Zac Parkhill (3rd Quarter, 2008)

by Josh Barsch on August 20, 2010

3rd Quarter, 2008
Dale E. Fridell Scholarship Winner
Zac Parkhill
Saint Vincent College

Zac Parkhill is a senior marketing major at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. After marketing internships at Heinz and PNC the past two summers, he will be joining the IT Advisory practice of KPMG in Pittsburgh upon graduation.

A Portion Of Zac’s Winning Essay:

One of the greatest athletes in history once mentioned, “I get to play golf for a living. What more can you ask for – getting paid for doing what you love.” When Tiger Woods mentioned this to a reporter, he had no way of knowing his words would later inspire a junior marketing major at Saint Vincent College.

Zac Parkhill

Zac Parkhill

Like Tiger, I also have a true passion. Knowing that my enthusiasm for marketing could allow me to realize my dreams is uplifting. I have already established a clear track record of applying my academic knowledge to business situations. Building and learning from past experiences, I have a distinct vision of how I plan to continue to succeed in the future.

As a high school sophomore starting my first “real job”, I was eager to begin climbing the corporate ladder at the local KFC. After a few weeks of training, I was equipped to handle the most difficult orders, cook the last minute batches of crispy strips, and conquer the stickiest of soda spills. However, it troubled me that at any one time our staff only had one or two hot apple turnovers prepared. Scalding under a heat element in a storage oven for the majority of the day, these unfortunate pastries certainly did not live up to the Colonel’s lofty standards.

On my shift, I decided to cook an entire case of turnovers (about 20) right before the dinner rush. Figuring that very few patrons would refuse “two fresh hot apple turnovers for a buck” from an energetic sixteen year old, my informal experiment had begun.

Needless to say, after selling twice my original goal that evening, I was determined to switch every local KFC customer into a passionate hot apple turnover fanatic. In the months that followed, I initiated weekly turnover contests with my fellow employees. These fiercely contested battles featured a variety of sales pitches, continual tallying of turnover transactions, and of course, case after case of the frozen pasties disappearing from the freezer shelf.


Near the end of my KFC career, I had precisely segmented the local market. Elderly women and couples were a sure-fire sale of one or two desserts, while larger families and picnic orders could be persuaded to devour up to ten or twelve.

Despite working for minimum wage that summer and receiving few corporate perks, besides frequent buckets of leftover chicken, I left KFC with the confident notion that I was able to create change. The difference between the manager ordering one or twenty cases of hot apple turnovers for the week may not have significantly impacted the KFC quarterly earnings report. However, I will never forget the unspoken compliment I received when my final customer approached the counter and ordered, “Just ten of those hot apple turnovers, that’s all.”

A year after my KFC experience, I participated in an optional high school marketing competition sponsored by Heinz. I teamed with four of my classmates and was challenged with creating a marketing plan for Heinz ketchup in Mexico. My brief introduction to market segmentation at KFC led me to propose that consumers in Mexico are likely not the same and would probably respond differently to certain types of ketchup.

Our team decided to focus exclusively on organic ketchup and target three select regions based on cultural norms. We created new bottle labels, print advertisements, and promotional materials for the campaign. By exploring legal and government regulatory structures, we were able to determine the most desirable production locations and transportation methods. Initially, we were competing against other teams from our school.

Two mentors from the marketing department at Heinz judged the school competition. Our team was selected to represent Hampton High School in the regional competition, which was held at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel. Nine teams in total competed for the grand prize of a collegiate scholarship and a tour of the Heinz facilities. With over one hundred people in attendance, including a panel of judges consisting of Heinz executives, we unveiled our strategies for Heinz organic ketchup to sweep the Mexican market.

The judges appreciated our unique approach to the generic task of marketing Heinz ketchup in Mexico, and awarded us the grand prize. The subsequent tour of the marketing department was highly influential in my decision to pursue marketing as a career. I was fascinated by the incredible amount of “behind the scenes” work I observed in the marketing plans that directly influence consumers’ behavior.

In my first two years at Saint Vincent College, I acquired a deeper understanding of the “behind the scenes” work I had observed earlier. In addition to gaining knowledge about traditional marketing principles, I was exposed to advanced internet marketing techniques for an entire semester. Ready to apply my classroom skills in a business environment, I inquired with my mentor from the marketing competition about internship possibilities at Heinz. During my interview, my passion for both marketing in general and internet marketing were apparent, and I was offered a summer position as the Promotions Intern.

