Ellen Davis (EMBA’16) helped create one of today’s most well-known shopping holidays.
In 2005, when she was working in public relations for Shop.org, the digital retail division of the National Retail Federation (NRF), a small team brainstorm led to two words that would become a fixture of shopping lingo.
“It was the time of year when editors asked us for holiday stories,” Davis remembers. “The economy was doing well, and 2005 wasn’t a whole lot different from 2004. So we brainstormed.”
It was an era before smartphones and widespread in-home internet access. But Davis and her colleagues had heard from retailers about a spike in online shopping the Monday after Thanksgiving — when consumers could shop from their office computers. The NRF’s consumer and retail research verified the trend, and the team gave it a name: Cyber Monday. A press release went out soon after.
“Within a week, it was completely out of our control,” Davis says. “It was like Cyber Monday had been around forever.” According to data from Adobe, Cyber Monday in 2015 was the biggest shopping day ever. “It was not a campaign. We had no budget, no committee, just a couple of us sitting in a room,” she says. “But it was fun to be part of something that big in the industry.”
“Within a week, it was completely out of our control. It was like Cyber Monday had been around forever.”
Today, Davis serves as the NRF’s senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives and executive director of the NRF Foundation. The business education website Poets & Quants named her among the best and brightest Executive MBAs for 2016.
Growing up in west central Illinois as the daughter of a farmer and a teacher, Davis had what she describes as a Norman Rockwell upbringing. She and her three siblings sold sweet corn to finance family vacations. Frequent visits to her grandfather’s office at the local bank sparked her interest in business.
After Davis rose through the ranks at the NRF, CEO Matthew Shay (MBA’11) encouraged her to apply for Georgetown’s Executive MBA program. She says the experience was transformational. “I work with CEOs and other executives in our industry all the time, and now I feel like I think differently, can ask more intelligent questions, and can keep up with the conversation.” She says one of the key advantages of the executive program is being able to learn about a subject such as pricing structure in class on Friday and then implement that lesson in the office on Monday.
Although the retail business can be brutally competitive at times, Davis finds the industry as a whole to be supportive. It also turns out retail is surprisingly similar to farming. “You have some good years and some bad years,” she says. “Some years it rains, and some it doesn’t. Some things are out of your control. So you need to be adaptable in the short term and keep your eye on the long term.”
— Melanie D.G. Kaplan
Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Fall 2016