A lucky buckeye is only one small part of her success story
Alumni association board member Cathy Allendorf Lanning says Ohio State gave her the tools to achieve many times over.
Motivated by curiosity, Cathy Allendorf Lanning ’00, ’00, ’04 MBA has led teams through many insight-driven projects, from designing digital-first customer experiences to building a superior mousetrap.
She now uses that inquisitiveness as a managing director at Salesforce, a cloud-based software company. Lanning credits her Ohio State student experience — across scholarship, leadership and service — as a springboard to future career developments.
That’s why her advice to recent grads is: “Don’t worry. You will greet this world and find you are prepared.”
As an undergraduate, Lanning already understood that education was a way to invest in herself. “But what I didn’t realize at the time was that Ohio State was ultimately equipping me with the tools to think agilely, with a growth mindset that believes in learning from every experience,” she says. “Today’s new alumni come out with these qualities, too.”
Q What stands out from your time as a student?A
A first-generation college student on my father’s side — three of my four grandparents didn’t graduate high school — I came to Ohio State with great reverence. I did all I could to make the most of the opportunity, get the marrow out, by working, volunteering and participating in programs like Honors and Scholars. Community Commitment during Welcome Week showed me the power of campus and how we are part of the wider Columbus community. It taught me how I could lead and help, with my head, heart and hands, and that, together, students can broaden the force of their impact.
I also changed my major four times — only at Ohio State! I enjoy math and science, and started as a pre-med biology major. While volunteering at the hospital, I found that I am squeamish around blood. Later, after working at the student health center, I discovered physical therapy was not for me. I eventually realized my interest is in business, marketing and psychology. I learned it’s OK not to know what you want to do at 18. The university supported me in this exploration.
Q Who influenced you?A
Neeli Bendapudi, now president-elect of Pennsylvania State University, was my professor as both an Ohio State undergraduate and graduate student. She is an amazing thinker who used stories to share complex ideas. Marketing theory was embedded in these stories, and I still remember them. She also taught through Nationwide’s master’s degree in marketing program, so I connected with her while I was working there, too. At the time, I thought she was the most brilliant person I had ever met. I still think that.
Q Can you tell us about the mouse trap referenced on your LinkedIn profile?A
I’ve had diverse career experiences, but all of them come back to innovation. At ScottsMiracle-Gro, I led the entry into the rodent category by meeting with consumers in urban, suburban and rural environments to do ethnographic research. We found this insight: No one wants mice in their houses and no one wants to kill them. We developed a trap with a skinny profile that can be hidden near your refrigerator. It is fully enclosed and has an indicator. Here was a new way to exit a mouse from your house, and we patented it.
Q What did you discover as vice chair of the committee that revised the alumni association’s strategic plan?A
After three years, it was time to revisit our strategic plan, which serves as our North Star. We reflected on where we are heading and how best to live our mission. President Johnson also was sharing her plans for the university, and this gave us an opportunity to confirm our alumni association’s alignment with her vision.
Fortunately, a wholesale change was not needed, showing the strength of the strategy that was originally laid out. We refined based on community needs, including how we address the pandemic. The updates were evolutionary, not revolutionary. We are continuing to embrace digital-first, data-driven ways to improve relevancy and personalization — instead of one-size-fits-all. We want to ensure diversity and inclusion are woven into every piece of the fabric of how we work.
Q What Buckeye tradition is most significant for you?A
Keeping a lucky buckeye. [Former Ohio State professor and administrator] John Mount handed me my first, and I’ve had one handy ever since for important moments like big presentations. My husband, Marty, a 2001 graduate, had one in his pocket when we got married. We met at Ohio State as part of Undergraduate Student Government. He was chief of staff and I was treasurer, and I had to keep our organization’s checkbook locked in our one desk at the Ohio Union. I joke that sharing a desk brought us together.