Goods to Gaming, Batteries to Bots
"[Goizueta] gave me the business framework and acumen to go out and be a productive member of a for-profit company..."
Carlin’s career has led him from the Midwest to Silicon Valley. After working in gaming at Unisoft and Facebook, he’s now chief strategy officer at Softbank Robotics America, the company behind Pepper the Robot. Businesses and museums are deploying this friendly robot to engage customers, collect data and even drive sales.
Looking back, his professional path — though not a hiking trail — stemmed from a desire to lead. Each experience informed the next.
Carlin said he was often looked to as a leader in high school and college, but, for him, “going beyond” was about giving himself permission to lead in a professional capacity. He said too often it’s easier to defer to others in an organization.
“What I’ve learned over the course of my career is that, one, leadership takes many forms and, two, you need to give yourself permission to lead so that when you are in a position where everyone is looking at you to lead, you’re ready for it,” he said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Carlin worked for a nonprofit. He later desired a career change and wanted to run a company. That led him to Goizueta Business School and an MBA.
Carlin credits his undergraduate years with helping him become independent and industrious. That is where he “learned how to learn.” But the geology degree didn’t teach him the language of business.
“I didn’t know finance. I didn’t know accounting,” he said. “I was aware of marketing and some of the broad concepts of business from a job prior to grad school, but [Goizueta] gave me the business framework and acumen to go out and be a productive member of a for-profit company … for a baseline, that was everything.”
"So much of [being at Goizueta] is just the sense of how amazing the people around you are."
Beyond growing in his career, his Goizueta experience gave him a huge boost in confidence, friendships and godparents to his children. In fact, Carlin said the network he developed at Goizueta has become “the nucleus” of his professional world. He sees much loyalty among Emory graduates, such as hiring interns and employees from the alma mater. And, since many have found their places in Silicon Valley, alumni events in the Bay Area help them stay in touch, too.
“So much of [being at Goizueta] is just the sense of how amazing the people around you are,” he said.
Ironically, Carlin’s undergraduate studies of the Earth has led to a career that has allowed him to traverse great swaths of territory. Goizueta gave him a global perspective he didn’t have prior to the program. He recalled a moment in a coffee shop when a student from Uruguay asked if he knew the country’s capital city. He didn’t. Carlin then inquired if his friend new the capital of his home state, Virginia.
“Without missing a beat, he said ‘Richmond,’” Carlin said. “I think that was when it hit me: I had felt I’d accomplished some things, but maybe I really hadn’t, compared to some of the people around me. That [moment] stuck with me over my two years at Emory, the incredible background and diversity and raw talent of the people sitting around me, and how much I could learn from them.”
"You draw on all of the skills and life experiences you’ve been given, and Emory gave me quite a few."
Carlin said being in the Goizueta community, surrounded by classmates and colleagues with such international flair, encouraged his career path and solidified his desire to have a role with global scope. And global he went, with internationally recognized brands such as Energizer, Procter & Gamble and Facebook. In fact, Carlin’s early management experience with consumer goods at Energizer and P&G proved to transfer well to other, younger sectors.
“I think what [people in tech] recognized is that people with a background in packaged goods brought a lot of discipline and rigor in the way that they thought about business. Plus, just phenomenal training,” he said, adding that, for a while, it seemed consumer goods was a “happy hunting ground” for the tech sector. To Carlin, what the tech industry can teach the packaged consumer goods is the notion of “move fast and break things.”
Technology, Carlin said, is basically the backbone of everything in business right now. And he’s had a front row seat to much of this transformation from his desk in Silicon Valley.
“To be able to take an ‘old world’ line of experience like I got at P&G and bring it to the ‘new-world companies’ like Facebook has been really interesting,” he said. “It didn’t really matter if I was in packaged goods at P&G or Energizer, or in gaming at Facebook or now leading a robotics company, the pieces generally fit together the same way, which is you need to lead a team,” he said. “I can play the long game thanks to P&G training, and I can play the six-month game because I’ve been in software and Silicon Valley and see how fast things come and go.”
It could almost seem surreal to work with such cutting-edge technology, something that seemed so futuristic just a few decades ago.
“There’s no way I could have seen this,” Carlin said of his work with Pepper. “I’ve not been structuring a career to a specific industry at all or a specific goal except to go lead a company.”
What he loves about his current and previous roles, from Energizer and P&G to Unisoft and Facebook, is that he’s had the ability to bring something — or, now, someone — new to life.
“It’s not the same thing over and over again,” he said. “You draw on all of the skills and life experiences you’ve been given, and Emory gave me quite a few.”