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It's 'game on' for Ross alumni at Ubisoft.
  It's 'game on' for Ross alumni at Ubisoft.
 

Ubi From Ross, I Be From Ross

3/9/2011 --

Ross alumni create a domino effect when they all land at gaming giant Ubisoft Entertainment.

Walk the halls of Ubisoft Entertainment's San Francisco office, and you’ll see a lot of maize and blue.

"It's the classic network effect," says Tom Yu, MBA '04, senior brand manager for Ubisoft's Tom Clancy franchise. "When you join the Michigan family, you join an incredible network. The fact we're all here is a perfect example of that."

Scott Sappenfield, MBA '03, was the first in the current Ross MBA procession. He came onboard as a senior brand manager, but in 2009, he was promoted to associate director of Ubisoft's fitness and dancing games, including the Just Dance series, Michael Jackson The Experience, and Your Shape Fitness Evolved. Prior to Ubisoft, Sappenfield was in brand management for Clorox, where he met Mike Wolfe, MBA '05. When Wolfe interviewed at Clorox during his second year at Ross, Sappenfield, who'd just graduated, was his interviewing mentor. The two then worked in the same division at Clorox.

From Bleach to Battlefields

After Sappenfield left Clorox, he learned Wolfe also was seeking a change. Sappenfield made sure the right people at Ubisoft saw Wolfe's resume. Ultimately, Wolfe joined Ubisoft as a senior brand manager, working on such games as Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway and CSI before leaving the company for New York-based Rockstar Games.

"We talked a lot about Scott's experiences at Ubisoft," says Wolfe. "My goal coming out of Michigan was to eventually move into entertainment industry marketing, and I had already started to target gaming companies when Scott told me about Ubisoft's opening. Any time you get a recommendation from an employee inside the company, especially one as respected as Scott, it's going to play a key role."

Ross and Clorox were common ground again when Yu applied for another brand management opening at Ubisoft: He had worked at Clorox prior to Ross, so he'd given Sappenfield advice on how to land an offer.

"One of the cool things about Ross is that the first-year students know the second-years, and vice versa," says Yu. "It's like no school or program I've ever seen. People always know who worked where, and they willingly share information that can help in the recruiting process."

Wolfe also knew Yu from his time at Ross, and the two kept in touch after graduation. When Yu mentioned he was looking to expand his skill set, Wolfe encouraged him to apply at Ubisoft. "I knew if he put his resume in and was recommended by me and Scott, he would at least get interviewed," says Wolfe. "But as the process progressed, Tom's credentials took care of the rest."

The final piece of the Ross-Clorox-Ubisoft puzzle was Kevin Hamilton, MBA '08, who worked at Clorox with Sappenfield and Wolfe. He left the company to attend Ross, and although several years had passed, Hamilton knew who to call to get the scoop on an opening he'd heard about at Ubisoft — especially now that they also shared the Ross alumni connection.

"Scott and Mike were able to tell me whether or not I should want to work there," says Hamilton. "Having that insight from someone you trust is huge. And knowing them was a hook-up to getting my resume noticed. Companies love to find a good candidate through internal networks." Hamilton joined Ubisoft in August 2010 as senior manager of strategic insight.

Coming Full Circle

When Joe Ferencz, MBA '09, came to Ubisoft, he knew there were other grads there but didn't know them personally. Now, as strategy and marketing manager for Ubisoft's licensing business, he describes himself as a freelance researcher for non-gaming endeavors like strategic partnerships, in-game advertising, and licensing. As a result, he sometimes interfaces with Sappenfield and Yu on ideas related to their brands.

"There's definitely a spirit of cooperation between us specifically because we went to Michigan," Ferencz says. "We want to help each other."

Ferencz extends that camaraderie to current Ross students through his involvement with Ubisoft's Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) teams. Last year marked Ubisoft's first partnership with MAP, and Ferencz served as company liaison. This year he also is involved.

"It's neat to see the whole life cycle, from being a student on a MAP project, to serving as a second-year MAP coach, to helping MAP teams at my company," he says. "I think I am able to help lay the groundwork for a more productive project than someone who doesn't understand what MAP is all about."

A Winning Combination

With alumni now successfully working in so many different aspects of Ubisoft's operation, Sappenfield says Ross has built a solid brand within the company.

"We have a unique climate at Ubisoft, but Ross graduates have fit in and done well. So it's always a positive when Ross shows up on a resume. It'll get some attention."

One area of compatibility stems from Ross' team-based orientation, says Sappenfield. "Ross people tend to be flexible and able to work well with many personalities. That's critical to many organizations, but at ours, it's an imperative. We must interface with French corporate executives as well as gaming studios."

That flexibility also drives innovation. "A big focus of Ubisoft is to always do things differently," says Sappenfield. "The worst thing we can do with our marketing is to do exactly what we did last year because it was successful. We try something new every time."

Ferencz notes similarities between the unpretentious vibe of Ubisoft's San Francisco operation and the Ross School. "We are a casual, friendly workplace, and no one has any airs about the fact that they work at Ubisoft," he says. "That's how Ross is. It's a great school, but people don't walk around feeling full of themselves because they go there."

An Insiders' View

Yu stresses that one element of the Ross group's success has been their ability to assess that cultural fit before they accept the offer. "Michigan grads know they don't just have a network, they like their network," he says. "You look at other Michigan alums and you know they're like you. So if they're happy someplace, odds are you will be, too.

"What an alum can do for you that others can't is really tell you if there's a cultural fit," Yu continues. "They won't sugarcoat anything because they care more about you as an alumni colleague than a work colleague."

That collegiality continues after the hiring process. "I think the Michigan people at Ubisoft do feel related," says Hamilton. "There is a tie between us that's really, really comfortable."

Of course, the proverbial foot in the door doesn't hurt either. "The power of the Ross network is why my career is where it is today," Wolfe says.

Amy Spooner



For more information, contact:
Amy Spooner, (734) 615-5068, aschulz@umich.edu