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Alumni Q&A: Sean Maurer
November 08, 2012
Daytime MBA 2003
Director, Artisan Franchise, Hershey's
What do you do professionally?
I am currently the brand director for Scharffen Berger chocolate, a small company wholly owned by Hershey's. It is the perfect blend of entrepreneur excitement and big company resources. Scharffen Berger was founded in San Francisco in the 1990s and is known for its ultra-premium chocolate, made from a blend of fine flavor cacao beans sourced from places like Trinidad, Jamaica, Peru, and Madagascar. We hand craft batches using an artisan melanger to keep our roasting temperatures low and that lets the full flavor of the cacao come through. Right now we are building out our team, expanding distribution and giving free samples to any alumni that contact me.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
What is there NOT to enjoy? Free chocolate in all the conference rooms. Dessert cooking classes with famous chefs. Half-day Fridays in the summer. Now I've been told that in this new job on Scharffen Berger I'm going to have to go see the places the beans come from—so a trip to Dominican Republic and Grenada in December is coming up. Did I mention the dopamine from the free chocolate?
What is the biggest challenge you face?
You'd think it would be my waistline, but actually dark chocolate is very filling—so two small pieces per day are approved. Building awareness is our biggest business challenge. We are looking for famous chefs, movie stars or Ray Romano to talk up the product—so if that describes you, let me know, and I'll send you a year's supply.
What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?
That is one of my other favorite parts of working at Hershey's—my work on small store development in my prior role, and this new brand role, have taken me to Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, India, and Philippines. I also spent 18 weeks in China and 5 months living in Mexico with my family. I'm writing this on a flight to Cannes, France, for a duty free trade show. My two favorites were Boracay beach in Philippines, and another three-day weekend in Maracaipe, Brazil, where we were "stuck" surfing for a weekend between focus group sessions.
What is the best professional advice you've received?
Do what you love. I remember in 8th grade they gave us one of those personality surveys to help figure out what you want to do, and I looked down at the salaries of all the jobs, realized I'd never be a doctor and then adjusted my answers until I was a fit for #2, investment banker. I had no idea what that was. Thankfully when I left undergrad I went 0 for 17 on job applications and ended up volunteer teaching in Belize. I would have been miserable as a banker in a big city.
Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?
I had my dream job as a travel writer the year before Fuqua, and I plan to return to it after I retire from Hershey's. At Tyson, where I worked before Hershey's, I was able to work my other favorite job of teaching when I taught a strategy class for two years at University of Arkansas. So my other dream job is to be an adjunct professor at Duke—anyone with an opening should give me a call!
What do you like to do outside of work?
With so much time on the road, my favorite thing is to spend time with my wife, Natalia, and kids, Sofia and Matias.
What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?
I know it wasn't how to calculate the duration of a bond. That has been USELESS in my job and a real buzz kill at parties. The most important thing I learned was actually working in groups. And then I learned it again in my first few jobs after school. Getting the right answer is only one-third of the work, getting it accepted and implemented are the other two-thirds.
Who was your favorite professor?
John Lynch was one—I went out last year and taught a class at Boulder with him, then went skiing. That's a great life he has. Bill Boulding was another. I loved how he kept the discussions sharp, and I got a lot from the real world analyses within his class. I'm still waiting for Nick Felten to teach a class and work The Onion satire into every lesson plan—then he'll move to the top of the professor rankings.
What is your favorite Fuqua memory?
Too many—rock climbing near Asheville with Mark Wagoner '03 comes to mind. Summer internship in Buenos Aires. Campout. Probably the favorite memory was while studying in Cape Town for a term, going for a jog along Clifton #4 beach, seeing dolphins and swimming out on the spot to play with them. I kept doing it so long that I cramped up, started panicking and had to be hauled out of the water by a passing photographer's boat.
Having such a strong connection still to Duke keeps creating new favorite memories. I was able to come back as a panel member in a CASE symposium and then watch us beat North Carolina. And then last year, watching Duke play China's national team from the front row in Shanghai, a few seats from Grant Hill, was also memorable.
What does Team Fuqua mean to you?
We have 10 Fuqua grads now working at Hershey's, and Cynthia Liu '05 was able to get Fuqua added as a core recruiting school this year. We just welcomed Puja Talati '11 as our newest Fuqua hire. We all keep in close contact, support each other professionally, and watch games together like last year at Amit and Preeti Philip's (both '07) house where we beat Maryland. I'm looking forward to being back at Fuqua recruiting this year.