How Veronika Kryuchkova is using lessons from the stage and her AGSM MBA to push the boundaries of what is possible.
Growing up in post-Soviet Russia, Veronika Kryuchkova was on a path to become a professional ballerina. It was under the bright stage lights that she learned not only the gracefulness of the moves but life’s key lessons that would help her decades later.
One was the importance of strong leadership. Another was courage and willingness to persevere and push past her own limitations to achieve something she once thought impossible. And the third was discipline – something Veronika says is expected of all Russians, especially dancers.
Flash forward to November 2021, and Veronika is on a stage of a different kind. From her current home of London, she’s playing an instrumental role in a global Marketing Excellence Townhall for international consumer goods company Reckitt. Veronika, Reckitt’s Head of Learning, is launching the company’s Marketing Academy.
Her vision of the Marketing Academy is to “unlock the edge” of the company’s marketing community across 60-plus countries, helping the team thrive, make a difference in the world and fuel business growth.
“I’m on a mission to unleash the potential of our Reckitt marketing community across the globe,” she says.
“I want to equip them with the knowledge and skills to become better brand builders so they create closer and more meaningful connections with consumers and make a positive impact on societies, which I think will have a compounding effect not only for our organisation, but also consumers and communities around the world.”
Despite the huge difference in location and goals, Veronika still uses lessons from her time on the stage over 30 years ago to help her succeed today.
“On the ballet stage, you are often part of a larger group who creates these beautiful, harmonious dances,” Veronika says.
“It shows how you can always be learning something, be in sync with others to create something new and often magical. As you start to take on senior roles in business, it’s important to keep that connection and be humble, so you can tap into the expertise of your peers and your support network.”
It’s those concepts that have helped Veronika build a marketing career that started in Moscow, and has taken her from Sydney to Chicago, and – now – to London.
Veronika says courage, curiosity and a willingness to push the boundaries of what is possible have all played a big part in a career that’s spanned multiple countries and continents – characteristics she was able to draw upon and enhance with the help of her AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA.
From prima ballerina to problem solver
Veronika’s introduction to the world of business came in school when she was just 16, after she abandoned her professional ballet dreams to focus on her studies. She and her friend Victoria wanted to organise a tennis tournament at school but another crisis in Russian history, the Russian Default of 1998, left school scrambling for funds – leaving none for extracurricular activities like tennis tournaments.
Veronika and Victoria did not give up and took matters into their own hands. They organised a non-for-profit company, raised funds and supported a number of tennis competitions at school. Initial successes gave Veronika and Victoria confidence to expand so they organised the school’s end-of-session parties. As new Russia was emerging post the Soviet Union collapse, a teenage Veronika was too experiencing tremendous personal growth. Little did she know she was sowing the seeds for her career.
“Marketing is all about finding challenges consumers are facing and figuring out how to address those challenges. Then you translate that into products or services that generate revenue for your company,” she says.
Upon finishing university, Veronika followed her passion in marketing. Just as she did in school, Veronika continued to push the boundaries. She started developing what she calls “courageous” marketing campaigns – and they were a hit not just helping companies like Johnson & Johnson to grow sales but also been recognised with prestigious marketing awards. In 2012, in her early twenties as Brand Manager at Johnson & Johnson, she won two Effie Best Brand Awards for her work.
Veronika’s marketing career was off to a great start. But instead of satisfaction, she felt a sense of curiosity. She wanted a better understanding of the broader business world outside of marketing. Only then could she make an even bigger impact.
Veronika needed a bridge between her technical marketing knowledge and business acumen.
I realised I needed the right frameworks and concepts to help me see connections between marketing and other parts of business, long-term implications and just ask better questions,” she says. “That’s when I realised, I needed to do an MBA.”
Taking the show on the road: next stop, Sydney
Veronika had visited Australia as a tourist previously and loved it. So, she started researching Australian MBA programs. She picked the AGSM Full-Time MBA program and moved to Sydney in 2013.
“I was drawn to AGSM’s huge international alumni network, and it was a well-regarded school with a wide breadth of expertise,” she says. “There are some events in life that completely elevate you, take you to that next level, and my AGSM MBA was certainly a catalyst for that.”
The full-time program exposed her to multi-disciplinary frameworks and concepts Veronika could tap into when facing new challenges during her post-MBA career.
Her biggest takeaways were on the importance of soft-skill elements like emotional intelligence, growth mindset and design thinking, as well as realising the interconnectedness of different knowledge areas.