My assignment last summer at Heinz was to provide recommendations to improve current online marketing strategies. More specifically, I was tasked with maximizing the effectiveness of the brand strategies relative to the overall corporate interests. I found that my newly acquired knowledge of internet marketing concepts was in high demand. Numerous brand managers requested my feedback on their current online efforts. Every few weeks I presented a detailed online analysis to specific brand teams exploring current strategies and potential opportunities.

However, the majority of my insights were presented in my final deliverable. I performed detailed research into the strategies of competitive consumer packaged goods companies. By applying the same online analysis I learned in class just months earlier, I initially developed a proposal that identified three main opportunities that would streamline the U.S. Consumer Products Division’s (Brands available in stores) online marketing efforts.

My senior manager was supportive of my initial efforts and sent me to Ferrara & Company, one of Heinz’s web developers located in Princeton, to further refine the presentation. Consulting with industry experts enabled me to propose innovative strategies hallmarked by quantifiable benefits and brand equity-driven reasoning. Namely, brands would enjoy increased cross-selling potential, awareness, and loyalty by simplifying and integrating their online strategies into a cohesive effort consistent with corporate objectives. I presented my recommendations to a group of more than twenty marketing executives over a ninety minute lunch seminar.

The discussion and feedback that followed was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, most were shocked about the current shortfalls and the potential opportunities at hand. I was delighted to learn that a team of managers who attended my presentation engaged a vice president about moving forward with the online strategies I discussed. Though corporate America traditionally moves slowly, I continue to receive updates on the progress of the online transformation at Heinz. Unlike my earlier experience at KFC, I left Heinz knowing that my efforts had the potential to significantly impact the profitability of a Fortune 500 company.

Energized from my experience at Heinz, I returned to Saint Vincent eager to continue gaining knowledge and experience in the business world. As president of the Marketing Matrix, the Saint Vincent College Chapter of the American Marketing Association, I recruited other passionate marketing majors and initiated a program to provide marketing consulting work for local businesses. By applying class knowledge to meaningful business assignments, club members acquire relevant experience along with a deeper understanding of marketing principles.

In essence, the Marketing Matrix itself is a small business. In a cooperative atmosphere, club members learn about each business’ special requirements and we draw on experience from all of our business classes and our professor’s insights to ensure a valuable marketing assessment for small business owners.

I have already demonstrated a record of consistently utilizing my knowledge in today’s business world. I plan on using my experience in translating classroom discussions into business achievements as a foundation for future opportunities. More specifically, I aspire to attain a competitive graduate degree, and eventually the knowledge and experience to lead in corporate America.

The four short months at Heinz exposed me to one of my most significant realizations to date. As a marketing student in with sophomore status, I was eager to learn how my new colleagues achieved their marketing success. I was fascinated by the countless anecdotes highlighting academic accomplishments, past business ventures, and current initiatives at Heinz. However, I immediately recognized one staggering similarity that arose in nearly every situation.

Familiar with business statistics, I observed an incredibly strong correlation between level of graduate school program and business success. After speaking with numerous graduates from the best MBA programs in the world, I was convinced that I wanted to follow in their executive leadership footsteps.

I inquired about the importance of a “top MBA” over dinner with the founder and CEO of an interactive advertising agency. After pausing for a moment, he candidly replied, “Zac, initially it will determine what companies you interview with and how much you will make. Then, it will serve you the rest of your life. Get the best degree you possibly can.” Holding an elite MBA degree of his own, I realized that his pointed advice was not simply a reflection of his personal success, but rather his words could be generalized to impact all facets of business.

Understanding the significance of a powerful degree, I immediately researched potential graduate schools. By the beginning of my junior year, I had a tentative list of schools. Also, realizing the benefit of acquiring valuable business experience before enrolling in an MBA program, I simultaneously researched possible summer internships.

Having the long term goal of attaining a world-class MBA requires immediate attention to the short term goal of continually seeking challenges to expand knowledge, leadership and business skills. I am eager to learn from experts and produce meaningful work with the potential to impact an organization. Despite an invitation to return for another summer internship at Heinz, I chose to explore a variety of challenging opportunities with numerous firms across a wide range of industries. I am currently interviewing with numerous companies including advertising agencies, consulting firms, and financial organizations.

