How Longhorn Drew Blackard Became a Leader in Mobile Technology

One third of the passengers on any commercial flight are likely using smart phones that Drew Blackard, MBA ’06, helped produce. As vice president of product management at Samsung Electronics America, the 40-year-old Houston native runs the company’s smart phone product portfolio. He also develops go-to-market strategies for Samsung’s mobile devices, including the flagship Galaxy S and Note brands. 

He’s the guy who unveiled the S20 phone at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event in San Francisco in February. He taught LeBron James how to use the Note II phone for a 2012 Samsung commercial and has made marketing and technical contributions to popular Samsung products that appear in Super Bowl ads. “When you see a global organization get behind an idea that you created or are a part of, there’s nothing like it,” Blackard says. The Alcalde asked Blackard about his career path. 

Know When to Pivot  

When Blackard graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and communications, he faced a bleak job market. Stints working as a billing analyst at Reliant Energy and as an associate statistician at Money Management International in Houston made him restless. The marketing and consumer side of technology interested him more than the engineering side but having a computer science degree on his resume pigeonholed him into more technical positions. 

“I started investigating graduate school as a way to re-position myself as a job candidate,” he says. In 2004, he entered the MBA program at the McCombs School of Business and soon landed an internship at Dell in Round Rock. “It was an inflection point for me,” he says. Now he could put on his resume that he had computer science knowledge plus an internship with a big brand tech company. “I was able to parlay that experience into a job I was excited about,” he says—a position working in mobile technology at Texas Instruments. Three years later, he moved to Samsung. 

Want to Win 

Blackard grew up in Houston trying to beat his older brother in football. He played basketball in high school and intramural sports at Vanderbilt. “I’m competitive,” he says. “I want to win.” Blackard applies that same spirit to his career. “At Samsung we want to be No. 1 in the market in every category,” he says. “I’ve also always wanted to be the best that I can be.” If Blackard gives a presentation with five other coworkers, he prepares so that he is the best. “If I see a colleague doing something better than me, then I try to learn from that and do it better,” he says. “Over time, I think those are the things that get rewarded and give you more opportunity.” 

Overcome Setbacks 

When Blackard finished his MBA in 2006, the job market was very different than when he left undergrad. He started working at Samsung in late 2009 when there was room for him to grow along with the company. “In 2010, maybe 20 percent of the U.S. market owned a smartphone.” Today, almost everyone owns one. “The growth of the company over that 10-year period has been crazy and much of my own opportunity within the company has come through that timing.” Blackard adds that patience is important. “You’re no longer going to get a promotion for doing your job really well. You have to change the scope of your role and the scope of your contribution,” he says. “You have to be patient, and while you’re doing great work, you build trust and credibility so that when an opportunity does arise, you’re the person who can take it.” 

Find A Mentor 

Over the years Blackard has collected wisdom from each one of his bosses. “In some cases that’s how to manage people and develop personal relationships with coworkers,” he says. “In others, it’s how to navigate through difficult decisions in large organizations.” Blackard’s father, Kirk Blackard, LLB ’68, who worked for Shell Oil for 30 years, has also been a mentor. “Anytime I’ve had a tough career decision, I’ve always talked through it with my dad,” he says. “He doesn’t always have the answer, but he always has guidance for me.” 

Know Your Strengths   

Blackard says the people who excel in technology are the ones who have a cross section of skills. “I can firmly tell you I’m not the best engineer or coder in the world, but I do understand it. I’m not the best marketer or best businessman in the world either,” he says. “If people can find that cross section of skills that are unique to them, then that’s where they can really apply themselves fully and get the opportunities they want.” 

Keep Learning 

“If you leave undergrad or grad school and say, ‘That’s it, I’ve done my learning, now I can go to work and collect my paycheck,’ then you can do that, but you’re not going to have a successful career, especially in technology,” Blackard says. In the 10 years that he’s worked at Samsung, the company has moved from 3G to 4G to 5G—fifth generation, with significantly faster upload and download speeds—wireless mobile telecommunications technology. “We have foldable devices now, we have new wearable categories, so the market is always changing. If you’re not evolving with it and continuing to learn and refine what you know and how you approach things, then ultimately you’re going to be left behind.” 

Unwind with a Hobby 

Outside of work and caring for his 1-year-old twins with his wife, Blackard plays guitar and writes music. “Throughout my MBA time I played in a band,” he says. “Music has always been my passion.” Blackard will fly across the world on business trips carrying a travel-size keyboard and a ukulele tucked in his carry-on bag. He also sings and releases songs on Spotify.   

Plan for the Future 

Over the next five years, Blackard wants to rise from a junior member of Samsung’s leadership team to a senior member who manages more aspects of the business. In terms of emerging technology, he says to watch for smartphones with a range of new components that come in a variety of forms, not just the brick shape commonly seen today, but new designs that go beyond sliding keyboards and the ability to flip open. Blackard also says to expect expanded and improved 5G technology for a more connected world. “You will be able to have more seamless interactions with more devices throughout your home and throughout your life,” he says.  


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