We sat down with Casey O'Neill, a Product Developer for Boston Beer Company and recent graduate of the Master of Science in Innovation program, to talk about her experience at D'Amore-McKim and how it helped her innovate the adult beverage industry. She recently applied the lessons learned in her program to help the company create their new Truly Spiked & Sparkling line.
Q:What's your most interesting memory from your time at Northeastern?
A:I think one of the most memorable was our trip to Seattle. We had one week to develop a product from scratch, working in a group of five people. I happened to have worked with these classmates before, but it was great to learn everyone's work style and develop a product from scratch really quickly. It was lean product development in a really intense way.
Q:What is your current profession and what led you there?
A:I'm a member of the Innovation Team at the Boston Beer Company. We're a small group of people whose job it is to try new things and play around with recipes and ingredients—we don't have limits when it comes to category or ingredients, so we're trying new alcoholic beverages from across the board. Boston Beer's largest brand is Samuel Adams, but we have always fostered innovation across categories as well. Over the past seven years that I've been with the company, I've worked on recipes for everything from beer to cider to cocktails, and we are always being challenged to think outside of the box.
To get there, I graduated with a degree in biology. My third co-op was at Boston Beer Company in Quality Assurance. I worked in the microbiology lab. After graduation I was hired to manage the lab. I naturally became interested in recipe development and flavor research. Over time I switched into a product development role.
I was promoted to Product Developer two years ago. I started working with people in marketing, finance, and procurement—more of the business side of the company—more than I had before. I had also been looking for an MBA program in the area, including Northeastern, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit to a long program.
When I heard about the MSI program, it hit almost everything I wanted. It was tailored to what I wanted to do: creativity and business. It was on weekends, was one-year long, and with a cohort.
Q:How did D'Amore-McKim prepare you for this career in the global business world?
A:Day in and day out, I use what I learned every day. I learned the language of business that I wasn't necessarily competent in before. Now I can sit at a table with finance, accounting, and marketing and have a better understanding of what they do, which in turn, allows us to have better conversations. Because I can think in all of these different ways, I'm able push a product forward.
Q:What would you say to a prospective student considering D'Amore-McKim for their business degree?
A:I would highly recommend the MSI for a lot of reasons. It works really well for someone working full-time. You get top line information for what you need to be confident in other areas of the company. The cohort itself was also huge. Being able to work with people from very diverse backgrounds, in terms of what innovation means to them.
People came from all types of places, from startups to global companies, and ranged in age. I think the youngest person was 24 and the oldest was in his 60s, which was nice. It brought a lot of different perspectives, which made the conversation really rich.
Q:A lot of people say innovation can't be taught. After completing the MS in Innovation (MSI) program, what would you say to those people?
A:What you get out of the program is how to push innovation forward. Creativity and innovation are closely linked, in that innovation is being able to take that creative idea and make it into something real. You learn everything from how to push an innovation forward, to consumer feedback and getting people on board. We had a class on managing change and the HR side of it as well. So I think it can be taught. I learned how to push creative ideas forward, whether it's your own idea or an idea from within your company.