’s unique contribution and the need to work together to achieve greatness.

One of the biggest lessons that I took away from Ross that I still apply in my work today is this strong sense of community and working together in pursuit of a greater goal.

Kalina Newmark, MBA '19

“In your first year, you are assigned study groups for all of your classes and a Functional Accountability Career Teams group, where you get guidance and support to help through the recruiting process," Newmark said. "These settings allowed me to feel more confident in my ability. Without these groups, I would not have been successful as I was at Ross and in the work that I do today.”

‘Be of service to others’

Newmark said studying abroad in developing countries like Peru also opened her eyes to a more global perspective on consumer behavior that may come in handy as she pursues her next goal: She aims to become the first Indigenous woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She hopes to represent her community in a positive light and show other indigenous people that if they follow their passions, they are limitless.

“The advice I would give to prospective students is to be clear on why business school and what you want out of your experience,” Newmark said. “By doing this reflective work, you’ll identify what school will be the best match for you and that will help you get to that next step in your career.

“For alums, I would say, use your newfound knowledge to uplift and to be of service to others, especially to those communities most underserved,” she said. “I have found the work that I do with my Indigenous community to be the most rewarding and fulfilling part of my day.

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