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Smiti from the USA, Senior Vice President/Director, Merrill Lynch

Smiti Kumar

Smiti Kumar
From:  New York City, USA
Studied: Master of Science and Management, Durham University
Now: Senior Vice President/Director and Marketing Integration Executive, Merrill Lynch (Bank of America)

Could you summarise your current job?

I have worked at Merrill Lynch, which is now part of Bank of America, since 2007. As marketing integration executive, I lead business marketing programmes within global wealth and investment management. This means that I develop programmes designed to facilitate client referrals between our consumer and commercial divisions.

© Smiti Kumar

What was your career progression after leaving Durham?

When I returned home, the US was in a recession and entry-level jobs were scarce. It took a while to get the search going but, once I did, my degree was well received.

I started in sales, selling advertising space for a newspaper and then a magazine. From there, I moved into advertising agencies and managed a variety of automotive, fast food, real estate and retail accounts.

I worked on the client side at the Coca-Cola Company and America Online (AOL) before joining Merrill Lynch.

At Merrill Lynch, I began in multicultural marketing, moved to public relations, then brand and advertising. I led the local marketing team for our US Trust division in the northeast, then for Merrill Lynch in the southeast.

I love being able to apply everything I have learned in all of my various jobs. It’s amazing how a seemingly random career progression is all connected.

Smiti KumarWhy did you choose to study management in the UK?

I received my undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where I grew up, but since both of my parents worked at Georgetown University, I wanted to go far away for graduate school. 

The UK was far enough and still allowed me to study in English. I had also visited Durham and thought it was beautiful.

I started my master's at Durham when I was 22.

Did you find it easy to settle in to life in the UK?

It was unbelievably easy to settle in; everyone, from the university staff to the locals, was very welcoming, and the university business school provided a formal support system in the form of mentors.

There were still things to get used to, though; for me, the most difficult were the final exams. In the US, you take exams and write papers throughout the semester; the UK system of only having final exams at the end of the term really put on the pressure. You have to make sure you keep up with the course material throughout the term.

It took me a long time to get used to calling the lecturers and professors by their first names, too. That doesn’t usually happen in the US!

What was the best thing about the course?

I loved the diversity of the students in my course. Only half were British, the other half were from around the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, South America. 

There was diversity in age and work experience, too. Students ranged in age from 22 to 52 and came from varied industries, which made for lively and thoughtful discussions.

© Smiti Kumar

I made friends with people from all around the world and I am still in touch with many of them.

What was the best thing about living in the UK?

The pubs, of course! And it was an adventure to be so young and so far from home, exposed to new ideas and surrounded by warm people.

I have so many memories that it’s hard to pick one that really sums up my time in the UK, but if I had to do so, I’d probably go for the formal dinners we had in Durham Castle. 


I had never seen anything like it up till then, though Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films captures the experience pretty well.

What advice would you give to graduating students who want to go into marketing?

There are many considerations when embarking on a career in marketing: Should you work at a small firm or a large one? What type of company would suit you best – a corporate firm, an ad agency, a media company or a consultancy? And what industry would you enjoy? Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages and each option propels you into a different career direction.

© Smiti Kumar
All aboard: Smiti and friends from her course at Durham railway station (Picture: Smiti Kumar)

Are you still in touch with coursemates from the UK?

Very much so – many of my classmates have stayed at mine when they came to the US and I have also visited them in their home countries.

I am active in the New York City alumni group and on the Development Board of the North American Foundation for the University of Durham.

I also coordinated a 20-year class reunion in Durham, which was attended by a third of the class; alumni came from as far away as Japan and Dubai. In 2015, the University of Durham Business School will be celebrating its 50th anniversary so we’ll have another reunion.

Picture © Smiti Kumar
Great friends: Smiti visiting Whitby with friends during her time in the UK (Picture: Smiti Kumar)

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