For those who know her, it may a bit of a surprise to learn that Suzanne Ekblad ’09 BA could be described as a reluctant Illini. Her reluctance started out as a sense of rebelling from family history: “I remember growing up, and my dad had gone to Illinois. My aunt had gone to Illinois,” she recalls. “I knew a bunch of people who had gone to Illinois. And I said, ‘Absolutely not. I won’t go there.’”
This reluctance was short-lived and did not last beyond her first exposure to the university. “I went to one football game,” she says, “and I was sold. It ended up being the only place I applied to.”
The rest, as they say, was history.
At least for her undergraduate school selection. As assured as her selection and entry into the university was, her entry to her first post-graduation job was the opposite. In fact, it was quite frantic.
As Ekblad tells it, she had finalized an offer for a full-time position in September of her senior year. Just before the start of spring break 2009, however, she received word that the company wanted to defer her job offer for a year. Not one to give up easily, she quickly started scrambling to find new employment opportunities. She soon saw a posting for a Chicago startup at the Business Career Services.
That is how she became employee number 33 at Groupon. “A pretty exciting roller coaster ride to have as my first job out of college,” Ekblad says.
Life at a startup like Groupon was extremely fast paced, with many opportunities to have an impact on different parts of the company. She started in sales, but less than a year later she was the company’s second city planner. Over the course of her work at Groupon, Ekblad found herself working more and more closely with the technology teams as they developed features and the daily deal offerings. She eventually became an engineering project manager for Groupon—in spite of having a limited background in coding and computing. “When I look back at taking my CS 105 class back at Illinois, I would never have imagined that I would be managing software engineers,” she says.
While Ekblad enjoyed the atmosphere and liked the people she met at Groupon—not to mention the opportunities to travel the world her work entailed—after six years with that company, she wanted to move on. In 2013 she joined Trunk Club, a clothing service company that works online with clients to develop a collection of clothing that meets the client needs and that are then sent to the client on approval. “The goal is to make you feel better about the clothes you’re wearing, and really teach you how to put outfits together,” she says.
In her day-to-day duties as a Trunk Club Product Manager, Ekblad oversees a team of seven software engineers who run the operations platform, which includes fulfillment, billing, logistics, and inventory integration with Nordstrom, Trunk Club’s parent company. “My role is to guide the roadmap and prioritization of all our features among our stakeholders, as well as managing the day-to-day operations of the engineers,” she says.
As an Illinois student, Ekblad had been active in student groups, serving as vice president of operations of the Business Council and vice president for public relations of Kappa Delta sorority. As an alumna, she is very active in the Business Young Alumni Committee and serves as its president. The Business Young Alumni Committee is made up of graduates within ten years of receiving their degrees from the University of Illinois who are dedicated to serving the College of Business and other young alumni through professional programming, networking opportunities, and social gatherings. “BYAC has been an awesome opportunity to really reengage with the college and get involved with the college again,” she said. “I think it is a great way to get back in touch with alums.”
She remains a strong and enthusiastic advocate for the University of Illinois and the College of Business, and she participates in outreach programs to local high schools.
“It’s really fun to get in front of them,” she says. “That’s one of the cool things that Illinois is doing to give back and tell high school students about Business and why they should choose that route. It’s interesting to talk to them and hear their questions and explain to them what it’s like to be a business major and what they can do on campus.”
Ekblad wants the high school students to understand how important the College of Business could be to their future careers. And she does that in part because she recognizes how important it’s been to her own career. “I can’t reiterate enough how much the College of Business has really shaped not only my career but also the friendships and networks that I have,” she says. “I think the coolest thing about Illinois is that I continue to maintain relationships with people from the Business Council and inside the college today. I think Illinois will stick with me for a long time. I bleed orange and blue.”