John Shumate is a man of many passions—from people and marketing to sports and apparel.
His role as the Vice President of Global Marketing at Champion, then, makes perfect sense. But so does his latest effort, as a member of the Board of Directors at the College Diabetes Network—a role he found with the help of AboveBoard.
Ahead, we chat with John about his first marketing role, his career trajectory from Wittenberg University undergrad to VP of Global Brand Marketing at Champion Brands, and how he stays engaged throughout all of his work.
What was your entry point into the marketing industry?
I have a passion for people, whether it’s connecting with consumers, trying to provide a service, or a solution to make an impact on people’s lives. I also have a passion for sports—I played sports growing up—so that was sort of my entry point into the space.
One of my first jobs out of college was working for an urban apparel clothing line called Zero Casualties. I learned about sales and marketing and how important it is to authentically connect with your target consumer. But like I said my passion was sports, so I sought out to enter that space. Eventually, I got a response from a NHL franchise in Columbus, Ohio where I am from—to work with the Columbus Blue Jackets where I started in sales and marketing. I would develop sponsorship proposals and connect with brands to try to help them understand how we can help them leverage the fanbase to grow their respective brand and drive their initiatives.
"I have a passion for people, whether it’s connecting with consumers, trying to provide a service, or a solution to make an impact on people’s lives."
From there, I knew I wanted to further my education. I wanted to get my MBA and knew that the experience would help develop me to become a more well-rounded executive. I found a school down South Florida with an MBA in Sports program at Florida Atlantic University. While attending FAU’s MBA in Sports program, I got an opportunity to work for the Miami Dolphins in Special Events, Entertainment Television and Broadcasting which was an opportunity that changed the game for me.
What led you to your current position as VP of Global Marketing at Champion?
After working on the sponsorship activation side for the Miami Dolphins and Orlando Magic, I received the rare opportunity to work on the brand side. And not just for any brand. One of the most iconic brands in sports: Gatorade. I was able to transition from the property side to the brand side working on behalf of Gatorade negotiating sponsorships and agreements for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and colleges. I did that for about 7 years. After discussions with leaders within the organizations, mentors, and colleagues, I realized I was on a specialist track and I wanted to be more of a general marketer. I had aspirations of being a CMO. I had that conversation of specialist versus generalist and pivoted over to brand management.
Then I wanted to understand how the rubber meets the road beyond just sports beverages and sports drinks. So, I went even broader into portfolio management, but on the regional and local level. I moved to Orlando and oversaw regional marketing for Pepsi beverages. All Pepsi, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, the whole nine—taking the national strategy and making it regionally and locally relevant.
"I realized I was on a specialist track and I wanted to be more of a general marketer. I had aspirations of being a CMO."
Then, I moved to New York and launched our premium water brand called LifeWtr as well as led the Aquafina strategy. Monitoring trends and keeping tabs on the needs of the industry, I wanted to get e-commerce and digital marketing experience, as well as retail marketing experience. I am also passionate about apparel and footwear. So, I went into work for Footlocker Inc and the Eastbay brand—taking a very historic heritage brand and bringing it to the 21st century. I then moved out to Las Vegas to work for MGM Resort International and their brand Marketing Group in entertainment and sports.
COVID hit 4 weeks into my position. I got through the closures, opened us back up and put together some strategies to keep the lights on. I learned a lot and grew through the experience. With the uncertainty of the pandemic I was laid off due to a lack of seniority within the organization in the end and was in the market for a new opportunity. That’s when I got introduced to AboveBoard, which was extremely helpful and in my search process, and that's how I got here today.
Well, that is a really impressive career trajectory. What would you say keeps you engaged in your work?
The challenge. I’m very passionate, driven, and competitive. It’s the desire to make an impact in people’s lives. What keeps me engaged is how I can make a broader impact—how I can really change the game. Either I’m solving a particular issue or providing a solution that makes an impact. That’s what really fuels me.
So, where did you hear about AboveBoard and what led you to join?
I was directly reached out to via LinkedIn by an AboveBoard team member. It was perfect timing because I was in the market and could really use a resource like AboveBoard at that time. So, I joined and that’s how I got involved.
"What keeps me engaged is how I can make a broader impact—how I can really change the game."
I love the ease of it—just to be able to say “Hey, I’m interested in this opportunity. Are you interested in connecting further”. That direct connection piece of it, instead of having to fill out a whole application because people don’t have time for all of that. It’s a very easy and nice function that just saves so much time.
You mentioned actively seeking full-time roles when you originally joined the platform. And then you stumbled onto The College Diabetes Network board role, can you speak to that?
Yes, I really like the board aspect of AboveBoard. It’s a real differentiator that AboveBoard has compared to a lot of these other job boards, especially because of your emphasis on senior-level executives and VP and above level positions. There are so many minority executives at this level looking for board level opportunities.
"The opportunities [on AboveBoard] are perfect for executives that are looking for that initial board experience."
I used to ask my mentor, how do you get on the big paid corporate boards and he would tell me, “You get on the paid boards by first getting on nonprofit boards. They see that and then find you experienced enough for their boards.” So these opportunities are perfect for executives that are looking for that initial board experience. There’s a big opportunity there.
Specifically related to The College Diabetes Network, what was it that peaked your interest in that opportunity? How did you know that it was the right fit for you?
There were a couple of things. First, I am Type 1 diabetic. Second, I currently serve on my undergraduate alma mater Wittenberg University’s Board of Directors. Therefore, I am already on a college board, I am Type 1 diabetic myself, and had some time on my hands as well. I was also asking myself “How can I give back?”. I wanted to find another board to serve on to meet some new people to get out of my comfort zone. The College Diabetes Network seemed like a great opportunity and that got me really excited. In parallel, I was interviewing for a role with a diabetes technology company as well. So, all of these things were happening at the same time and I saw the synergy. I’m ready to bring my energy, my thinking, and some excitement to the role. I am thrilled for the opportunity and ready to serve.