Senior Vice President, Hartman Group
- Doctoral degree in sociocultural anthropology, University of Washington
- Master’s degree in sociocultural anthropology, University of Washington
- Bachelor’s degree in sociology, University of Washington
- Associate’s degree in visual communications, Art Institute of Seattle
- Owner of Barry Creative Design
- Senior vice president, Hartman Group
As an executive at the Hartman Group, Michelle uses her anthropology training to lead projects aimed at better understanding how consumers relate to products and experiences, and what they value. The Bellevue, Wash.-based market research, consulting and design firm translates those findings into concepts that companies like Kraft Foods and Whole Foods Market can put into practice, such as new food experiences or product innovation.
“We look beyond what people say to understand the nuances of behavior and how culture influences what we do,” Michelle said.
Michelle helps to oversee the company’s general business and strategic focus and develops new clients, and directions for the company’s work. She also serves as the founder and chief strategic officer of InVerse, the retail and brand design unit of the business, drawing on her past experience owning her own design and branding business. She has co-authored two books about branding and marketing and appeared on MSNBC, NPR, Oxygen and in national and industry publications as a leading thinker on human behavior and cultural trends.
The UW’s advantage
Michelle had long been interested in health and wellness, and for years, she thought she might become a doctor. After college, she worked as an assistant manager at a surgical clinic and then as an assistant at a naturopathic chiropractic clinic, where she did some patient care and counseling for the doctors.
After about five years in those roles, however, she realized that “as much as I liked patient care, I was much more interested in how people thought and behaved rather than administering a treatment plan.”
The UW’s strong medical anthropology focus—and, in particular, the work of “best in class” professors Lorna Rhodes, James Green and Janelle Taylor, who became her dissertation committee—attracted Michelle to the doctoral program.
“My committee was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic and willing to go outside of the norms to encourage and support me,” she said.
Michelle knew when she started graduate school that she wasn’t focused on becoming a professor or pursuing a purely academic path. She wanted to apply her work to health care, or business, or some other field, although she wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.
At first, Michelle planned to focus her graduate research on death and healing rituals, inspired by a UW undergraduate course she’d taken with Professor Green, who specializes in that subject. But soon her interests shifted toward a topic that had fascinated her since childhood: food and the cultural rituals surrounding it. “We traveled globally every year,” she said. “My parents were sort of natural foodies.”
So while most of Michelle’s peers in the anthropology doctoral program were studying phenomena outside Washington state and around the world, Michelle applied traditional anthropological methods and canons to the growing regional subculture around high-quality, organic, sustainably produced food.
On bridging anthropology and business
Michelle joined Hartman Group when she was in her second quarter of the doctoral program and worked a flexible schedule while completing her degree. The company had approached the UW, looking specifically for an anthropologist, and hired Michelle as its first director of research. Her line of study was relevant to the company’s work, as most of its clients are in the food and beverage industry or interested in health, wellness and sustainability.
When Michelle started out as an anthropologist in the business world, she was only aware of a handful of others like her. Hartman Group today has grown to 42 employees, six of whom have master’s or doctoral degrees from various departments at the UW, and continues to add to its staff.
“I actually found it to be incredibly exciting,” she said. “I liked the challenge of trying to bridge the two, asking how does one use the philosophy and writing styles you learned in school and stretch that into a completely different end deliverable.”
Photo courtesy of Hartman Group