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Esther Lem

Chief Marketing Officer

Santa Clara, CA

I learned to stand my ground and fight for what I believed in.

“Why the $%?*! would we waste good money on that?”

Those words, spoken by the CFO of the company where I was employed, erased all of the good feelings we’d developed during a week-long team building session in the French countryside.

Let me back up.

As the Vice President of Marketing, running the only “invest/grow” category in the company, I was struggling to identify ideas that would accelerate growth. We needed a new brand launch, and I felt that Axe - a successful global male brand - would be the perfect candidate. After all, in focus groups, guys were stealing the product. They loved the ads. But quantitative testing showed modest results at best. During that off-site event, I proposed the launch opportunity repeatedly, but everyone knocked it down.

On the last day, we had a group session with all the senior executives in one location. I knew this was my final shot at making something big out of something small. While the idea of speaking up in the group session (knowing that none of the senior executives had expressed support) made my stomach turn, I felt the topic had to be debated. “Why not invest in growing the category and launch Axe?” I asked.

Crickets.

That led to the CFO’s question. “Why the $%?*! would we waste good money on that?”

Even more crickets.

Then, another executive spoke up, acknowledging this inappropriate behavior. He asked to hear my case, right then and there. It was a watershed moment for me; I learned to stand my ground and fight for what I believed in. And after a few rounds of discussion, my points had not only been heard, but also accepted.

Axe did launch that year, and it proved to be an overwhelming success. It blew away our goals and turned out to be a catalyst for company growth. A second launch followed and the category became a “darling” for the company. I felt victorious.

I’m often asked why I, a female, thought I could market Axe, the only male brand at the company. “Why not?” I reply. “Throughout my entire career, I’ve only ever worked for men marketing female brands.”

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