Stepping Back to Lead Better

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MY parents both emigrated from France and met each other while living in New York City. My father served in the United States Army in World War II and later became an importer of exotic hardwoods. My mother, a fashion designer, stayed home to raise me.

We settled in Greenwich, Conn., and after graduating from high school in 1973, I went to Dartmouth, in the second class of women who enrolled as freshmen. While I was in college, my father received a diagnosis of terminal cancer and told me for the first time that our family was Jewish. (Like many who had left Europe, my parents wanted to protect me.) Since I knew nothing about Judaism, I decided to take religion classes and wound up majoring in religion.

Before my graduation, I spent the winter of 1976-77 indulging my love of outdoor sports as a ski instructor in Killington, Vt. The next fall, I entered the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, where I focused on marketing and international business. In my second year, I attended the Essec Business School near Paris.

After I received my M.B.A. in 1979, my first job was as an assistant product manager at Richardson-Vicks, the company in Wilton, Conn., whose brands included Oil of Olay, Nyquil and Vicks. After 18 months, I was recruited to Clairol, whose headquarters were in Manhattan. I was already dating a fellow Dartmouth graduate, Leland Stacy, known as Bud. We married in 1981 and moved to Boston, where I got a job with Parker Brothers, working to develop games for the Atari system. Less than two years later, Parker Brothers downsized its video game effort.

The Gillette Company hired me as a brand manager, and I stayed with the company in Boston for 23 years. I started at Paper Mate, overseeing the acquisition of Waterman pens, then moved to the male grooming unit, which included products like Gillette and Right Guard.

I wanted to work more directly with customers, so in 1995 I became a sales representative for the company. My experience working closely with retailers helped me win a promotion the next year, as Gillette USA's vice president for marketing.

In 1988, I had my first child. My second child was born in 1992. Two years later, I moved my mother near us in the Boston area and learned a few years later that she had Alzheimer's. Gradually, I began to realize that meeting my family responsibilities meant that I was struggling to give a top-level performance at work.

So, in 2002, supported by my boss, I switched to a job within Gillette with less stress and less travel. As the Oral-B vice president for special assignments, I worked on projects like the acquisition of Zooth toothbrushes.

My mother died in 2004. A short time later, Procter & Gamble acquired Gillette. I returned to a line role as vice president and general manager of its Oral Care global business unit, which involved commuting to P.& G.'s headquarters in Cincinnati.

But with one child in high school, I decided I needed to be more available at home, so I returned to Boston in October 2007 and joined ArchPoint Consulting as a partner. In November 2008, I became president of Keurig, the single-serve brewing business based in Reading, Mass. It had been acquired in 2006 by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

My focus is on driving innovation and sales in retail and mass channels like Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond. In my first holiday season, in 2008, we sold 711,000 brewers from October to December. By comparison, last year we sold four million in the same three months, the busiest time of the year for us.

Looking back at my career, I realize that the two times I took myself out of the corporate race really enabled me to become a better leader. It allowed me the freedom to focus on the people and team side of leadership.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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