College of Business > News & Events > Former Amazon Exec Geoff Nyheim (MBA’ 15) Returns to Head DePaul Center for Sales Leadership

Former Amazon Exec Geoff Nyheim (MBA’ 15) Returns to Head DePaul Center for Sales Leadership

Geoff Nyheim
Geoff Nyheim (MBA’ 15), executive director of the Center for Sales Leadership at DePaul University.

Geoff Nyheim first discovered his natural talent for sales when he began working for a men’s clothing store in high school. The commission-based position taught him how to build relationships with repeat customers by helping them dress in a business environment.

The Sacramento, Calif., native eventually began working for Microsoft as an account executive after earning an undergraduate degree from the University of California Berkeley. Nyheim spent more than 20 years at Microsoft, working his way up to a vice president role that oversaw corporate and partner sales.

Several years later, Nyheim joined Amazon Web Services, but before rejoining the corporate world Nyheim decided to pursue an MBA degree at DePaul University. He was attracted to the university’s academic sales program and was interested in teaching. Given his experience and corporate connections, Nyheim became an executive-in-residence at the business college’s Department of Marketing and also served as managing director for the Center for Sales Leadership.

Now, four years later, Nyheim is the new executive director of the Center for Sales Leadership, replacing Associate Professor Rich Rocco. Rocco was appointed this fall to the newly created post of executive director for sales and marketing research excellence in DePaul’s Department of Marketing.

Founded in 2005, DePaul’s sales leadership academic program is among the largest in the country, based on the number of classes, faculty, students and business partners. The college currently offers an undergraduate minor and concentration in sales leadership, plus graduate-level sales classes. Recent partner recruiting has resulted in internships and full-time jobs at 3M, Pepsico, Amazon, Microsoft, Topco, Google, ADP and CH Robinson, among others.

Although Nyheim’s main objective as director is to recruit students to the sales program and ensure their success after graduating, he fully plans to continue teaching classes. “I drive a great amount of satisfaction through shared learning in the classroom and supporting students at critical moments in their careers,” says Nyheim, who frequently receives high marks from his students.

Below, Nyheim discusses his plans for the center and why students should study marketing and sales at DePaul.

How does your corporate experience influence your role as executive director of the Center for Sales Leadership?

First, it’s a passion for the students. I love teaching, I love helping undergraduates launch their careers with their first professional job and getting students to accelerate their careers. The experience I had leading large organizations and making personnel decisions for lots of people for three-plus decades gives me some insight to the ways in which individuals think about their career and some of the challenges they face. I can anticipate and hopefully create value for some of the needs students have during those key points while they’re at DePaul.

What role do you see the center playing in students’ education?

I think it’s important to make students aware of a career path that represents one of the largest job segments in our economy. Many students tend to think of sales as this very transactional, stereotypical thing – retail sales or the one-and-done transaction sale. I think of those as really transactional selling as opposed to relationship and consultative selling where you have a client or a set of clients that you expect to work closely with over the course of many years, maybe over the course of a career. You act as a business consultant and help clients explore their options and influence or persuade them to make the right decision. My job is to help students understand that that is a career path.

Our goal at the center is to prepare students with the skills and experiential learning opportunities so that they can develop the capabilities they need to be successful. We prepare students by connecting them to internships and hosting job fairs. We want to ensure that when students start to launch their careers in sales, that they have the skills to be successful.

What makes the sales program at DePaul different than other programs throughout the country?

It’s a combination of a few things. One is that the individuals who launched the program initially came with an outside perspective. They were business professionals, they had a passion for teaching and so they created the program with this very programmatic approach to teaching the skills that employers wanted and needed. And, secondly, it’s creating the relationships with perspective employers who were interested in recruiting students who had the right skills. It was the right place at the right time with the right idea. And they did an exceptional job of pulling in both core faculty that existed inside of the Department of Marketing as well as some strategic additions of adjuncts and others who came in with skills, a current point of view and some great relationship networks to help students get jobs.

Geoff Nyheim at a Sales Leadership event
Geoff Nyheim talks with students during a 2016 Center for Sales Leadership event welcoming new students. | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds

Our classes are very experiential – they’re very hands-on and case-based. And what we do that makes such a big difference is introduce corporate partners’ real-world scenarios into the classroom. For example, while teaching Analytical Sales 383, I worked closely with the sales team at Salesforce to build a case that focuses on a realistic customer scenario using real data. Salesforce helped introduce the case and visited the classroom to provide coaching and guidance. I’ve taken my classes to corporate headquarters based in Chicago, including Salesforce and C.H. Robinson. So you’ve got this show-and-tell that allows students to understand a company’s particular culture, the employees who were involved in the classroom, and then we got to see what the actual work environment was like. Over the course of just 11 weeks, you have a 20-year-old junior who gets a lot of exposure to what a sales career looks like, what skills are required to be successful and how to prepare for the industry.

What do you have planned for the center as the new executive director?

It’s been four years since I’ve been at DePaul, so right now I am focused on going back to the basics – not making any assumptions, understanding the student experience, challenge the current state to ensure we’re offering the right courses, teaching the right courses and focusing on the right capabilities that students need. Also, ensuring that we are continuously offering a strong value proposition to both our corporate partners and students. For instance, do the students have the right skills at the right time to be successful? Do they find the experience of engaging with us, whether it’s in the classroom or at career fairs or other career-related activities, to be efficient, effective and pleasant? And perhaps most importantly, when employers hire one or more of our students, is that individual successful? If that’s the case, then we have this natural demand that increases. Because if the third, fifth or 20th individual is successful in their organization, then they’re interested in hiring the next one or several the following quarter. I need to make sure that everything we’re doing on behalf of students is working– classroom, recruiting, etc., and that we’re delivering the right skills and capabilities for our students and partners.

Learn more about the Sales Leadership Minor

Learn more about the Sales Leadership Concentration