Surrounded by racks of jewel-toned pants in her Amsterdam office, Alena Strejckova raves about next season’s Tommy Hilfiger collection.
As e-Commerce Merchandiser for this leading American label, she literally lives to work, eagerly forecasting trends, and planning for the next trade show or photo shoot. But her work life hasn’t always been this rewarding. In fact it took a complete career transformation to end up with the job she loves.
Starting out in finance
Roll back a few years to when the Czech native was scaling the corporate ladder of finance. Following her bachelor’s degree in banking and economics, Alena progressed from a junior specialist role in commercial business, to a managerial position in transportation finance. But something was missing.
“The banking environment is quite conservative,” admits Alena. "For example, everyone addresses each other by their surnames.” She craved a creative outlet but instead was poring over 100-page contracts and closing 12-month aircraft deals. “It was challenging but it didn’t feel like it was ‘my thing’.”
"Although I didn’t have exactly the right experience, I’d learned from Sauder how important it is to acknowledge your transferable skills."
- Alena Strejckova
A UBC MBA
Her turning point came when she decided to take a new direction and pursue an MBA. Sauder at UBC stood out due to its progressive nature and impressive accolades. Plus Alena is a snowboarder so lifestyle-wise, Vancouver and its proximity to ski resorts, was perfect.
Entering the Robert H. Lee Graduate School in 2008, Alena found it easy to adjust to life in Canada. “I felt at home right away, and with its special orientation for international students, Sauder’s MBA program really facilitated the integration process, helping us to make friends.”
Consulting and strategic management
Rather than take the easy option and continue studying Finance, Alena took advice from her professors and elected to specialize in supply chain management and marketing. She found she enjoyed the balance of analytics and creative projects.
Alena also took the advice of the Business Career Centre at Sauder to network. Ultimately this proved pivotal in her career.
“One of my classmates worked at (Canadian clothing brand) Aritzia and offered to introduce me to people there, she recalls. “I’d been inspired by this company for a while, after seeing the CEO Brian Hill speak at a Sauder event. Luckily they offered me an internship and so I worked part time as an analyst in the inventory control department, and also gained valuable experience on the shop floor.”
Although she’d always had a keen eye for fashion, Alena never considered it as a career choice. “I didn’t realize my skills might also match in this industry. When you look at fashion you initially think it’s all about designers but of course it’s a business too.”
Upon graduating from Sauder in 2010, Alena was offered a permanent position at Aritzia but for personal reasons decided to return to Europe. Once bitten by the fashion bug though, she found it impossible to return to banking. “I knew I could do it well but I wasn’t passionate about it.”
E-commerce at Tommy Hilfiger
With contacts at Tommy Hilfiger, Alena interviewed and was offered a role as an e-commerce merchandiser, a new direction for her. “Although I didn’t have exactly the right experience, I’d learned from Sauder how important it is to acknowledge your transferable skills. I already had analytical and planning skills and in the MBA program I took classes in forecasting, marketing and statistics – all of these I use in my current role.”
Her career transformation has been a resounding success, one with potential for Alena to take on more strategic and managerial responsibilities in the future.
“I definitely want to stay in fashion and e-commerce. It allows me to use my analytical skills for online customer insights, as well as to be creative with content input for communications,” she says. “And I’m really passionate about it.”