“Rarely is there another person in any meeting room that I’m in that has the background that I have,” MIchigan State University alumnus Jeffrey Bennish laughed good-naturedly. Bennish is the Vice President of QuVA Pharma Inc., a 503B pharmacy drug manufacturer, who graduated with a degree in anthropology.
“I think you can use a lot of the skills from an applied anthropology standpoint that translate incredibly well into business environments, and find yourself with a unique skill set amongst your peers and those business environments that make you stand out,” he said.
Bennish attributes his success to his early training in anthropology from MSU.
“I actually found that the skills that I learned, in particular, the skills of ethnography (the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures) and the ethnographic toolkit that you pick up translates incredibly well into the world of business, especially on the sales side, where you’re really trying to build relationships with people that don’t know you, and create a pathway in that relationship for business to occur,” Bennish said.
Bennish knew he wanted to study anthropology in high school because he was drawn toward a major that focused on other cultures.
“In high school, I was most interested in my humanities courses, and multidisciplinary courses: about that intersection of different cultures and geographies and histories,” he said. “And really, just the opportunity to expand on that with the undergraduate degree in anthropology, Michigan State was just a perfect fit for what I was interested in in life.”
Bennish values the training he received, although his path isn’t quite what he imagined when he first began as an anthropology major at MSU. During his senior year, Bennish realized that he would have to attend graduate school if he wanted to continue on to a career in anthropology academia. Because he wanted to graduate after four years and begin his career, he decided to try working in medical sales, and never left.
“To graduate with a degree in anthropology, you really have to learn how to be a writer,” he said. “And so that translates incredibly well into business in terms of developing business plans, developing proformas and focusing on other people’s voices. Because really, when you write an ethnography, you are trying to emphasize other people’s voices, not your own. You learn how to write from other’s perspectives, and that is a very unique skill.”
To further his education, he received a graduate degree in Medical Anthropology from the University of Colorado. Throughout his career, he increasingly took on leadership roles and felt that his skills transferred to each new position.
“In anthropology, there’s a lot of focus put on agency and the emotional attachment that people have with with different interests, and I think it sets you up incredibly well for acting as a leader in a complex organization, because you can definitely use your skills to help make sure that you’re connecting with people at different levels and different layers based on what they’re looking for out of their careers.”
Bennish realizes he has taken a unique path, and is often surrounded by peers with more traditional degrees in his career field.
“When I compare my skills to people who had more traditional business degrees or marketing degrees – not that you can’t learn a lot in those disciplines – but as it pertains to business development and in the world of sales within business, you have those cultural skills that you that you pick up through anthropology that really allows you to see a lot of nuances in people’s behaviors,” he said. “What you learn is how people emotionally attach themselves to certain perspectives and experiences. And you learn how to deconstruct those meanings. So that you can find ways to create connections there.”
Bennish is hoping to attract more graduating anthropology majors to his field.
“I talk to people in our human resources department about wanting to find incredible sales talent, I always tell them they should be looking in the anthropology departments of the undergraduate programs,” he said.
His advice for current anthropology undergraduates or high school students considering anthropology as a major.
“I wouldn’t shy away from a career in business if you decide you’re not going to work in academia or continue on to grad school,” he said. “I think you can use a lot of the skills from an applied anthropology standpoint that translate incredibly well into business environments. You’ll find yourself with a unique skill set amongst your peers and those business environments that make you stand out.”
To learn more about the MSU Department of Anthropology, visit https://anthropology.msu.edu/.