Latisha Tillie of GSK Theraflu: Let’s start a movement towards wider acceptance of ‘paid sick leave for caregivers’ to help parents not stress over missing work to care for their child

I grew up with a single mom who did everything she could to take care of me. As a child, I had a pretty weak immune system and would often get sick when I was in school. My mom would have to miss work to take care of me which I know caused her stress […]

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I grew up with a single mom who did everything she could to take care of me. As a child, I had a pretty weak immune system and would often get sick when I was in school. My mom would have to miss work to take care of me which I know caused her stress and required her to rearrange her schedule around me. Luckily, my mom had a great job, but there are many other single parents that can’t afford to call in sick to care of their sick child. There should be a wider acceptance of paid sick leave for caregivers, to help parents, especially single parents, not stress over missing work to care for their child.

I had the pleasure to interview Latisha Tillie, Senior Brand Manager at GSK Theraflu. Since joining GSK in 2012, Latisha has worked across the company’s Consumer Healthcare business, strategizing, executing and managing national marketing campaigns. As the Theraflu US brand lead, Latisha developed the brand positioning and consumer experience strategy for Theraflu’s newest innovation, PowerPods, which marries the brands deep heritage of powder medication with the convenience of brewing in a single serve coffee machine. As an advocate for developing products that empower consumers to independently better their own health, Latisha has led the brand’s work with The Weather Channel and Sickweather (a Midwest startup that tracks sickness through social listening and crowdsourcing) — two partnerships the Theraflu team leverages to predict cold and flu incidences. This data enables the brand to ensure product is available when communities need it most, and be able to provide a real-time cold and flu tracker that consumers can use to monitor incidences in their area.

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

I’ve always wanted to be in brand management because I have a passion for driving the success of a brand, ensuring it’s recognized and loved by people. Before I got my MBA, I started off my career in advertising because I knew that to be an effective brand marketer, I needed to understand how to best work and partner with advertising agencies. I spent much of my early career working on Uncle Ben’s Rice and a campaign that helped kids be healthier with home the cooking versus eating out. This work helped me realize that I wanted to continue a career that was focused on health and wellness. That’s really come to life at GSK, where I’ve been for over six years. I enjoy the work I’m able to do with my colleagues, empowering consumers to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Since becoming a Senior Brand Manager at GSK, one of my key priorities has been the successful launch of Theraflu PowerPods, a new brand innovation that just hit shelves. Theraflu recognizes consumers’ ever-changing lifestyles and is helping to modernize cold and flu symptom relief with a product that is compatible with single-serve coffee machines.

There is no doubt that there is a growing popularity of single-serve coffee makers, as well as an emerging market of pods for products other than coffee. About 40% of households own a single-serve coffee machine, in part because of its convenience. Our goal with the launch of PowerPods is to expand cold and flu remedies beyond the medicine cabinet and in the center of every day wellness — the kitchen.

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?

I remember working on my first new business pitch and my boss asked me if I could get seven binders ready for a team meeting the next morning. I eagerly said yes even though I had no idea what he meant. I assumed he wanted me to print out our research and creative concepts and place it in the binders for the meeting. I stayed at work all evening getting these binders ready. The next day, my boss was the first one to walk into the meeting and I was so proud of my accomplishment I handed him a binder with a smile on my face and told him they were ready. He let out a little laugh and asked what I put in the binder. After I told him, he said he just wanted empty binders and that another team member was preparing the content. While he was appreciative of the work I did, I should’ve stopped to ask a question and get clarity before assuming and being overly eager. I learned early in my career that I should not be afraid to ask a clarifying question.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

GSK stands out not only for the innovative products we create, but for the innovative partnerships we form with consumers in mind. For example, for the past few years Theraflu has partnered with The Weather Channel and Sickweather — a Midwest startup that tracks sickness through social listening and crowdsourcing — to predict cold and flu incidences and provide a real-time cold and flu tracker that monitors incidences across the country. I’m proud to work with a company that is willing to partner with leaders in the industry to create innovative tools that improve consumer’s lives.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am very excited about the marketing campaign currently underway to educate consumers about the new Theraflu PowerPods. We’re supporting this launch with a full activation campaign to help drive awareness of our new PowerPods-TV commercials, in-store signage, online video, social media, PR and influencer partnerships — all that speak to how Theraflu allows you to do sick differently.

This year’s campaign is also focused on digital marketing to reach a younger audience. We know that millennials, parents of young children and others in the 25–50 age group will be important adopters for the product, so we have included some fun, offbeat elements to engage our target demo. Shelf talkers, for instance, can be found in the grocery store coffee aisles and feature Snapchat codes users snap to bring up a 3D PowerPods box with information. It’s exciting to work on a marketing campaign that will help consumers learn about a new and improved way to experience cold and flu symptom relief.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My first piece of advice is to have a vision and plan in place that will allow your team to thrive. Leading a team is not something you can do while flying by the seat of your pants, and your team will recognize if you lack a plan. Secondly, a leader should immerse herself in the world of her team. You’ll be able to help your team better if you understand their situation, the challenges they face and the skills they need to be successful. The last and most important piece of advice is to remember to be your authentic self. Your team wants to feel comfortable in their work environment, especially around you, and that’ll be much easier for them if you show that you are comfortable with yourself.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

A larger team means a more diverse team, which means you will be managing a group of people that all have unique personalities and different ways of thinking, learning and working. The best way to manage a large team will be to recognize this fact, understand your team members’ different points of views and be able to adapt accordingly.