“Before my MBA, I was more of a go-getter – I saw the goal and did whatever it took to go get it,” she says. “But courses like Foundations of Management and team assignments taught me the importance of recognising different perspectives of others when solving problems, being more inclusive and helping others bring out their best selves.”
Developing a start-up mindset
While completing her MBA, Veronika’s curiosity drove her to wanting to experience another international culture, in addition to Australia.
AGSM’s international study options helped her do exactly that, and she applied for the exchange program to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, US, in 2014.
Veronika was drawn to Booth for its entrepreneurial learning opportunities. She knew having a start-up mindset was important, even when working in bigger corporations. While in Chicago, Veronika worked for three different start-ups at different stages of their lifecycle.
“I really embraced that start-up mindset, and it still helps me today,” she says. “The world’s moving at rocket-speed now, and that mindset helps accelerate your learning curve. How can you learn as fast as you can, adjust, experiment and then move forward so your life becomes a continuous feedback loop?
“You build something, you test it, adjust and move on. It was very different from the corporate world I had come from, where you’d spend a lot of time perfecting the proposition and doing lots of research before launching.”
Today, she uses this same outlook to create different iterations of pilot programs and other modules for the Reckitt Marketing Academy – turning entrepreneurship into intrapreneurship.
A global mindset for a global career
Upon returning to Australia and finishing her MBA in 2014, Veronika re-joined Johnson & Johnson in Sydney. She quickly put what she’d learned into practice.
“We had quite a diverse, international team with different nationalities and backgrounds, so I had to tap into that emotional intelligence to understand why people acted and thought in certain ways. It helped me enormously as I transitioned to a management role.”
Veronika led a team that brought campaigns to life – campaigns that were once again celebrated. She won an ASMI Diamond Award for Best Launch and Best Marketing Campaign in Healthcare in 2015 and 2016 followed by the 2017 Johnson & Johnson James E. Burke Award that celebrates the most courageous, creative and impactful marketing programs across the globe.
“Pushing the boundaries and winning those awards wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t able to keep design thinking and growth mindset at the heart of everything I did,” Veronika says. “The MBA provided a stable foundation that allowed me to be more courageous – I knew that I had what it took to persevere in the face of obstacles, so I wasn’t afraid to take risks.”
Dancing to the beat of curiosity
Veronika’s curiosity was once again piqued in 2018 when she learned RB (the company that would go on to become Reckitt) was going to separate its health and hygiene business units. The corporate restructure was yet another chance for Veronika to push the boundaries and make a real impact on a business. In March 2018 she accepted a role as their Category Marketing Manager in Sydney.
As part of the turn-around team, Veronika helped revitalise some of the company’s biggest brands after the split. On the side, Veronika built a Marketing Excellence Program to help upskill the company’s marketing team in Australia and New Zealand.
“That program, helping other people grow, made me wonder what else was possible in life and the business world,” she says.
Veronika knew that’s where she wanted the next step of her career journey to go. But she once again needed to expand her knowledge base. So she returned to AGSM in 2019 for a workshop called Designing Your Life, hosted by the AGSM Careers team.
It set a new trajectory for her career, helping Veronika transition from marketer to mentor and amplifier. She found herself on stage once again, this time as a guest speaker at seminars sharing her experience with current AGSM students It was possible with the help of AGSM Adjunct Associate Professor Craig Tapper who supported Veronika’s initiative.
Veronika’s ambition to expand the Marketing Excellence Program into something bigger matched Reckitt’s desire to establish the Marketing Academy. In March 2021 she moved to London to begin her global Marketing Academy mission.
“I feel very grateful for the opportunity that Reckitt gave me to create a vision for the Marketing Academy and then bring it to life in partnership with internal and external partners. It’s incredibly stimulating, challenging and rewarding and often all at the same time. Lessons that I have collected so far help me think holistically and engage in a more authentic way to create something meaningful with the people around me – just like in dance.
“It’s exciting and fulfilling to not just accelerate your own career but get people on the journey with you – to show them what’s possible when you combine curiosity and courage to make a real impact.”
And Veronika knows she can always call on her AGSM alumni peers – no matter where her career takes her.
“When you do your AGSM MBA, you become part of this amazing support network that you can tap into and bounce ideas off people,” she says. “Having a support network that’s globally accessible is massive.
“One of my mentors told me that our potential is only limited by our ability to dream, so dream big. Having that support and that strong foundation really gives you the platform to do that.”