Professor Rossen Petkov (’04): AUBG students are 'smart and eager learners'
Following years of industry experience in marketing and communications management, Professor Rossen Petkov (’04) was eager to transfer his knowledge and experience to students. Professor Petkov, who is himself an AUBG graduate, joined the university in 2013 and has since been teaching the “what” “how” and “why” of marketing, guiding students on their learning process and educating them on the importance of ethics, sustainability and social responsibility in business.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where did you grow up and where have you studied and worked?
My first memories are from childhood in Austria where my mother and father worked for the Bulgarian Balkan Tourist agency. I think growing up there, going to kindergarten and school in Vienna, and being exposed there to how people talk and behave, shaped many personality and attitude traits. Following this experience we returned to Sofia where I went to secondary school and then the First English Language High School in Sofia. From there it was off to our own alma mater and I graduated AUBG in 2004. In terms of education I also hold an MBA from Cotrugli Business School in Croatia and a MSc in Business Communications from NBU in Sofia. Perhaps what is most relevant to say is that I interned at the outdoor advertising agency, where my father was a manager and I’ve known even before AUBG that I wanted to go into Marketing as a field. Naturally during my studies I discovered that the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industry does some of their largest investment in Marketing, so I aimed at getting into this industry as a professional.
What led you to AUBG?
Starting teaching at AUBG was a result of an interesting development… As much as work in industry may be satisfying, it can lead to some “saturation.” Some HR professionals call it a burn out. I think that after a steady stream of years on the job with many evenings and weekends buried in Power Point, Excel and Outlook, I felt the need to change pace. So in 2012 I joined a small team of enthusiasts to launch an online grocery store startup, which freed up some time to rethink and reprioritize. I also always knew that I wanted to go into teaching. My father also holds a PhD and was a university professor for part of his career. At the same time I was missing the in-house company trainings that I was leading, the coaching and mentoring of young professionals on the job. So I was researching where to get started on my PhD and I wrote to AUBG’s dean and provost that I would be pursuing it soon. It turned out that the BUS department had an open position teaching primarily Marketing Research and were wrapping up an unsuccessful search. So I followed the process, I applied, was invited to give a mock lecture on campus and the rest is history.
What are your favorite teaching topics and research interests?
For teaching, it is not necessarily easy to pick the favorite “child” among them all. From the courses that I’ve taught, often Marketing Principles is about the “WHAT”. Here the reward is teaching the younger minds and the interaction with them when explaining the basics in the field, which has it’s charms. Especially when one tries to guide students to the answer rather than telling them. Marketing Research is about the “HOW” – it is very pragmatic and straight forward, students see how easy it is to get input and data support for professional decision making, so maybe this brings together the best of both worlds between the numeric and the expository side of business. And then there is Consumer Behavior which is about the “WHY.” I think with seasoned students who already know the underlying principles, it is easier to weave new customer journey frameworks into a more diverse variety of cases and assignments and this ultimately makes for a more colorful course.
Regarding research, my interest definitely revolves around sustainable marketing. The marketing toolkit and the know-how are very powerful. It seems though that modern managers are often pressed to make business decisions that favor short-term profitability. I see the need to create more knowledge that can show the long-term benefits and so embolden managers to steer businesses into activities and programs that will be beneficial to all three - the company, the environment and society at the same time. Thus I have been working on my PhD which aims to prove the relevant importance of bio/eco foods to the value proposition in tourism, as well as the role of communications to promote that. And I am usually accepting to guide student senior theses or project topics that have been centered around sustainable food, fashion, furniture, sales and marketing for NGO’s. Over the summer, I received an enquiry about a potential Marketing and CSR senior thesis and we are discussing how to formulate the questions and create useful knowledge for professionals who want to do business in a socially beneficial and ethical manner.
What are some achievements in your professional field that you are especially proud of?
What the students see is mainly the teaching field, so I am glad to have received good student feedback while working among such a highly skilled faculty pool at AUBG. I was also glad to get good feedback on one of the first courses in Marketing that features an interactive business simulation from StratX with the newly developed Marketing Strategy course a few semesters back. One of the things that I am proud of is a recent example when I worked with interested students to organize student research positions and internships for this summer of 2020, due to the failed plans of many to go to Work and Travel. I am glad to say that we found valuable experiences for more than 10 students to participate in.
What are some traits that one can develop or gain thanks to Marketing?
