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Janelle Hailey: “Big thinking is the most important ingredient for success”

Mentor and sponsor diverse talent. Rather than write off diverse talent because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived definition of leadership, mentor and coach them. Honor their differences and help them lead with their strengths, making those strengths even more badass. I was told pretty early by a mentor that his opportunity area has remained more […]

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Mentor and sponsor diverse talent. Rather than write off diverse talent because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived definition of leadership, mentor and coach them. Honor their differences and help them lead with their strengths, making those strengths even more badass. I was told pretty early by a mentor that his opportunity area has remained more or less consistent his whole career, but his strengths have gotten so phenomenal that’s it’s become his superhero calling card. Don’t forget to sponsor and advocate for diverse talent. We all know you need a combination of mentors, sponsors and advocates to succeed. All too often we set-up mentorship programs for diverse employees, but when decision-makers are sitting around the table- there is no sponsor or advocate pulling them up through the middle-management roadblock into senior leadership.


I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Janelle Hailey, VP of Marketing and Product Innovation at OLIKA.

Equal parts data lover + marketing maverick + strategy whisperer, Janelle is a marketing leader who is super passionate about connecting consumer insights to unique growth opportunities. Having joined Olika in the spring of 2020 as VP of Marketing and Product Innovation, she is juiced by the opportunity to bring clean wellness a splash of joy to an otherwise monotonous hand sanitizer category.

Prior to joining Olika, Janelle worked at Johnson & Johnson consumer for iconic brands such as Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Aveeno and BabyCenter, fueling category disrupting innovation and communication rethink messages for both local and global markets.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Idid not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t want to follow my parents’ medical field footsteps, but that’s all I knew. In college, I decided the most important things were being challenged, intrigued, learning and having fun. The “what,” would eventually work itself out. I chose Learning & Organizational Change as my major at Northwestern University because I loved the learning in action method. My passion for shopping led me to Gap Inc. as a Merchandise Planner where I learned the power of using data to tell stories. It was amazing to build financial sales and inventory plans, but I needed to nurture my creative side. The NBC Page Program was exciting! I learned the power of networking by landing an assignment at Saturday Night Live. My new network opened the door at MTV in the Integrated Marketing department. That’s where my love for marketing was solidified. I got juiced by being able to solve problems and drive the business through storytelling. Getting my MBA at the University of Michigan and working at Johnson & Johnson on brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno were logical next steps. But I didn’t put aside my desire to be challenged, intrigued, learn and have fun. I made a point to deeply understand marketing through varied experiences from traditional brand management to innovation, digital marketing and content strategy. It’s my collection of experiences that prepared me for the opportunity to lead Olika Marketing and Innovation as we relaunch the brand this summer on our quest to be the most loved and used clean wellness hygiene brand in the COVID-19 era.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?’

I’ve had many interesting experiences over my career, especially in the Page Program and at MTV. However, the most interesting experiences have been the innovation I created at Neutrogena. I love getting into the minds of my consumers, and I was able to conduct research in the US and France. It was super cool to see the commonalities between consumers across different cultures. I also loved approaching the research from a place of curiosity in order to find insights for new products. Through that research, I identified new ways to communicate a very old problem, new terminology in the category that was adopted by competitors as well as new products that elevated a commoditized product. I fell in love with consumer research and the power of putting them first during this experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was a Page at NBC, I hung up the phone on Adam Sandler. He called and said he was coming to the show. I didn’t believe he would call the Page desk, so I laughed at him and hung up. Well, he came. In entertainment everything is about relationships so it was not a good look, I just hung up on him. Initially, I didn’t want to talk so he couldn’t identify me. But being a Page, I had to interact with him. I did it with a smile and confidence and didn’t let my mistake get in the way of my responsibilities that evening. He ended up being super nice to me! Of course, I made mistakes with much bigger consequences in my career — but it was this little moment that reminded me it’s not that you make mistakes, it’s how you rebound from them that makes all the difference.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

Let’s set aside the ethical and moral reasons why it’s important to have a diverse executive team, and focus on the business case — diversity makes money. McKinsey has written several reports on this “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters,” “Why Diversity Matters,” “Delivering through Diversity,” and the data all points to the same conclusion: having a more diverse company and executive team with gender, cultural and ethical inclusivity makes the company more likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. Businesses really don’t need any more of a reason than that to focus on diversity.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

Making diversity a priority means businesses would reflect the demographics of this country. The advertising we see would be different, the products would be different, the decisions companies make would have a more positive impact on diverse communities driving more conscious capitalism. The role models we have would expand and the possibilities for innovation would increase tenfold because more people are included. This is a math lesson and it’s pretty simple — diversity and inclusion are additive.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

These answers are not new. It’s the how not the what that people are still trying to figure out.

