Home Alumni in Action Every Encounter Counts!

Melissa Phjllips

Melissa Phillips, General Merchandise Manager, The Home Depot
Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA
Business Administration-Marketing and Management, 1998


There aren’t many college organizations that combine business experience with community outreach, and Enactus offers both.

Fresh from her Eastern Washington University Enactus (then SIFE) team presentation, Melissa was standing in the recruiting area at the Enactus USA National Exposition with her faculty advisor when a gentleman approached and introduced himself as Don with Walmart. “He told me he was impressed with our presentation and wanted to talk to me about career opportunities. I apologized that I was not that familiar with the company since we did not currently have a Walmart in my town. I told him that my ‘true passion’ was sports marketing and, after I completed my last year of eligibility playing Division 1 basketball, my plan was to pursue that as a career. He gave me a copy of Made in America, written by the company’s founder Sam Walton, and asked me to read it.”

Melissa politely agreed and they parted ways. “I realized my advisor had grown awkwardly silent, and her eyes were wide when she informed me that I had been speaking to Don Soderquist, then COO of Walmart Stores.”

“Life changed dramatically for me since that memorable encounter. I went back to my home just outside of Spokane, Washington, and read that book. Mr. Soderquist’s assistant called and invited me to come to Bentonville, Arkansas and attend a Saturday morning meeting. I was completely sucked into the culture, returned home and told my family I was moving to Bentonville! It was a fantastic decision and the retail education I received at Walmart was phenomenal. We were in a big growth phase during that time, opening 200 stores a year. I had the opportunity to oversee a $300 million business in my first buying job.”

During her ninth year with the company and soon after the birth of her first child, Melissa’s priorities shifted to a family focus, and she accepted a position as Senior Vice President Merchandising with Smith and Hawken back on the west coast. There she ran the merchandising operations, private label brands and national accounts. Two years later, she accepted a position with Home Depot in Atlanta, where today she is General Merchandise Manager for Home Decorators Collection, a catalogue, website and retail showroom business that the company purchased in 2006. She is responsible for all HDC business including merchandising, marketing, creative, store operations and the HDC private label brand inside THD stores.

“I would not have had these opportunities if it were not for Enactus,” says Melissa. “As a student, I was very interested in the business school, and was energized by a presentation given by Enactus representatives that visited our school. I was attracted to the opportunity to get exposure to the community and to business leaders. I helped start the Enactus team, and we made it to nationals our first year. The experience was amazing! There aren’t many college organizations that combine business experience with community outreach, and this offered both. Coming from a mid-sized school, I wouldn’t have had access to interact with local or national business leaders. That kind of experience really sets you apart.

“That’s just one of the many reasons I’m a proponent of hiring Enactus students. I believe their competence levels and an ability to handle situations on the fly are more advanced than the average college student, almost without exception. The key is not only being able to accomplish work, but having the ability to present and communicate it clearly. That’s a vital part of successful business.

“Through Enactus, I gained confidence and valuable business acumen. That’s not something you can get sitting in the classroom. I have the confidence to get up with short notice to make a presentation, answer questions, interact at all levels, and I’m prepared to react quickly if something unexpected happens. That’s what it takes to be successful in today’s business world, and that’s what Enactus instilled in me.”

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