In my current role, I am responsible for keeping our team moving at the rapid pace our organization and internal culture demands. It is critical for us to keep our eye on the prize and execute on the research and data collection we are constantly doing, which means everyone must pull together to go the extra mile so that we can make things happen. Succeeding at this demands the right cultural fit of individuals who aren’t afraid to take risks — but most importantly, it demands a leader who instills that notion in their team. I learned to do this by removing fear of failure from my repertoire — this way, my team of 90 is an action-oriented force to be reckoned with rather than a team with big potential but little headway.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kay Du Fernandez, SVP, Marketing at Konica Minolta. Kay leads the creation of the company’s innovative marketing strategies to improve the value delivered to customers, partners and employees. She also has a passion for management and established the Step Forward Program at Konica Minolta to inspire women in professional excellence.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During my MBA program, I took a product marketing class and became fascinated with everything that was involved with that area of responsibility: understanding and launching future products, reviewing a product roadmap, working with customers to gather feedback for product development, developing a marketing plan and pricing — I loved it all. I became extremely interested in all areas of product marketing and felt I had found my dream role. I did some research, talked to my network and a friend of mine who had just taken a new job at Toshiba let me know that there was an opening. I was fortunate enough to get the offer for the job, which aligned perfectly after graduation, and I went on to work there for 12 years within product marketing, moving up the corporate ladder to become VP, Marketing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a great executive management team at Konica Minolta, and we work incredibly well together. We joke a lot that we’re a dysfunctional family — everyone is extremely supportive of each other, we’re not afraid to be honest and we have a lot of fun together. Every 18-months we hold a conference where we bring in 1,000 of our dealer customers. As a team, it’s an extremely crazy and stressful time having to work on our speeches, presentations, product showcase, breakout sessions and the logistics of the event but the final night, which usually includes headline entertainment, is always an opportunity for us to let loose. Our SVP, Product Planning and Business Intelligence Solutions plays the guitar and will many times play with the band. Our President & CEO will get on stage and sing with the band. I’ve danced on stage. We try to incorporate fun in all that we do.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be available, and act as an ally to your team. Remember that a true leader guides his or her team in the right direction, but shares in responsibilities, wins and losses. Ensure your team knows this, as well as when and how to turn to you for guidance. Just as you need the respect and alliance of others to become a leader, you also need it to thrive as one.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
One of the best things you can do when managing a large team is to maintain a shared mindset and set of goals while also ensuring individuals have ownership and understanding of the role they play in moving the needle forward. Be both a voice of reason and a voice of wonder — where you remind your team of the big picture and the progress you are making and uphold a standard of excellence in which asking questions and learning from mistakes is nothing but encouraged.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A few years ago, I had the privilege of serving as the executive sponsor for Konica Minolta’s Step Forward Program, an inspiring initiative to support women in the workplace. The monthly program, now in its fourth year, encourages the advancement of women through leadership development skills training and an open forum for male and female employees and guest speakers to share experiences and best practices. We recently ran an internal survey gauging employee’s experiences with the Step Forward Program, and I was thrilled to see the majority reported the program helps them perform their job better, has been beneficial to their career development and has improved their relationships with both co-workers and customers.
10. What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Always incorporate diversity — both demographically and of thought and experience
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work in both small and large organizations — whether it was leading a small team of volunteers at St. Mary’s school or rising through various marketing roles at multi-national corporations like Toshiba and Konica Minolta. The more teams I led and built, the more I realizedthe tremendous value of diversity and cultural fit. A team strong with diverse demographics, experiences and thought processes has far more perspectives and ideas for consideration. This can be a challenge to build as it takes time to expand recruitment efforts and wait for the right talent — but studies show this is greatly outweighed by the value brought to your team and your innovation, with inclusive teams making better business decisions up to 87% of the time.
2) It’s better to execute, fail & learn than to sit back and watch it all happening
In my current role at Konica Minolta, I am responsible for keeping our team moving at the rapid pace our organization and internal culture demands. It is critical for us to keep our eye on the prize and execute on the research and data collection we are constantly doing, which means everyone must pull together to go the extra mile so that we can make things happen. Succeeding at this demands the right cultural fit of individuals who aren’t afraid to take risks — but most importantly, it demands a leader who instills that notion in their team. I learned to do this by removing fear of failure from my repertoire — this way, my team of 90 is an action-oriented force to be reckoned with rather than a team with big potential but little headway.
3) Keep the bigger picture in focus
When your work demands that you move at a fast pace, especially if you focus on finite details like forecasts, metrics and ROI, it is important that the team as a whole keeps sight of the big picture and end goal. As a leader, it is your job to keep this in your team’s mind with constant reminders to stop and zoom out of their day to day tasks and focus in on the impact the company wishes to drive, and the role they can play in the short term and the long term to make it happen.
4) Stepping outside your job role is the key to stepping up as a leader
As I have taken on various roles and grown into leadership positions, I have done my best to learn from others whose steps I would love to follow in. I read books like Herminia Ibarra’s “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader,” and articles on leaders like Mary Barra, the chairman and CEO of General Motors and the first woman to hold that role in the auto industry. I’ve learned from each of these women, and then from my own success, that visibility at your organization plays a critical role in becoming a leader. Bringing your personal passions and strengths to areas of your workplace outside of your specific role allows you to develop new skills and build a vast network of supporters, which makes you a natural change agent and leader.
5) Don’t forget to give back to other women and rising leaders
Just as you learn from others how to become a leader, it’s important not to forget to pay it forward yourself and share your own experiences with your peers and networks. Sometimes it is as simple as sharing a blog post or internal message about something you found helpful, or letting others know that you are available to chat over coffee. Be available to support others in their journey to becoming a leader, and your own leadership will thrive even more.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
A commitment to bringing humor forth in every situation, especially the stressful ones. We all get so serious when trying to be productive, execute and make things happen, but ultimately our outputs can very much depend on the attitudes and relationships we’ve built around us. Trying to find humor in life requires looking at challenges and projects in a different perspective. It makes you smile which in turn lightens the mood, shows your positive side and helps to build relationships. We can’t take ourselves or each other too seriously. I’m not a funny person so this is hard for me — and I’m sure many people can relate — but everyone can use a good laugh.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Early on in my career, I was responsible for a lot of business planning, forecasting and analytics — tasks that can get really in the weeds as you’re looking so closely at the numbers. One night, I was working late in the office rerunning the numbers for a sales forecast for the third time in an attempt to make it all fit together. My director at the time told me, “sometimes it’s hard to see the forest from the trees,” and I found that to be very profound and effective in helping me understand how I needed to adjust my approach in order to succeed. I realized that I naturally function as an operator, which means I have to always remind myself to get out of the weeds and stay focused on the bigger picture. This is a constant reminder I give to myself, and one that I share with others looking to rise up and become a leader in their career.
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Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!