  1. Increase the diversity talent pipeline through recruitment. Saying “I can’t find diverse, qualified talent” is a false truth. Rock star diverse talent exists everywhere. I often challenge this question with “How are you recruiting talent? And are you using practices that by nature would exclude the very talent you’re hoping to acquire?” If you are only relying on your network, and it’s not diverse, then you are creating a self-fulling prophecy. In 2020, there are many organizations that put diverse talent front and center. I’ve been a part of them — Inroads, National Black MBA Association, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, The Consortium Graduate Study in Management — just to name a few. I found both my summer internship and full-time position when I was getting my MBA through these organizations.
  2. Mentor and sponsor diverse talent. Rather than write off diverse talent because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived definition of leadership, mentor and coach them. Honor their differences and help them lead with their strengths, making those strengths even more badass. I was told pretty early by a mentor that his opportunity area has remained more or less consistent his whole career, but his strengths have gotten so phenomenal that’s it’s become his superhero calling card. Don’t forget to sponsor and advocate for diverse talent. We all know you need a combination of mentors, sponsors and advocates to succeed. All too often we set-up mentorship programs for diverse employees, but when decision-makers are sitting around the table- there is no sponsor or advocate pulling them up through the middle-management roadblock into senior leadership.
  3. Retain diverse talent. I find it odd that many companies have figured out how to recruit diverse talent, but retention is still a mystery. Are you including diverse talent in succession planning for critical positions? Does your diverse talent feel comfortable to be their authentic self at work? Are you fostering a culture of inclusion? Are there inequalities in compensation and merit awards? Are you challenging your diverse employees with stretch opportunities? Have you asked your diverse talent what motivates them? It all boils down to taking the time to invest time in diverse talent if you want to retain them.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Early on, I was lucky to learn about situational leadership. It’s the idea that there is not one way or one type of leader you should be. It’s really going to flex based on the organizational situation and team dynamic. There will be times when your primary responsibility will be to motivate the team towards a strategy or goal. At other times, your number one objective is to remove barriers and obstacles that are hindering the genius of your team. Of course, there are times when more coaching and instruction is needed as your team develops. Leadership is equal parts motivation, empowerment and coaching.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. As you develop in your career, image and exposure are more critical than performance: Success at work is often looked at as what results you deliver. That definitely works for a while. I had to deliver A+ results on my first few projects and continue to deliver to be seen as a leader. However, my career didn’t start accelerating until I put a focus on image and exposure. This meant meeting with leaders that I wouldn’t naturally have a reason to speak with or taking on stretch projects that exposed me to new areas and people in the company. It also meant ensuring people could see multi-dimensional images of me — to get to know me as a person. Humans are made to connect, so sharing who you are is important at work. Especially as a woman of color, we are constantly fighting stereotypes. I said yes to more networking and employee events and shared parts of my life that I was comfortable exposing, so people’s image of me was multi-dimensional.
  2. Big thinking is the most important ingredient for success. I’ve heard time and time again; you aren’t qualified for that role. Right now, isn’t a good time for this project. We’ve never been able to do this before, why would this time be any different? Small thinking is pervasive, restrictive and allows stagnation. Big thinking is expansive and pushes growth. At Olika, small thinking is never allowed for ourselves or the business. We are always challenging the status quo and pushing to change the paradigms around daily essentials. Some might call it grit, but constantly thinking big, and stepping into that bigness is the key factor for success.
  3. Your authentic self is more than enough, it’s everything. Being a woman and a Black person in leadership means juggling the many biases and aggressions that can work against me on the path to success. I’ve had to juggle how to be confident and decisive yet not aggressive, unlikeable and the stereotypical “angry black women,” and making the team feel comfortable yet have them not only recognize my leadership but be someone who inspires them. How to establish connections when your cultural norms are different especially as certain life stages are delayed for a woman in her 30’s, like parenthood. It’s exhausting. I had to give the juggle up. I bring my authentic self to work because she’s pretty awesome! Whether that’s my latest hairstyle or laughing out loud, the more I am myself the more people can see me. The more they see me, the more my natural style of leadership effortlessly shines.
  4. Agility is your friend: You can plan, plan and plan again. Then things happen beyond your control. Covid-19 hit at the apex of our Olika re-launch plans. Then we couldn’t market on Facebook, causing us to rethink how we drive digital reach without Facebook. We had to quickly pivot, do some consumer research, update our packaging and go-to-market plans to be ready to launch in the Covid-19 era. Agility lets you handle any challenge with grace and not get distracted so you still come out in an amazing place.
  5. Seek out companies and opportunities that recognize your value. Sometimes companies just aren’t a good fit. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or the company, it just means you haven’t found a place that fully sees your greatness, which is holding you back. When you understand your value, it’s hard to stay at a company that does not. That’s why I came to Olika. Olika offered me an opportunity to use my marketing and product innovation superpowers to shape a team and build a strategy from the ground up, at a pivotal moment of relaunching the brand. The CEO, Alastair Dorward, also has a culture of mentorship and development, so it was the perfect fit. I saw the value in the company and they saw value in me.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The most important movement, addressing systemic inequality and racism, is happening now. We have a long journey ahead to address decades of oppression. The movement is a marathon, not a sprint. I’d like to inspire continual commitment to the service of this movement. There is so much that needs to be done: eliminating poverty, voter suppression, ecological devastation and how that impacts poor communities the hardest, mass incarnation, the war economy, and diversity in business. I’ve been excited the energy I bring for this movement is welcome at Olika, because it is core to our values. There is a task force working together to address not just supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, but getting better at strategically incorporating it into the way we do business. It’s a great group of people and I’m excited for what we will accomplish.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love this question. I’m a quote nerd and I’ve been collecting quotes since the fifth grade! Throughout life, I’ve always gone back to my first quote obsession, “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I live life and tackle each role with confidence. Not confidence that I will always succeed but confidence that just by trying to go bigger and better than what I thought possible, I will be a star. It’s a very powerful “come from” as a woman of color.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Bozoma “Boz” Saint John. Everything about her I admire and respect. She is a genius marketer, no one can deny that. Her ability to marry pop culture to brand objectives, creating moments that resonate and drive impact is one of a kind. She does this while being unapologetically herself from her hair, fashion and lifestyle, showcasing what it means to be a phenomenal black women leader. The fact that she brings her authentic self everywhere is a big part of her success. All while triumphing over great personal adversity. I would love to spend 5 minutes with her to learn more about “The Boz” magic.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/janellelhailey/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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