How a century-old startup is changing perceptions among millennials

“Show, don’t tell” — the secret to winning over the next generation of talent

Ali Dawson’s journey with century-old startup, Whirlpool Corporation.

BENTON HARBOUR, MICH — Like many millennials, Ali Dawson began her project at Whirlpool Corporation thinking she had an accurate perception of the Fortune 200 company. After all, she had grown up with their products her whole life.

“Whirlpool Corp. stands out to me because I’ve seen their products around my house ever since I can remember,” 23-year-old Dawson said. “My family also used to vacation up in Michigan every year, and so we would hear about [Whirlpool Corp.] all the time.”

But to her surprise, Dawson’s initial perceptions of the work that went on at Whirlpool Corporation could not have been more different from reality.

“I came into the project thinking that this was just a killer appliances company,” Dawson said. “The ironic thing was that what I knew about them as a company was entirely different to what I ended up working on. I had no idea they made products in such a diverse set of spaces.”

In the words of Lee Atwater, perception is reality.

In the words of Lee Atwater, perception is reality. It is the sole reason why companies across the globe spend millions each year trying to figure out how to show the world what they really do. Most try to stand out by investing heavily in expensive marketing campaigns — publicly traded companies spend, on average, 10.4% of their total revenue on sales and marketing every year.

However, Whirlpool took a different approach. They stood out from the crowd for Dawson because the appliance giant didn’t just tell her what made them different; they showed her instead.

“We worked with top professionals at a huge corporation, but it didn’t feel like a big corporate America type of place. It felt like a startup.” — Tweet this!

She added: “[Whirlpool] obviously has an amazing operation going on there with lots of beautiful buildings, but it was so much more than just great aesthetics. We worked with top professionals at a huge corporation, but it didn’t feel like a big corporate America type of place. It felt like a startup.”

Ali and her team quickly learned that Whirlpool Corp. was much more than just a kitchen appliance manufacturer. The Fortune 200 company based in Benton Harbor, Mich. owns 16 different global brands that produce everything from water filtration products and clothing care systems to state-of-the-art beer fermenters and cleaning supplies.

As part of her accelerated master’s program focused on the intersection of science and technology, Dawson has spent the past year studying some of the world’s most innovative companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. Whirlpool Corp. certainly did not disappoint the Chicago native, nor look out of place.

“The most impressive thing about Whirlpool [Corporation] is that they are always thinking innovatively and have such a strong desire to be creative,” Dawson said. “I was so surprised by how open and receptive they were to our feedback. It was surreal for such a big deal company to be sitting on the other side of the table and listening to our thoughts. For me, this experience broke down a lot of barriers and gave me the confidence to talk to more senior people.”

Ali and her team at Notre Dame

Dawson wishes more corporations would show students what life is really like at their company.

“I really wish more companies did this. First of all, from a student perspective, it’s so hard to gain exposure to what it is like to be at a company like Whirlpool,” Dawson said. “Second, working with a major brand is such a great way for students gain valuable experience. Whirlpool just killed two birds with one stone, exposing us to their world that otherwise, we would never have seen.”

While traditional marketing and recruiting campaigns can be effective, both share a common problem: they are ridiculously expensive. In 2014, Salesforce invested 53 percent of their revenue into sales and marketing, 2.2 billion dollars, and grew by 33 percent in the same year.

This is no coincidence; it costs to be heard today, even for the most well-known companies.

Although Dawson is headed to the nation’s capital to work for a top consulting firm, her experience in Benton Harbour with the world’s biggest appliance maker has certainly left its mark.

“Now, having had this inside view, I think that Whirlpool would be such a cool place to work. It totally shattered my perceptions, and I can totally see myself at a place like this now.”

“When we visited for the first time, never had I really thought about working at a such a place,” Dawson said. “Now, having had this inside view, I think that Whirlpool would be such a cool place to work. It totally shattered my perceptions, and I can totally see myself at a place like this now.”

If corporations take anything away from this story, let it be that they too can cut through the noise and stand out, by showing, rather than telling, the next generation of talent what they have to offer.

That way, top students like Ali can do all the talking.


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About the Author

Cornelius McGrath is an entrepreneur and storyteller. He is on the founding team at ProMazo and serves on the Advisory Board of the Nanovic Institute. Cornelius was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and writes regularly on European tech, entrepreneurship, education and the future of talent — you can follow him on Twitter @Con_McGrath.

All opinions expressed are my own, and they do not reflect the views of any of my current organisations.