An Interview with PhD Marketing Scholarship Recipient: Ireene Leoncio

For more than a decade, Ireene Leoncio, an international PhD scholarship student, worked in brand management and marketing for Unilever and Nestle in Asia before applying to study her PhD in ‘Curative International Marketing’ at Kent Business School. Ireene was awarded a scholarship to research how we can accept responsibility for problems that marketing has caused with the vision to set things right using marketing techniques with a focus on the current ‘skin lightening’ mega trend in Asia.

Could you give a brief personal introduction?

My name is Ireene. I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. I took my master’s at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. I worked for more than a decade doing marketing for Unilever and Nestle in Asia and advertising in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area. After wandering around the stimulating cities in the West, I decided to come back to South East Asia to teach. In my beloved developing nation, there is a lack of teachers and the academe is not perceived as a ‘sexy’ career destination for most people my age.

I thought of giving teaching a try to take a pause from the fast-paced corporate race to which I had become accustomed. The fulfilment I get whenever I see a student progress and learn is priceless and that gave me a reason to sleep contented and eager to wake up every single day.

Could you describe your corporate experience at Unilever and Nestle?

I started as a Management Trainee at Unilever and was assigned to Brand Management and Trade Marketing roles for personal care and food brands. I launched product innovations, which increased household penetration at the bottom of the pyramid in the format of one-use ‘sachet’ packs for budget shoppers in rural areas. I also led global campaigns that were marketed locally with ground-up insights of Asian consumers. I met inspiring and smart mentors in Unilever and they shaped a lot of my talent and perspective in managing projects, people and ideas and delivering results.

At Nestle, I led the marketing of baby food category. I was responsible for launching a range of infant cereals fortified with adequate amounts of iron and other nutrients. Data showed at the time of launch that there were a significant number of iron-deficient infants that led to irreversible underdevelopment. I collaborated with a global matrix of colleagues as the finished goods and marketing strategies were centrally led in the Asian region. I had a great time managing teams and direct reports and the experience solidified my leadership skills.

What is your PhD thesis topic?

The topic of my PhD thesis is ‘Curative International Marketing’ and according to one of my PhD supervisors Michael Czinkota, ‘curative international marketing accepts responsibility for problems that marketing has caused. It then uses marketing’s capabilities to set things right and to increase the well-being of the individual and society on a global level.’

My research will investigate the ‘skin lightening’ mega trend in Asia at the moment. My research will ascertain whether there might be a need to cure the beauty standard distortion that marketers have advertised about what ‘fair skin’ represents in a local market where a tanned skin tone is natural. Accepting misdeeds and acting on them could open a different trajectory on how marketers can sell more to women.

Could you explain how your PhD scholarship will help you?

The scholarship will enable me to enrich myself with the vast knowledge and diverse network needed to become a research-oriented and relevant educator. Also as I fulfil my graduate teaching assistant and research-related roles at Kent Business School, the mentorship and resources that come with the scholarship will be of help to the dynamics of the University given my decade of industry practice and teaching strengths.

As a personal motivation, my gratitude for the scholarship endowment is honing me to become the humblest version of myself. I am reminded every day of opportunities that we can be thankful for and hopefully, I can pass on my grateful heart, warm smile and cheery spirit to the people I encounter along the way.

How do you feel your research will have an impact?

The scope of my investigation will provide an updated backbone and multilateral perspective in the research arena on the marketing of beauty products beyond a consumer-focus as I will tackle too the role of regulatory bodies in the check and balance process. One of the aims of my research is to engage marketers, advertisers and academics in a discourse that had been in silent mode for so long. With thorough research and a paradigm shift there could be more promotion one’s of non-altered skin colour state in pursuit of beauty and profit.

What difficulties do you expect to encounter during your PhD project?

The PhD will test my mindfulness and patience. I need to be more embracing of the calculated unknown and inevitable organised chaos expected in the years of study. I understand that my PhD thesis topic of choice may make others uncomfortable at the onset, given that I am coming in as an honest broker of knowledge.

Lastly, homesickness is very real for international students and I will crave the familiarity of family, friends and home every now and then.

Why did you choose to study at Kent Business School?

I view taking a PhD as a commitment and a major decision as I have to create a life outside of the comforts of my home country and far away from my loved ones (a direct flight to London takes 15 hours!). I even came to the campus twice to make sure that I have a good grasp of the choices I am making.

I decided to study at Kent Business School as I felt a strong research affinity with that of the School’s Faculty who are highly regarded in the field I wish to research. I also had the opportunity to attend a PhD seminar led by current PhD students and I was able to ask them about their experiences here and I felt able to relate to the culture and rigour of the school. Finally, the idea of residing in Canterbury excited me as it’s a place rich in history and nature, a perfect location for intellectual reflection. It is also accessible enough to reach London and nearby European cities.

Ireene is currently studying her PhD in Marketing on the topic of curative international marketing, if you would like to find out more about our PhD opportunities including scholarships and funding, please visit our website.  

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