I'm a marketer. It's in my DNA.
I've always loved to know why people buy certain products or services, loved commercials, products, packaging. But I loved fashion also, and started my career in retail merchandising. After spending time in retail and learning more about marketing in business school, I was hooked.
At the time, you couldn't go into marketing at big retail chains until you had gone up the merchandising ladder, so I left retail and went to Gillette to start my marketing career in 1981. I had a traditional path: Assistant Product Manager, Associate, and then the big promotion...Product Manager.
I was put in charge of two of the oldest and brands at the company, Adorn and White Rain Hairsprays. I guess they figured I couldn't mess up brands that had been around for over 25 years.
After a few months on the job, I started noticing that we would get letters every week about bringing back White Rain Shampoo, a product that launched in the 1950's, discontinued, brought back in the 1970's, and was discontinued again. The 1970's release was a new fruit flavor that didn't sell, but I kept getting those letters to bring back the old, crystal clear shampoo version. It got my attention.
Now, I had never been in charge of launching a new product. But something told me that if we were getting about ten letters a week, there were a lot of people who wanted this shampoo. The problem was, I didn't have the budget for it.
I kept asking the VP of Marketing to increase my budget so I could launch the shampoo. He wouldn't. I kept at it. He finally told me that I could go ahead and try, without any budget increase, and that I had only had 6 months to get it on the market. That green light was all I needed.
Minor detail -- I really didn't know what I was doing. So in desperation, I called a meeting of the key people in manufacturing, packaging, product development, sales and advertising. I told them we were going to launch a new shampoo. I then told them that we had 6 months to do it, no money and I didn't know how to do it. I leaned in and told them that they did, and we had to do it together.
I didn't know it then, but that was the first time those key groups had been called in to help build a product from the very beginning. Traditionally, marketing came up with the finished concept and told the functional areas what they wanted. This team of people was so energized and came up with such creative and cost effective ideas, that we got White Rain Shampoo launched on time and within budget. The White Rain brand grew to over $100 million in a few short years. And my new product development process was accepted as the template going forward.
I learned from that experience that leaning in with a vision is key. But acknowledging that you don't know everything about getting it done and engaging those that do early on is powerful. I've used this method of creating possibilities ever since. It has served me well in building the ComfortCake Company, and The Hilliard Group consulting firm. It's also enhanced my volunteer work and raising my family.
Leaning In does mean getting a seat at the table. But to me, it also means respecting and learning from the others seated there too.