This month’s Member Spotlight
Communication & Public Affairs Leader at Johnson & Johnson Consumer EMEA, London, UK
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role?
My background is in biochemistry. Upon joining the workforce, I did not want to work in research, so looked for other opportunities to apply my love and knowledge of science. Every single company I have worked for has had a connection to health, be it treating chronic and rare diseases through pharmaceutical treatments, helping symptom control through OTC medicines or improving the wellbeing of consumers through personal care products.
There have been three distinct phases in my career – the first was working at PR agencies such as Burson-Marsteller and InterScience, the second was working for a top pharmaceutical company (Bristol-Myers Squibb), and the third and current phase is working for a top FMCG company (Johnson & Johnson Consumer). My current role involves leading the EMEA communications and public affairs function for Johnson & Johnson covering reputation management including issues management, organizational engagement, PR, NGO relations and public affairs.
Why are you passionate about the mission of LEAD network?
In the early part of my career, I struggled getting ahead of my career compared to my peers, yet I was equally as intelligent, accomplished and accountable as them. What it made me realize was that I was different to many of my peers (I was female, working class and of ethnic origin) at a time when men held the top PR jobs, and there were very few minorities or working-class people in the PR industry. This was in the 90’s – at a time when there was a lot of unconscious bias toward gender, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic classes etc. Thankfully today, things have progressed, and that’s why I am passionate about the mission of the LEAD network – it is about bringing out the value of diversity to our businesses and our communities.
What would you say is one of the most adventurous or riskiest moves you’ve made professionally?
Years ago, I worked for a start-up PR company in London. After about two years working as an Account Manager, I was getting a bit bored and thinking about switching companies. I needed to do something different, something that would scare and challenge me. Following a conversation with the MD of the company, rather than lose me to a competitor, he helped arrange a job transfer for me to New York. It was what I wanted, but at the same time I was terrified when it all became a reality. I am an introvert, prefer my own company to others, awkward in social situations, though I am contradictory in that I am very bold. This move to NYC turned out to be the most adventurous thing I did in my career (moving to a city where I had no friends or family, all I had was a job). It was also a risky move in that there was no guarantee that when I returned to the UK, the company would have a job for me. This move provided me with so many experiences that have helped me become a better person and PR professional. I gained confidence in myself and abilities, I learnt how to enjoy and thrive in social situations (my friends today say I am the perfect person to invite to a party as I will go and talk to anyone). I also learnt how positivity and belief in yourself are essential to triumph over difficult situations. That move to NYC, landed me the next 3 jobs in my career.
Can you give an example of a failure or disappointment you experienced and what you learned from it?
I once applied for a job that was highly competitive (I knew some of the candidates) and was exactly where I wanted to go next in my career. I did not get the role, and though I was very disappointed, what I learnt was that sometimes the time is not right for the company to have a personality like you in the role. A couple of years down the line you might be the right person. What I mean by this is that I’m someone who goes into roles and who wants to build, improve, remove or change things. Some roles do not require this, for example, stability may be more important than change. I also learnt that it is fine to wallow in bitterness and disappointment for a day, that said, the next day, get over it, push your re-set button, and seek out new opportunities.
Is there one person you could attribute a big piece of your success to?
My career success is thanks to the sponsors and mentors who have helped me along the way. Especially those who nudged me beyond my comfort zone, or took bets on me, or offered me opportunities that I would have not have come across were it not for them. I now consciously practice this with younger people in our industry. Here are six of the best sponsors and mentors:
- Susan Newberry for hiring me even though I had just changed jobs 4 months ago, and everyone was telling me another company would not hire me so soon
- Mark Chataway for transferring me to New York, and for being a boss who embraced diversity and equality in the era when people did not even know what diversity meant
- Sally Baxandall for introducing me to a start-up PR agency in New York
- Anna Maria De Salva for her advice when I was debating between switching from agency to in-house, and who introduced me to my first in-house job
- Lamberto Andreotti, who interviewed me for a role that 2 years later was being axed, an email from him saved me from redundancy at a past company
- Bonnie Jacobs who hired me into my present company
And finally, our current communications & public affairs team at Johnson & Johnson Consumer. Together we achieve more, and I am a big fan of the collective success of our team.