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From Toothbrushes to Whiskey

Marissa Noboa shares how the MMM program set her up for what has proven to be a successful and diverse career in brand leadership

If your teeth are clean, your underarms smell fresh, or your palate is satisfied by a sip of Jameson Irish Whiskey, you might have Marissa Noboa (MMM ‘12) to thank.

In the decade-plus since her graduation from Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program — a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management — Noboa has helped shape some of the country’s most iconic brands, including Colgate toothbrushes, Q-tips, Speed Stick, and the nation’s No. 1 brand of Irish Whiskey. Marissa Noboa

She currently works with Jameson's parent company, Pernod Ricard, to lead global innovation for the iconic Irish Whiskey brand. She credits the MMM program with helping her find success in her career. 

“Achieving an MBA from Kellogg provides life-long relationships and open doors,” she said. “Having the dual degree provides a unique differentiator in your career, built on experiences that enrich your understanding of design thinking and innovation.” 

Noboa’s path leaving the MMM program wasn’t the one she thought she’d follow when she arrived in 2010.

Then, her intention was to take what she learned and become an innovation consultant. While working her way through the program, she interned as an associate brand manager with consumer packaged goods giant Unilever, where she helped develop growth strategies for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! 

Noboa was hooked on the client-side ownership she found through brand management.  

Her MMM internship with Unilever turned into her first post-graduation job. She stayed with the company for three years before joining Colgate-Palmolive for the next six. Then, in 2021, she left the hygiene-products world for whiskey.

For more than two years, she led the Jameson brand as it took off in the United States. In August, she advanced to her current role. 

As a senior brand manager of innovation at Pernod Ricard, the world’s second largest wines and spirits seller, Noboa now leads the future global pipeline for Jameson Irish Whiskey. She is responsible for global portfolio strategy, developing new concepts, liquid and packaging to deliver brand growth.  

“I’m excited to expand my global perspective on Jameson occasions – tapping into consumer needs with a lens of common versus distinct experiences across markets, and understanding those needs in order to develop engaging solutions to meet them,” she said. 

Noboa said she leans heavily on the lessons she learned more than a decade ago in the MMM program for her day-to-day work. What initially appealed to her about the program was its emphasis on design thinking and consumer-driven innovation. 

"I was fascinated by ethnographic research that could provide a window to behavior and then make something that was clearly desirable," she said. "Understanding what makes people tick and how my products can fit in their lives has been a rewarding outcome of my MMM degree." 

The most important of the lessons she learned came thanks to the program’s structure, which puts a heavy emphasis on group projects.  

Because of that setup, Noboa learned how to collaborate with people with varying styles and strengths.  

“Understanding that people have different approaches and experiences, it’s about giving people respect and recognition, having a growth mindset to learn from everyone,” she said. “Also, it’s about knowing what I bring and openly sharing my knowledge in a way that reinforces a collaborative intent and positive relationship building.”  

Noboa strongly supports the MMM program and enthusiastically recommends it to prospective students.  

Its strength rests in how its leadership consistently adapts the program to meet new needs, she said.  

“The program will continue to offer relevant courses and experiences with the changing world and business needs in this area,” she said. “It’s an exciting time to be in MMM.”

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