Ellen Walthour Q&A

July 2, 2019
On 10 years of advocating for increased diversity in the marketing industry.

“Our State of the Industry Report shows that since we began measuring in 2014 there has been a 6 percent increase in people of color in the field. There is still a long way to go but progress in Minneapolis is being made.”

How does your previous career in teaching inform your work with BrandLab?

It does every day. I believe teaching is the best training ground for leadership. You aren’t paying anyone to do the work; you must inspire and set clear expectations and build community and try to make it fun. Those are all the skills I use every day as a leader of a nonprofit. I am always juggling many priorities.

Do you miss teaching? 

Hmm … some days. But no. It is the hardest job in the world. It can be physically and mentally exhausting. And, when your day ends planning and grading begin. And, all of that is true; but it is the most wonderful profession and one that provides incredible satisfaction.

When did you first get involved with BrandLab?

In 2009. I was hired to be the very first program director.

What did your experience as a teacher in Japan teach you about how we should do things here in reaching young people?

My first teaching role was in Tokyo. It was a small international school. My colleagues were from all over the world. I learned that my training was not the only way to teach. It was a wonderful opportunity to open my mind, learn from others and concentrate on the mechanics of running a strong classroom, where each learner was supported to make mistakes, feel confused and then hopefully see their own growth.

What did you want to do when you were growing up?

On one visit to my dad, who lived in New Mexico, I recall looking out the window as we drove along at a big old ranch with horses. I had a snapshot of me being a professional tennis player and owning a ranch. It is such a vivid memory and makes me laugh since I never really played tennis but loved to watch it with my grandpa. I did not have a dream job. I don’t think I knew what was out there. I think that is one of the reasons I love The BrandLab so much. It shows young people about creative jobs they probably have never heard of.

How important is authenticity when working with young people?

It is everything.

You’ve been at BrandLab for 10 years now. Has there been significant progress toward BrandLab goals?

In 2009 we had one classroom in one city serving less than 30 kids. Today we are in two markets, poised for three by the end of 2020, with more than 100 young people in paid internships placed every summer. Best of all students from our earliest cohorts are landing jobs in the field. Our State of the Industry Report shows that since we began measuring in 2014 there has been a 6 percent increase in people of color in the field. There is still a long way to go, but progress in Minneapolis is being made.

How satisfying is it to see young people find their way in the industry and move into full-time positions?

I receive emails frequently about the success our young people are having. They are graduating from college, earning scholarships, having more confidence. It’s why I keep doing what I do.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Lean into a generous spirit.

What’s next for BrandLab? 

Growth and impact. We must serve more students and place more of our alumni in jobs.