Thinking outside the box: Ben Rivers ’96 delivers what matters through creativity at UPS
Global shipping giant UPS is known for delivering packages, but its story is made up of so much more than brown boxes and packing slips. Ben Rivers ’96, a visual arts alumnus from Auburn University, delivers that story across channels, around the world, as the vice president of creative services.
Rivers’ Auburn journey started with a visit to a friend on the Plains, during which he made a snap decision to apply after falling in love with Auburn’s campus. His connections to Auburn have aided him through his career and persist as he leads the creative campaigns of a Fortune 50 company.
“I still use almost everything I did at Auburn today,” Rivers said. “The university provided a really, really strong base to my education. Technology can change, trends can change, but those fundamental design principles don’t change. Auburn really leaned into those principles and helped me get that base that allows me to cross mediums pretty easily.”
Originally from Maine, Rivers applied to Auburn’s architecture program while already attending a small private school in Rhode Island. Once he was accepted to Auburn, he considered a major change and switched to the visual arts program in the College of Liberal Arts.
From what he learned in the classroom through graduation, Rivers embraced Auburn wholeheartedly, and his Auburn experience paid back tenfold.
“Biggin Hall is right at Toomer’s Corner, so that historic corner of campus is where I went to class every day. Winning a football game and being able to run into Biggin Hall and steal a roll of toilet paper for Toomer’s Corner was always cool,” Rivers said. “I got engaged to my wife in front of Samford Hall, we got married in Auburn, all the people I met, the game day experience, I participated in intramural sports—the whole experience was great.”
In addition to the welcoming attitude of the Auburn Family and the opportunities on campus, Rivers was able to pursue his love of design through the visual arts program while gaining the skills he needed to make a living out of his passion.
While preparing to graduate, Rivers used Auburn’s career placement services to find jobs and a professor connected him with a new TV network at the time—CNN Sports Illustrated. After his interview and sharing his portfolio, CNN hired Rivers quickly and he moved to Atlanta, Georgia. There, Rivers helped the network translate designs from print magazines to screens and built skills in broadcast graphics and camera work, moving up the ranks from a graphic artist to the network’s assistant art director.
In 2002, Rivers moved to the UPS headquarters in Atlanta. Throughout his more than 20-year tenure, he’s served as a visual effect supervisor, brand identity and design manager, campaign manager and creative director before becoming vice president of creative services.
“I’m a curious person. I think curiosity is hugely important to keep people moving forward in whatever their chosen profession is,” Rivers said. “UPS has given me all those opportunities. On top of that, the people here are the best. I come to work every day because I enjoy the people I work with and they hold a lot of the same values I hold when it comes to experimenting, trying new things and really pushing the envelope.”
As vice president of creative services, Rivers manages UPS’s creative team. Their work includes design, video production, live and virtual events, social media, storytelling, advertisements and more. As the leader of the team, Rivers drives the creative vision of UPS forward through new technology, strategic planning and a focus on good storytelling.
“At the end of the day, UPS’s purpose is to move our world forward by delivering what matters,” Rivers said. “For us, telling those stories of how we’re doing that is really what we’re here to do.”
Those stories include UPS’s social impact reports, which detail the UPS Foundation’s work in humanitarian projects, disaster relief, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, economic empowerment, community engagement and more.
As technological resources increase, Rivers and his team are able to share those stories by meeting people where they are. He credits the College of Liberal Arts for setting him up with the background knowledge to tackle complex stories about humanity and change, as well as the skill set needed to deliver those stories through writing, design, video and critical thinking.
“Auburn prepared me spectacularly for getting into my profession,” Rivers said. “The overall rounded education that you got at Auburn gives a huge advantage to folks coming out of school, particularly in the arts field. If you go to certain arts schools, you’re not going to get that kind of liberal arts experience that I got at Auburn.”
Every now and then, Rivers returns to projects he completed at Auburn to help move creative services forward. He advises current Auburn students to engage with the university not just while they’re in class, but long after.
“Experiment around the campus, take it all in and meet all the people you can,” Rivers said. “I have traveled all over the world and run into people in Paris, Poland, on boats in Maine, so you’ll be amazed at how often that connection comes in handy. And then we have the great Auburn Creed, right? Live up to that creed, take advantage of everything that the campus has to offer and really stay engaged with the Auburn community when you get out.”
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