If there were one word to describe Katie Kurz’s career, it might be “dynamic.” That’s also the word she uses to describe Università della Svizzera italiana’s Executive Master of Science in Communications Management (MScom) program. Kurz, Vice President of Corporate Communications with Credit Suisse in Zurich, said although she initially was investigating Master of Business Administration programs, MScom offered the elements most crucial to her career.
Kurz, a US citizen who earned a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., US, said MScom’s modules are immediately applicable to her role with Credit Suisse, where her mandate continues to grow.
“I didn’t come to corporate communications through the typical route. I majored in religious studies and minored in Italian studies in college, where I got involved in the college newspaper as sports editor. During my third year of college, I began to explore internship opportunities, and took an internship with Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal in New York City,” Kurz said.
During her senior year at Trinity College, Kurz landed an internship with a CBS Television affiliate station in Hartford, where she worked with producers on the nightly news programs and accompanied reporters on assignment.
“While my academic studies were not specifically geared to communications, my extracurricular activities really ignited my interest. When I graduated, I thought I wanted to be a magazine writer and as I was exploring opportunities, a surprise position in corporate advertising for Philip Morris pulled me into the world of corporate communications,” Kurz explained. “It was a chance to work for a global company in New York City, and at that time, Philip Morris was much more than a tobacco company – it owned both Kraft Foods and Miller Beer – and advertising sounded exciting, so why not?”
From Philip Morris to Credit Suisse
Kurz’s first role with Philip Morris was as a coordinator supporting the first corporate nationwide advertising campaign the company had done in more than a decade. Ultimately this campaign evolved into a corporate identity initiative and her role grew to become a point position in the development and implementation of the company’s name to Altria Group in 2003.
“Looking back, it’s pretty amazing to be able to say I was an integral part of a name change for a Fortune 15 company,” said Kurz, who in 2005 transferred to Lausanne, Switzerland, where she was responsible for leadership communications.
In December 2007, Kurz joined Credit Suisse as Vice President of Corporate Communications to support the Chief Financial Officer’s global organization of 2,500 members. She quickly found that the communication and leadership skills she acquired while working for Altria and Philip Morris were applicable to her responsibilities at Credit Suisse.
“At Philip Morris, one of our biggest key messages was around the importance of establishing a dialogue with regulators globally. Moving to Credit Suisse, against the backdrop of the financial crisis with tremendous regulatory pressures, we also have to make sure that regulations are applied equally across the industry,” she said. “What I’m really proud of is how my mandate has grown. My responsibilities now include group internal communications for 50,000 employees and support communications around Credit Suisse’s quarterly earnings. I regularly work with the CFO, chief risk officer, general counsel, chief talent, branding and communications officer, as well as human resources.”
One of Kurz’s most recent challenges is to lead, on an interim basis, a drive to unify HR communications – in parallel with pursuing her MScom education.
“I heard about MScom through two alumni: Gabriella Cotti-Musio who is with Credit Suisse in Lugano, and former Credit Suisse colleague Michelle Bodmer,” Kurz said. “Their descriptions of MScom intrigued me. I had initially planned to pursue an MBA, but MScom’s English-orientation, its location in Switzerland and mix of strategic communications and MBA elements made it a good fit for me.”
Too, Kurz is a strong believer in the fundamental strategic role of corporate communications – a red thread that runs through the MScom philosophy.
“The business background MScom offers prepares professional communicators to defend the role of communication and explain why communicators should have a seat at the table,” she said. “As a member of MScom13, the educational experience lies not only in the quality of the faculty, but in the wealth of knowledge that comes from our many breakout sessions to discuss case studies, classroom topics and professional experiences with colleagues from across the wide spectrum of communication disciplines. It’s exciting to see the interplay when you get that kind of brain power together in a learning environment.”
Though her MScom journey has only just begun, Kurz said it’s shaping up to be as dynamic as her career as a communication professional.
“One word to describe MScom is ‘dynamic.’ It gives you a certain new confidence that goes beyond the anecdotal knowledge that comes with experience. With the theories, new applications, case studies and exchanges with professional peers, we are positioned to be more assertive and proactive in our roles within our organizations,” she said.
Text based on interview carried out in February 2011.