The most promising current internship opportunity is with a Fortune 500 banking firm. The position involves applying innovative web analytics to gain insight into their online users and maximize the effectiveness of the firm’s online marketing strategies. This internship will likely contribute to my goal of gaining business knowledge and experience before pursuing graduate school.

In addition, my upcoming summer internship could significantly impact my first full-time position when I graduate from Saint Vincent College next May. My unrelenting motivation to succeed in the business world is derived from something far more important than a lofty degree or executive title.

My need to succeed transcends business. As an upbeat infant with curly hair and a contagious smile, I had no way of realizing the enormity that horrible day. I was confused because I missed my father, and at the mere age of one and a half, even the most sensitive explanation of why he would never return meant very little to me. I am told that most emotional part of the funeral occurred when I saluted my father’s casket. Since he was a JAG officer in the U.S. Air Force, this was our greeting. I stood just two feet tall, with my hand proudly across my forehead, peering up in bewilderment at his closed casket.

August 8, 1988, changed the Parkhill family permanently. A horrific automobile accident instantly widowed my mother, and left my brother and me fatherless forever. At this ultimate low point, my amazing mother made the selfless decision to dedicate her life to ensure the success of her children.

Becoming a single mother with two toddlers just a year apart was obviously a daunting task, but my mother was determined to finish what she lovingly started with my father. As children with a single mother, my brother and I were classic candidates for problems with crime, drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse. However, none of those materialized. From early on, we observed our mother’s absolute dedication to our well being. Despite periodically working multiple jobs, my mother always made time for us to be together as a family. Frequently, she took the two of us fishing at a nearby lake. Regardless if the fish were biting or not, she used these peaceful gatherings as means of communication. Our conversations ranged widely from school lunches to girls to bullying to our father.

The family bonds that we formed on the water’s edge in those early years certainly contributed to avoiding the probable misfortunes. In addition, I was inspired by my mother’s entrepreneurial courage. Realizing that the family relied on her income, she worked tirelessly and founded a domestic adoption agency. With little formal business training, she agonized over complex issues like marketing planning and nonprofit status.

Despite being on 24/7 standby and frequent road trips within the tri-state area, she refused to jeopardize her relationship with my brother and me. Often employing creative methods, my mother commonly included us in her travels and planned fun family activities. She identified a client in Ohio as a chance to take a family trip to Cedar Point and catch up with her sons on the two hour drive each way.

Eventually, the stresses of sole business ownership became too great, and my mother moved on to a more stable situation. I was fortunate to be blessed with an amazing positive influence in my life. Statistically, I should not be where I am today, nor should my twenty-two year old brother have achieved a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in four years. Those statistics are the reason I continue to strive for success.

Most children who lose a parent at a young age are not as privileged as I was. My brother and I can attribute all of our accomplishments to the fact that our mother dedicated her life to us. Recalling the profound impact of our early fishing trips, I now seek to eventually establish a charitable fishing camp for children who have experienced the loss of a parent at a young age.

Located in Canada or Alaska, this retreat would be an all expense paid getaway where families dealing with the loss of a parent could peacefully begin to rebuild their lives. Many of these unfortunate children lack the immense amount of support required from the surviving parent. A staff of counselors would be available at all times to assist families with their difficult transition with the backdrop of a serene lake. Whether meeting with a counselor at a lakeside pavilion or embarking on early morning family walleye fishing excursion, the water will serve as a catalyst to encourage open communication and healing. Hence, the camp will be known as Life by the Lake.

As my mother demonstrated, frequent and honest communication is an effective avenue to help deter countless negative influences. While I was preparing a cup of coffee last summer, I overheard one of the vice presidents at Heinz discussing some charitable contributions with a co-worker. He casually mentioned, “Between my sister and me, we were able to give one-hundred-thousand dollars to that small charity. It really helped them take off!” At that moment, I drew an immediate connection between succeeding in the business world and achieving my dream of helping devastated families cope with the loss of a parent. I could make it happen.

My plan of building on my past business experience, acquiring an elite MBA, and significantly impacting executive leadership in corporate America will enable me to acquire both an extensive network and the funds to build toward my goals. Therefore, when the combination of corporate sponsors and personal funds is correct, Life by the Lake will become a reality. I know that my mother will be an amazing director for the charitable foundation. After all she has sacrificed for me, I pray that eventually she is able wake up every morning overlooking a scenic lake and know that her husband did not die in vain. I know my father would be proud.

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