“At Washington State, I found … professors who encouraged us to formulate our own thoughts and opinions.” —Jodi Vevoda

At one time or another, we’ve all formulated plans for where we want to be five, 10, 20 years down the road. But life has a way of making its own plans for us. No one knows that better than Jodi Vevoda, vice president of advertising for USA TODAY.

After graduating in 1979 from Washington State University, where she focused on interior design, she interviewed at several design firms. She was surprised to receive the same advice from each of them: Gain experience in sales in order to avoid starting on the lowest rung of the job ladder and to be better positioned to temper technical skill with practical knowledge.

“Retail sales was not what I had in mind,” she says. Nevertheless, she took a break from design and chose to learn some different trades and “fine-tune my sales skills.” Vevoda moved to Houston, where she became sales representative for Pan Am Airlines.

Later she was recruited by Ultra, the magazine devoted to Texas high society and fashion. Her four years with the magazine, during which she was promoted to vice president of advertising, proved to be the springboard that launched her career. After a stint at Texas Business Magazine, she moved to Chicago, where she held jobs with Parade Publications and Playboy Publications, and as regional advertising director for USA WEEKEND magazine. In January 2001 she was named vice president of advertising by USA TODAY.

At times Vevoda reflects on the fact that she doesn’t work in the field she prepared for in college. “But it’s hard,” she says, “to jump off a flourishing and rewarding career path once you are on it.” Nonetheless, while hard work and determination have played a key role in her success, she gives a lot of credit to the “invaluable learning groundwork” she received at WSU.

“Because Pullman is a small town, it might be assumed that the atmosphere of the school would reflect small-town attitudes. It really doesn’t,” she says. “At Washington State, I found a wonderful mix of culture and diversity between students and professors who encouraged us to formulate our own thoughts and opinions.”

At USA TODAY, Vevoda oversees Midwest and West Coast advertising efforts and a $100 million operating budget. She says USA TODAY is the number one news source in the world, with a total daily circulation of 2.3 million. Included under its umbrella are USATODAY.com, which offers 250,000 to 300,000 pages of news at one time; USA TODAY Baseball Weekly; and USA TODAY LIVE, a broadcast operation that creates synchronization between the newspaper, the Web site, and the Gannett Co., Inc. group of television stations.

“Today, people are constantly on the go. They want to receive their news in a concise, convenient, and attractive package,” she says. “As the only newspaper national in scope, USA TODAY has adapted to this changing lifestyle and successfully met the challenge.”

Although she hasn’t sat down at a drafting table in several years, Vevoda still has a talent for interior design. A case in point is the pre- World-War-II condo she gutted and redesigned with the help of a contractor. “It took a year and a half, but the payoff is that Chicago Home & Garden magazine has already been out to take a look,” she says. “So I suppose you never truly leave your first love. Mine was always there. It just needed the right timing and confidence to bring it out and show it off.”

“The time I spent at Washington State was a wonderful training ground,” she adds. “It gave me the balanced background I needed to adapt to the twists and turns in my life.”