Vista Outdoor is renowned for designing, manufacturing and marketing a range of award-winning and innovative products, but the company’s latest recognition has nothing to do with bike helmets, binoculars or bullets. This time, it was the HR department’s turn to garner industry praise.
Alison “Ali” Baker, Strategy and Operations Principal, Talent Acquisition, recently was named the winner of the North America Thought Leadership and HR Excellence (Practitioner) award by the HRO Today Association, a networking and trade association representing HR professionals around the globe.
Baker and a team of HR and eCommerce pros at both the corporate and brand level were honored for their cross-functional work on Vista Outdoor’s Digital Marketing and eCommerce Rotational Fellowship Program.
Though the award was technically an individual distinction bestowed upon Baker, she quickly pointed out that this was a collaborative effort.
Her teammates on the Fellowship program were Bob Steelhammer (Chief Digital Officer), Roya Platsis (HR Director, Talent Strategies & CamelBak), Kristy Mattson (Director, eCommerce, CamelBak), Craig McLaughlin (Senior Director, eCommerce & Digital Marketing) and Jens Linder (Senior Manager, eCommerce).
“The reason I submitted the Fellowship for the HRO Today Association award is I wanted to see how we compared to our peers in the HR industry,” Baker said. “I was curious to see if this was going to get any recognition, but even if we didn’t win, I knew it was something unique, I knew it was something special.”
Unique and special, indeed. The Digital Marketing and eCommerce Rotational Fellowship Program, executively sponsored by Steelhammer, was designed to attract and prepare outstanding undergraduate and graduate students for Digital Marketing and eCommerce careers within the organization.
Vista partnered with universities that boast top-tier eCommerce and/or Digital Marketing programs to find “sharp, innovative and curious location-flexible talent” for a 24-month commitment that embedded fellows directly into projects at the Center of Excellence (COE) or business-unit level. The goal was, and is, for the Fellows to maintain employment with Vista Outdoor following program completion.
The 24-month cohort, formed in early 2020 and launched amid the disruption of COVID, began with two Fellows, Isabella De Mattei and Adam Taylor. The duo was charged with everything from site design work to data analysis to direct-to-consumer (DTC) reporting across all brands through the COE and now specifically for CamelBak and the Ammunition Business Units in their first rotation.
As eCommerce and Digital Marketing Fellows, De Mattei and Taylor currently work for Vista, and they have the opportunity to continue their employment after completing the Fellowship.
The reason for launching the program was simple, Baker said. Recruiting the brightest and best is a tall task because it’s near impossible to identify the right talent when they don’t have on-the-job experience. But she and her team know the right type of individuals exist with recent college graduates of eCommerce and marketing programs.
“The opportunity with the Fellowship is to make connections with talented people who just don’t have professional experience, and build their experience within the Vista Outdoor ecosystem of eCommerce and digital marketing and then take them to the next level with our guidance,” Baker said. “What we’re seeing is that colleges want to have opportunities like this for their students, but they don’t have the opportunities to do it. Too many students are saying, ‘I need experience and I can’t even find a job, so how am I going to get experience?’ It’s that chicken-and-egg scenario.”
But Vista found an innovative solution to that age-old dilemma with the Fellowship, and the HRO Today Association award was further proof of its impact. The plan now, Baker said, is to begin the next cohort in January and then explore how the team can expand the program and scale the model into other parts of the business.
“We’ve already learned and have grown from some of the unique challenges that arise from moving people around to different business units,” Baker said. “There is a vision that this would grow within eComm and Digital Marketing, but also that we could potentially duplicate this in other business units. I think the goal for me is driving the functional synergies that Vista Outdoor has across all of our different brands. The sky’s the limit for what this kind of process could do for the company.”
Read more about the awards.