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How AIU Business Faculty Carol Sagers Embodies Leadership at Work, Home and in the Classroom

Image: AIU business faculty Carol Sagers

For AIU Online business faculty member Carol Sagers, her 35 years of experience is woven not only into her consulting firm, but into the courses she teaches. "I really think students need to understand how businesses operate from people who've actually worked in business," she said. "What I teach is what I've experienced."

Sagers, who holds an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Science in Advertising from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also feels it's important to include your family in your passions and brought her sons along on her career path. "My two sons went to work with me. They ate whatever I was marketing and used whatever I was marketing. Both my sons can tell you in extensive detail what their mother does for a living."

Fortunately for her students and sons, Sagers' background includes plenty of noteworthy experiences. The roster of companies she's served includes such organizations as McDonald's, Kraft Foods, L'Oreal's Soft Sheen Products and Sunbeam, to name a few. This experience brings a level of familiarity into her classrooms. "When I give examples from my work with McDonald's, (students) get it. When I mention brands like Oscar Meyer and Nabisco, they get it. ... I provide real-life examples of academic concepts."

Sagers teaches part-time at AIU, as her full-time job is CHS Marketing Consultants, the firm she started in 1996. "I wasn't seeking to start my own business, it just happened. It was very serendipitous," she said. As the sole owner and operator, she has seen great successes. "My clients, with few exceptions, have all been people I've worked with. ... I don't market my company; I build relationships."

To provide balance to her career, she began teaching with AIU Online in 2003. "Teaching is fulfilling, enjoyable and intuitive. It allowed for something stable in the marketing consulting world."

In the online business degree program, she teaches the introductory business and marketing courses, and she brings the lessons into her students' worlds by talking about their workplaces. "It's like I say in my marketing course, 'Same zoo, different animals.' The same skills and tools apply across all products and services, whether you're selling fast food, high-end cosmetics, a home alarm system, oatmeal or cheese."

Sagers' dedication to her firm, courses and family earned her the privilege of being named an Advertising Working Mother of the Year by Working Mother Magazine in 2007. Her family is one reason why her resume expanded when it did. "When my eldest son was born, I was with Kraft and I drove from the south side to the north side [of Chicago] every day with a 7:30 drop-off at daycare. It was a fire drill every morning. I needed to take a job closer to home. I was sad to leave Kraft, but my life required me to make an adjustment."

That change would lead her to one of her biggest "wins." From Kraft, she moved to Soft Sheen Products where she rose to vice president. During her time as vice president, the well-known L'Oreal bought the company. "I now have a reputation in the health and beauty industry." Years later, that reputation even led her to be named as interim president of Fashion Fair Cosmetics for several months during 2013 and 2014.

While at Soft Sheen, she was given the opportunity to return to Kraft as a consultant. She happily returned to her old stomping grounds, and the reunion started a new chapter in her career. "They asked me the name of my consulting business." She didn't have one. Quick on her feet, she used her initials to create the name CHS Marketing Consultants. "I left Kraft, went to the clerk's office and registered the name that day."

While she said, "Everyone is not meant to own a business," she also followed with, "The best way to learn how to operate your own business is to operate someone else's. That's what I did. I operated as an employee for almost three decades. I learned to be an entrepreneur."

Today, she loves the freedom her firm allows. "I own it. I control it. ... I decide what I'm going to take on, and what I'm not going to take on." she said. "I've been above-average lucky... and I learned to take advantage of situations that I've landed in. ... There is a lot of serendipity in success, but you have to be open to receive it and flexible to look for opportunities."

She plans to retire from consulting in eight to 10 years—"I'm going to buy a home on an island and live happily ever after"—with her college sweetheart, who she's been married to for more than 31 years. She also hopes to teach more at that time. "I want people to understand what drives business success."

Learn more about how AIU faculty bring real-life experience into the classroom. Watch our faculty videos.