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Leadership Lessons: Syl Saller chief marketing officer of Diageo

The Drum 13 Mar 2020 01:45
Leadership Lessons: Syl Saller chief marketing officer of Diageo

In the latest episode of The Drum's Leadership Lessons, editor Stephen Lepitak speaks to Syl Saller, chief marketing and innovation officer at Diageo, about the importance of drawing leadership inspiration not only from other marketers, but also people within her own family.

When asked about which leaders made the biggest impact on her own leadership style, Saller spoke passionately about her own mother, who was a second-generation Greek immigrant and worked long hours as a nurse. “Back then women were confined to certain roles, but whether it was my mum in nursing or my aunt Mary, who was the director of the Pentagon’s Library and commanded all these politicians and generals around, I learned so much from them about the

importance of working hard and making a good impression. They showed me what being a strong women is all about!” said Saller.

She added: “I’ve also learned a lot from my boss Ivan Menezes, who is the marketing director at Diageo. When it comes to gender equality he has led so powerfully, but in a humble way, too. He doesn’t let the challenges of today get in the way of the bigger picture for 10 to 15 years’ time from now. He always meets challenges with optimism and ambition, and I’ve learned so much from that kind of mentality.”

“We really want to add true value to the communities where we operate; whether that’s becoming more sustainable in Nigeria, so Guinness there can be made with 60% less water, or working to ensure every employee, regardless of gender, gets six months paid leave when they go on paternity leave. It is important we’re genuinely making a difference not just to our consumers’ lives, but our employees too – that’s what great leadership is all about.”

Last year, it was announced Saller had been given the honour of Commander for her service to business and equality in the workplace as part of the Queen’s New Year Honours recipients. And during the new podcast, Saller joked that she initially thought the letter could be a bill from the HMRC. “My husband thought it could be a bill from the HMRC, but when we worked out what it was, it really took us both by surprise,” she reflects. “You have to keep it secret for six weeks before the ceremony and it was so hard to keep it from my kids. They knew something was up and were convinced we were getting a puppy! They were maybe a little disappointed when they realised what it really was.”

sounds difficult, whether it’s a sustainability or diversity goal, then that’s a good thing, as when you hit that target and make it work, you are going to grow so much as a leader.”

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