One of my biggest passions has always been to travel. I never wanted to be trapped inside a bubble, which is why I decided to move to the east coast after being born and raised in California. Since then, I’ve done road trips across regions of the United States, and traveled abroad to countries like Jamaica, Panama, Cuba, and Brazil, to name a few. Throughout my travels I have recognized how important it is to see the world and all that it can offer, and gain new experiences in the process. By trying new things and understanding different people and cultures, you will arm yourself with the skills it takes to successfully manage a large team.

 None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I consider myself a sponge, absorbing nuggets of philosophies and work styles from all my mangers and peers who have helped me grow as a marketer and leader. One person in particular is Rulivia Wong, one of my first managers when I was working in advertising. Rulivia coached and developed me into the business woman I am today and helped me learn how to be a successful Brand Manager. In addition to helping me build my business acumen, she helped me develop business maturity, a topic that managers traditionally don’t spend the time to discuss. I remember one day I was extremely upset at work and started crying. Rulivia came over to me and said in a firm but motherly voice, “Do not cry at work.” She continued, “We do not cry at work. You need to learn how to deal with this and not let it bother you enough to cry in front of your manager. You can cry when you go home.” From that day forward, I’ve never cried again at work, despite wanting to some days. Thanks to Rulivia, I have learned how to control my emotions and keep my professionalism even in the most frustrating of situations. I’m very close with her to this day and when I’m back in California I always visit her and her family for brunch.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

More than ever, it is important for organizations to create inclusive work environments that attract and retain the most talented people from all backgrounds and cultures. I’m very grateful that my career at GSK has given me the opportunity to create a diverse organization and support a diverse workforce by joining groups that allow me to make an impact. For example, through our employee research group called the African American Alliance, I am able to connect GSK with external organizations like the National Black MBA. I also sit on GSK’s Diversity and Inclusion Council which provides feedback and insight to various parts of the organization to ensure that diversity remains a top priority for everyone. Additionally, as a member of the diversity recruitment team, I have attended multiple recruitment fairs to make sure that we are bringing the right kind of talent to GSK.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Set Clear Goals: I remember working on a team that had no clear roles and responsibilities. We were unorganized, which meant we wasted a lot of time duplicating work and not completing our tasks. It was also challenging to discuss my personal development because I lacked clear goals that could be measured against. When a new manager was hired, a new structure with roles and responsibilities were clearly outlined. I learned the value of setting clear goals for a team.

2) Feedback is a Gift: I have worked with managers that didn’t provide enough helpful feedback. When feedback is all positive, you don’t know what you need to improve. But one of my managers would consistently provide me with small but important bits of feedback and tweaks that could have a really big impact. With my team, I make sure to give a balance of feedback on the areas they are doing well and where there is opportunity for improvements. People can’t develop without feedback and as a manager it’s important your team members knows where their strengths and opportunities lie.

3) People are Different. Adjust Accordingly: Managing people isn’t a “one size fits all” approach, and your team’s work style may not be like yours. I once worked with a team member I wanted to help but didn’t feel like I was doing enough to improve their performance. I met with a mentor to ask for advice and he pointed out that their work style was different than mine. I was managing this person how I wanted to be managed and that wasn’t how they needed to be managed. I learned the importance of adjusting my style to meet the needs of each team member.

4) Good Energy is Contagious. Pass it on: When you have a manager that is negative or stressed out, it can be hard to avoid that energy. I’ve been lucky to have managers that are calmer and more positive, which are the kinds of energy that drive people to deliver their best work. As a manager, you must share the good energies with your team and not pass along the stresses you’re dealing with.

5) Listen: This lesson is straight forward and something any successful leader should abide by every day. You can’t be a good leader without listening to your team. Always ask questions and take the time to listen and understand what your team members need and what challenges they face.

 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.

I grew up with a single mom who did everything she could to take care of me. As a child, I had a pretty weak immune system and would often get sick when I was in school. My mom would have to miss work to take care of me which I know caused her stress and required her to rearrange her schedule around me. Luckily, my mom had a great job, but there are many other single parents that can’t afford to call in sick to care of their sick child. There should be a wider acceptance of paid sick leave and caregivers to help parents, especially single parents, not stress over missing work to care for their child.

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

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is “be your own cheerleader.” There are times where I have second guessed my ability to be successful. It is easy to second guess yourself as you move up in your career and ask yourself if you deserve to be in your position. You may get frustrated if you do not immediately perform how you hoped. But you must remember that you earned your position for a reason and that you are a rockstar. There are other people in your organization that believe you have what it takes to be successful, but you also must remember to believe in yourself and be your personal cheerleader.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have lunch with Ursula Burns. She was able to become the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, so I would love to get advice from her on how to build a successful career, how to overcome that inner self doubt and how to manage your personal life while climbing to the top.

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