Marketing is an intersection of deliberating strategy, understanding consumer psychology and taking care of the features and benefits that your product is offering. A keen interest in the macro and micro environment of the category that you are operating in is both a prerequisite and a skill to develop. Then considering and simulating what directions and activities one should develop their brand into, be it a good or a service. Tuned people skills to cooperate and coordinate with different departments and people are important. An ingrained and further bread curiosity for the discovering of how people think, what are their needs and wants, what they value, based on different types of personalities is key. Once those are satisfied, a marketing person will start acting as a caretaker to review product attributes and improved opportunities, identify the best method and message to communicate these in an attractive way, put project management skills to work to assure proper planning and execution, use their negotiation skills to win over all stakeholders for an initiative, and ultimately use their analytical skills to identify what worked and what needs improvement for the future. Overall, it is a pretty well-rounded job where both introverts and extroverts may grow and learn, as long as they have an eye for the detail and a healthy amount of perseverance.
If teaching was not your profession, what would have been?
Well, in my case the other profession came first. I started as a trainee in an international Fast Moving Consumer Good company, then held several jobs with increasing responsibilities in Marketing, had some lateral development opportunities in Trade Marketing and Sales and finally held two consecutive head of function positions in Communications and Marketing. During my years in industry, I discovered that I enjoyed the coaching and training gigs with younger professionals and colleagues from partnering departments, which ultimately led me to discover teaching at the university level. Thus, I am very glad to be part of a great faculty team here at my Alma Mater. If I had to say what would be motivating now in industry it could be in the area of employer branding. This brings together two aspects of a company that are dear to me – marketing and human resources. In modern times with high mobility of the workforce and younger employees looking for a work-life balance, the workplace and the “job” could be better designed as a holistic and appealing package. It is no longer about control and squeezing efficiency out of people who work for you. I believe it is rather about finding and communicating the sweet spot among salary, company culture, inspiration for the mission and motivation of employees that will assure the best human capital to help organizations get above and beyond their competition.
Has AUBG helped you develop personally and professionally and in what ways?
In my case teaching at AUBG was a lateral development form - meaning that I had experience as a corporate trainer, guest lecturer and case study lead at universities. So my main growth as an instructor has been here at AUBG and with the support and feedback of my colleagues. The average AUBG student is a smart and eager learner. This means that we professors have to prepare rigorously, not only for the presentation of the material, but also with recent cases and examples, assignments that complement instruction, and hands-on application exercises in order to be current and valuable for the course-takers. I have to thank many of my colleagues from multiple departments who have visited to write formal evaluations or have agreed to look at my classes and other learning materials and given me valuable advice on how to make them better, more demanding but also much more engaging for our brand of students.
What is most challenging about your job? And what is most rewarding?
I think that most students are familiar with the knowledge transfer, so the teaching part of the job of a professor – this is usually the reason why my colleagues and I have chosen this profession and love it. I think that for some of us, one of the more challenging parts is to organize for the knowledge creation part – especially doing research during these quite excellent summer months and preparing academic research papers while looking out through the window may be a challenge. But the satisfaction from teaching seems to be the greatest reward. I remember when I have received mails from students long after they have taken a course or even after they have graduated, so this is not related to grading. And, these people write something to the effect of “professor, I am now involved in this project or in this job and I have situations that we have discussed, or cases that we have developed in the course and now I realize that a certain aspect was very useful”…in a nutshell, the highest satisfaction comes perhaps when we see that we have contributed to someone’s personal growth and/or professional success.
What has been your experience living and working in Blagoevgrad and Bulgaria?
Living in Bulgaria is bitter sweet. For many of us locals there has been the question of “should I stay or should I go”. It is a great country with a great climate and being part of the EU has it’s benefits socially. There are also a lot of hard workers and people with an entrepreneurial spirit that are helping the country grow. It is clear though how our government and city authorities are not doing the best they can to support the proper, fast and positive development of the country. There is a lot to be desired in terms of educating our youth, providing healthcare and social services to the general population and especially to marginalized groups, establishing a trusting society of equality, rule of law and no special treatment, working to reduce pollution on city and country level and making our towns attractive open places where people will enjoy living, working and socializing. Looking at the younger generation that is more informed and proactive, I am optimistic about our development.
As for Blagoevgrad I believe we are lucky to have our campus in this city. There are ample social experience opportunities in and around the city, and Sofia is not too far for a weekend with what you cannot find in Blagoevgrad. I believe that if our university community grows and if there are more regular stand-up comedy evenings in English in town, it would be just fine. With the pandemic and employers thinking about diversifying from head offices in Sofia, Blagoevgrad is possibly very well positioned to grow and become an even more vibrant regional hub in Bulgaria.
Apart from your hard work in your professional field, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am quite intrigued by the progress on sustainability in our society and I do spend a lot of time reading up on future mobility, smarter living and other aspects of our daily life that we can do in a more environmentally friendly way. But with a 5-year old at home it seems that the most enjoyable activities, especially with good weather, are outdoor ones… and it is good simple fun to get together with the kid, family and friends for any type of sports, picnics and trips – a good balance with the work in front of the computer.