Diageo's Internship Strategy

The beverage company brings most of its MBAs into finance and marketing through its intern program, says HR Director Claudine Bazinet

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With a portfolio of some of the world's biggest alcoholic beverage brands, including Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Guinness, it's perhaps no surprise that MBA students ranked Diageo (DEO) among the top 100 employers they'd most like to work for. And although Diageo products are served at recruitment events—and employees get a hefty gift basket of the same when they're hired—Director of Human Resources Claudine Bazinet says it's the real work experience the company offers its summer interns—and its "fantastic brands"—that lead MBAs to choose Diageo. BusinessWeek.com reporter Kerry Miller spoke recently with Bazinet, who oversees the recruitment of MBA talent for Diageo North America, about the company's positions for MBAs interested in marketing or finance. Excerpts of their conversation follow.

How many MBAs do you typically hire each year?

Our program is based on recruiting intern talent and converting them to full-time. So for the summer intern program, we recruit between 15 and 20 MBA interns a year with the hopes of converting about 10 to 12 of them to full-time. We look to put about 10 of them into marketing—associate brand manager—roles. The rest of them we look to put into finance manager roles. Our finance jobs are extremely strategic, so anyone ever looking for a strategy job goes into the finance path.

How is the internship program structured?

Diageo is headquartered out of London, but our marketing internship is only available in the U.S., in our New York City office. So you come in as a marketing intern and you're assigned to a brand team for 10 weeks. And on that brand team, you have a manager, you have a vice-president-level mentor who is in marketing but on a different brand team, and then you have a buddy who is a recent MBA graduate, maybe one or two years out, who will help you learn the ropes, someone who you can ask silly questions. When you start on your first day, you're presented with a project for the brand team you'll spend 10 weeks on.

One thing that Diageo prides itself on is all of the projects are real work—if the intern wasn't here doing the work, we would probably have the associate brand manager doing it. So interns will spend about 80% of their time delivering a project that they own 100%, and then the other 20% of their time is spent assisting the associate brand manager to get a better idea of what a day-to-day associate brand manager's job looks like. So they might go out on a photo shoot. Sometimes we have evening events at clubs that different brands are sponsoring, and they might chat with someone and go see that. At the end of the summer, they present their project to select members of the marketing leadership team, and then we make hiring decisions off of their presentation, as well as their performance throughout the summer. And if they were to join us the following September, they would come in as associate brand managers.

Can you give me an example of some projects that interns have worked on in the past?

An MBA intern working on the beer team led a project to review and analyze historical performance on Harp lager, conduct consumer focus groups, and present recommendations to the marketing leadership team on how to position the brand for growth. On Johnnie Walker, one MBA intern led a project to propose two to three key actions to reinforce the status/quality credentials for Johnnie Walker vs. the competition among consumers, by evaluating the key strengths and weaknesses of the top three competitive brands, and understanding the impact of current Johnnie Walker growth drivers in their ability to beat the competition in the marketplace.

And what about the finance interns?

It's the same format in that they have a project that they're accountable for, with 80% of their time for the project and 20% on exposure, except they're not assigned to a brand team. So the interesting part about finance is we have opportunities in London as well as here in Norwalk, Conn. Our yearend is June 30, so if you're a finance intern for the summer, you could be working in our Investor Relations Group in London, working on our Results Day presentation. The intern will work July and August and stay through Results Day and work with our chief executive officer, our chief financial officer, and our head of Investor Relations to pull together the Results Day presentation. Or you could be here in Connecticut, working with our Global Business Support Group, where, for example, someone was looking at pricing for cruise ships this summer. So there's a wide variety of things you could end up working on, but all are finance-based and they're strategic in nature.

Where do you recruit?

We recruit at Wharton for both finance and marketing, Kellogg for finance and marketing, the University of Chicago just for finance, Stanford just for marketing, and Fuqua just for marketing.

Is it possible for people at business schools other than the ones you recruit at to get involved in the process?

Yes, for marketing. Historically, we have not been able to fill all 10 marketing slots by on-campus recruitment. So we have a Super Day, usually in late February/mid-March, where students who have written in—and usually they'll write in to an alum or sometimes they'll just cold-call me—can send their résumé in. We usually pick about a dozen people, and usually about 30% of our marketing intern class is from nontarget schools.

What are you looking for in a new hire?

We look for folks who demonstrate leadership capabilities—whether it's through clubs or previous employers. A passion for brands in consumers. And I'd say the openness to be geographically flexible. Since we are an international company, we sort of look at the internship program as a way to build talent pipelines. We'd like to see those who have an interest in possibly going abroad right out of school or who would be open to it down the road.

Where would new hires be going besides London?

We have had people go to Egypt, to Mexico. The majority of the folks start their career out of business school in either Norwalk, New York, or London, but there is the opportunity in your career in Diageo to pretty much be anywhere in the world.

Do you hire international students who want to work in the U.S.?

We do for finance but not for marketing, because, with our finance roles, there are more opportunities to place them in London.

Diageo is a relatively young company. What is the company culture like?

I'd say it's young, high-energy, entrepreneurial. Like folks who are self-starters. What I always say to candidates is it's sort of make-your-own-Diageo. So if you come in—and we've had this happen a couple of times—you're in a finance role but your real passion has always been brand, and you want to go over and try to be an associate brand manager, we've had folks move from finance roles over to associate brand manager roles. I think that's one thing that makes Diageo very attractive. A lot of times business school students are a little bit worried about their first job out of business school and is it going to sort of set their career path after they've spent two years trying to clean their slates. And I think having the flexibility to say, "I'm going to come in and go into finance, but there is the opportunity for me to go into marketing," sort of helps them with their decision sometimes.

How do you get candidates to choose Diageo out of all the other companies that come to court MBAs?

I would say that they sort of choose us. We have fantastic brands and a great reputation and a really great history on our summer intern program, with real work and real business experience. When students hear that, and they're saying to themselves, "Should I try consulting or banking for the summer or should I try P&G," I think those things make them attracted to Diageo.

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