Part of a series of posts catching up with USF Sarasota-Manatee graduates, many of whom have achieved success in post-graduate work and the early stages of their careers.
Originally from Ludwigshafen, Germany, Lukas Oest, 22, is now a marketing professional at a Florida-based beverage supplier. He considers himself blessed to have achieved all that he has as a USF Sarasota-Manatee alum. Only six years ago, Oest was an exchange student completing high school.
Growing up in a small industrial town on the banks of the Rhine River in western Germany, Oest had longed to move to the U.S. to start a new life and career. He was granted that opportunity when he was selected for a unique program that matched German high school students with U.S. families.
After graduating high school and earning an associate degree at State College of Florida, he enrolled at USF Sarasota-Manatee and received tuition assistance from members of the Lakewood Ranch Baptist Church. The church’s lead pastor, the Rev. Rick Hardison, and his wife, Staci, took Oest into their home. Oest excelled in his studies.
A few months before he graduated, he connected with Karin Weichlein, a former student advisor and now an adjunct instructor at USFSM. She met with Oest to plan out the last few classes he would need to take to finish his marketing degree. It turned out to be a fortuitous meeting.
As they talked about his class schedule, she mentioned a marketing position that opened up at Bradenton-based Florida Worldwide Citrus (FWC). Weichlein knew the company’s CEO, Arthur Soudijn, a USF alum who was looking for a marketing professional to expand his company. She arranged a meeting between Oest and Soudijn, who was delighted to connect with a fellow Bull.
Impressed by Oest and seeing an opportunity to expand sales and marketing into Germany – given Oest’s background – he offered him a position at his company, first as an intern and later as a full-time employee.
Oest went on to graduate with honors. He achieved a 3.65 Grade Point Average and was named USFSM’s spring 2019 Outstanding Graduate. More importantly, a job was waiting for him at FWC after graduation.
“USF has certainly helped prepare me to enter the workforce after graduation,” Oest said. “I felt equipped by the time I graduated to be able to take on this job.”
Oest now works as head of global marketing development. His job is to develop the company’s global marketing strategy and customer relationships. Florida Worldwide Citrus specializes in flavor design and natural products – concentrates, essential oils and other specialty products – derived from natural citrus ingredients.
But before starting his new job, Oest took time for a weeklong trip to Atlanta and Nashville, where he visited the World of Coca-Cola museum, Georgia Aquarium, the Nashville Zoo and the Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the famous Greek landmark, located just outside downtown Nashville.
“I really wanted to take this trip because I wasn’t working full time yet, but had graduated,” he said. “I had this whole gap of time to myself. I wanted to see some of the country because I had been living in Florida for six years and still hadn’t seen a lot of the United States. I decided now was the time to do this.”
Oest knew he wanted to use his marketing degree, but he never expected to work in the food and beverage industry. The fact that he was able to use his degree right out of college, and that FWC is sponsoring him for a work visa to ultimately help him obtain U.S. citizenship, is an incredible blessing, he said.
“The impact of these relationships, at both school and work, has opened the doors to so many amazing opportunities,” said Oest. “I cannot express enough how grateful I truly am.”
In his role at FWC, his top priority is to update the company’s corporate identity while also creating a new website with a website developer. He also wants to bring uniformity to the company’s branding. Long term, he’s hoping to enhance the company’s overall marketing strategies.
“The way I am trying to frame our corporate identity and branding is that we are personable, approachable and accessible,” Oest said. “No matter who calls, someone is always available to answer their call.”
In his business classes at USFSM, Oest learned the value of relationships and how marketing, itself, is built on lasting client relationships. This helped prepare him for the marketing position he has now. Also key was his experience in Student Government as director of marketing and promotions, and as a USF Ambassador and USFSM Communications & Marketing intern.
His advice to anyone entering the marketing field is to be personable, approachable and know how to tell a story. He also advises keeping up with marketing trends.
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, especially in marketing, and on trend with what’s current in marketing because the field is constantly changing,” he said. “You can learn marketing theories in the classroom, but you really need to expand your knowledge outside the classroom. Find opportunities to do this through the people you meet, whether through shadowing or mentoring, or by experiencing an internship.”
In the end, Oest has proven that larger-than-life aspirations can be achieved if you have the right mindset and take the initiative. Having a positive support network helps too. Oest never imagined he would be where he is now, having earned a degree and launched a new career in the U.S., but here he is and that, in itself, is truly remarkable.
“This entire story is a testament to how the Lord has continued to work in my life,” Oest said. “No matter how difficult it has been, he never left my side and continued to carry me along the way with the people he placed in my life.”