eep going. It's a mantra that has inspired Dustee Jenkins ('01) through all of life's twists and turns.
First, when she made the move from West Texas to Denton to attend UNT. Then, after she graduated with a journalism degree and took a job on Capitol Hill working in U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office, and later being appointed director of communications in the Department of Housing and Urban Development by President George W. Bush.
As she's built a successful, award-winning career in communications and public relations, she hasn't coasted but willingly leapt into the unknown to keep moving forward and challenging herself. Now she's living in New York City and taken on her most expansive role yet as head of global communications and public relations for Spotify, the world's largest audio streaming company.
“I’m not intimidated by what might seem like a really big challenge, even if it feels daunting,” Jenkins says. “I try to embrace and be grateful for each opportunity that is thrown my way.”
Prior to her time at Spotify, while serving as the senior vice president and chief communications officer for Target, she guided the company through a highly publicized data breach and significant corporate restructure, overhauled its brand storytelling with its A Bullseye View blog, and helped publicize the launch of multimillion-dollar brands such as Cat & Jack.
Jenkins started her current role at Spotify at a historic moment for the company. In her first months on the job, she propelled Spotify through its widely covered debut on the New York Stock Exchange and created the company’s first editorial newsroom, For The Record, to offer fresh, daily coverage on everything from partnership backstories to new trends across the industry.
"I love the art of telling a story and ensuring that it is relevant, straightforward and will resonate with the right audience," Jenkins says. "We try to do that every single day on For the Record. It probably comes from writing and those early days of sitting in a newsroom at the NT Daily."
At Spotify, she's helping the audio streaming innovator carry on its entrepreneurial spirit on a global scale.
The Stockholm, Sweden-based company completely revolutionized how the world listens to music when it launched in 2008. Since then, its offerings have branched out far beyond music streaming with audiobooks, news content and more. It's made major moves into podcasting, acquiring Gimlet Media and Anchor in 2019, The Ringer in 2020 and expanding the number of podcasts available on the Spotify app to more than 700,000. It's also exploring the possibility of launching its own podcast, Jenkins says.
"Everyone is very dedicated to what they do. It's the kind of group that you want to show up and work with every single day -- building really cool things and advancing the future of streaming," she says.
Growing up in the small town of Andrews, Jenkins never imagined she'd one day live in New York and max out her passport with business trips to places like London, Sweden and Vietnam. Every new experience teaches you a little more about yourself, she says. Like how leaders should be forward thinking and see beyond where they sit today, a valuable lesson she learned while advocating as Student Government Association vice president for what would become the Pohl Recreation Center, an amenity added years after she was a UNT student.
"When someone asks me where I came from, I say with tremendous pride, 'Texas.' I would not be sitting in this chair were it not for my student experiences. I know that for certain," Jenkins says. "I also feel very fortunate that I had a modest upbringing with two hardworking parents in West Texas. They taught me the importance of giving your all, being accountable and not backing down from a challenge."
Dustee Jenkins ('01)
How UNT shaped her:
The thing about North Texas that I so appreciated is that I made friends there I will have for life. I'm still close with Dr. Elizabeth With who was incredibly instrumental in helping shape my career. North Texas gave me the opportunity to get involved in many facets of the campus --student government, my sorority, Chi Omega, the NT Daily and the Mayborn School of Journalism. The experience on campus is what you make it. I found that by showing up and contributing, you get far more out of the college experience. I feel very fortunate that I fell into a network of friends who really wanted to be a part of the fabric of the community of North Texas. I'll always be really grateful for that. It's definitely helped shape who I am today.
I was vice president of the Student Government Association when we were deciding whether or not we would have a rec center. The Union was a place to hang out, but it wasn't necessarily a social destination. When I asked people, "Why are you not involved on campus?," they would say, "There's nowhere to be." We visited multiple campuses and saw how they created a sense of community at their rec center. I felt like North Texas had an opportunity to continue to build that. We had some beautiful classrooms, incredible labs, a gorgeous campus, but it was true that there wasn't always a place for students to congregate beyond private halls in their dorms. And if you weren't in a dorm or part of Greek life, where would you go?
We thought a rec center would make an impact on the overall community feel on campus, and we also knew we would never see it be built. As students, we wouldn't get to be a part of that. It was a great lesson in seeing beyond where you sit today, which is something that I've carried with me. Even though I didn't directly feel the impact, my hope was that we gave something to the students that came after us. I was really proud to be a part of that.
Favorite business travel memory:
The first time I visited Stockholm, Sweden, where Spotify was founded, was a really special trip as part of my journey with the company. I had not been to Sweden before. To really see where Spotify was born, and to better understand the ethos of the company, inspired a deeper love for my new work family. It's like discovering a person. When you're getting to know a person and you go to their hometown, you further understand what shaped them, what their background is, where their roots might be. I've since been there maybe 16 times, but that first trip was especially meaningful.
I have many favorites! I am a news junkie. I can't help it. I have been since I was in college at North Texas, where I loved working at the NT Daily. I really love the Wall Street Journal and NPR podcasts, as well as The New York Times podcast The Daily, which I listen to every day. I also like Startup. It's all about entrepreneurs and tech. There's a podcast called Reply All that's about interesting things on the internet. I really enjoy Freakonomics, which is a great business podcast. When I'm not thinking about work or I am just looking to relax and zone out, I love to listen to true crime. Spotify has a podcast called The Clearing that I really enjoyed. It's about a woman who finds out her dad is a serial killer.
On professional career and defining success:
I'm really proud of my personal story. I graduated from a really small town in West Texas that most people have never heard of called Andrews. I ended up going to North Texas. Now, when I look at my team at Spotify, a lot of them went to Ivy League schools, some of them attended the best prep or boarding schools in the country. My start was clearly different, but it's uniquely mine. I'm proud of the fact that I've been willing to take risks throughout my career. I have switched industries, moved across the country to places where I didn't know a single person, faced some of the toughest PR crises in the world and sacrificed more of my personal time than I care to remember. But I wouldn't change a thing. I try to embrace and be grateful for each opportunity that is thrown my way. Spotify is a really special place, but I also will never forget where I am from.
Advice for people starting their careers:
I think part of it is having an insatiable appetite for learning new things. I cannot stress the importance of curiosity and hard work. I tell stories all the time about people who I've encountered. The people who I remember and stay with me are the ones who might not always be the smartest, but they work the hardest, contribute the most, and if they mess up, they are willing to learn. I very much appreciate someone who desires to build something, to be a part of something.
My biggest piece of advice is: Keep going. My father whispered in my ear "keep going." I've never really forgotten that, and it's something I will pass along to my children as they grow up.
I went to North Texas where I got really involved on campus. I kind of wanted to stay, I enjoyed it so much. I loved my time there and the people at the university. Dr. Norval Pohl, who was a mentor to me and the president at the time, said absolutely not -- you've got to keep going. That got me to Washington, D.C. I had an incredible time there, and I thought I could do it forever, but then I had to keep going. I'm so glad I did, because what you find around every turn teaches you a little more about yourself. It helps stretch you further and helps you grow. So every day, my focus is on that next step forward.