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Students and Alumni

Poole Advisory Board Spotlight: Emily Cates ’00

Poole College of Management Advisory Board member Emily Cates

One of Poole College’s newest advisory board members, Emily Cates, understands the importance of preparing future graduates for a competitive marketplace because cultivating talent has been her speciality for the past two decades. 

The second-generation NC State alumna currently serves as the vice president of sales transformation and operations, and recently completed a term as co-president of the Women’s Inclusion Network, at Zebra Technologies. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Poole College in 2000.

With a career that spans across Fortune 500 companies, Cates has been recognized for leading business transformations and creating inclusive cultures. And over the years, she gained an understanding of how company growth begins with a focus on employee success. 

Having that mindset was something she nurtured during humble beginnings in Burlington, North Carolina. 

Cates recalls her first job in a local restaurant. It was there that she knew she would pursue a career focused on serving and developing others. 

“I loved showing up everyday to serve, solve a particular problem and achieve customer satisfaction at the end of my shift,” she says. “That drove me. I knew then that I wanted to have a breadth of impact that included reaching and supporting people.”

A passion for people is what motivated her to earn a degree in business management. And gaining hands-on job experience during her sophomore year inspired a concentration in human resources.

“NC State’s co-op program was instrumental to my early successes,” says Cates. “My education landed me a role in recruiting, and that first job showed me the importance of bringing in diverse candidates and individuals who can really strengthen a business,” she adds.

With over 25 years of experience in the technology industry, Cates has tailored her career toward services excellence, global enterprise workforce development and sales enablement. 

She helped grow several early-stage technology companies, and provided leadership in various areas — from human resources to professional services, and now go-to-market transformation. But through it all, cultivating the next generation of talent has remained a consistent thread.

Being in an industry that was predominately lacking in female leaders, I’ve always been proud to blaze a trail. My view is, I’m opening the doors for others and setting a path forward.

Now, with her scope of functional leadership and experience, Cates is excited to give back. 

When exploring how she could serve Poole College, joining the advisory board was an easy decision. Specifically, Cates says she was inspired by Poole’s strategic framework because it matched her passion to develop well-rounded leaders who are prepared to take on a wide range of roles, stretch projects and multiple functions.

In her advice to those entering the workforce, Cates encourages young adults to lean into opportunities that require them to be first. Why? Because changing cultures and mindsets takes bravery, and everyone has unlimited potential.

“Being in an industry that was predominately lacking in female leaders, I’ve always been proud to blaze a trail,” Cates says. “My view is, I’m opening the doors for others and setting a path forward. It can be done, and I’m going to do it.

“That’s why I care so much about enterprise leadership,” she adds. “You have the opportunity to connect across functions, bring people together and make a bigger impact.” 

As part of the advisory board, she plans to bring her same passion for talent cultivation to students at Poole College. 

“Companies need full enterprise leaders more and more — individuals who are versatile and can add value to an organization across a multitude of functions”, she says. Cates is confident that her knowledge and experience will help students gain a competitive edge, whatever their career path may be.