Take time to make a positive impact on someone every day — at the end of the day, this is what really matters, and what others will remember. I have had several managers that have the unique ability to focus on what matters and let go of the small stuff.
I had the pleasure to interview Sona Bajaria, the VP Marketing for The Glenlivet and High-End Irish Whiskies at Pernod Ricard USA
Thank you so much for joining us Sona! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was pre-med in college, but happen to take a marketing course senior year. I fell in love with the idea of people meets psychology meets business. I then was lucky enough to start my brand management career right out of college at American Express in New York, at the heart of some many successful companies with great brand management expertise.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at The Glenlivet?
Since starting as the VP of Marketing at The Glenlivet almost 3 years ago, I have grown my team from under 10 people to almost 25. In that evolution, I have had the opportunity to meet several potential candidates. In those moments, I realized that who you hire has a significant impact on the shape of your team and ultimately the shape of the brands that you deliver.
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?
There have been several times I have tried to be funny in meetings, or crack a joke or two. Due to the crickets and awkward laughs, I have quickly realized that it is not my forte. I have realized that I need to lean into where I am strong — which is my personal and human side when it comes to breaking the ice in the room or creating an introduction.
What do you think makes the brands you work on stand out? Can you share a specific story?
I’m fortunate to lead a pretty diverse portfolio of brands that range from high-end Irish whiskeys to gin to single malt Scotch, like The Glenlivet, which really stands out for me at the moment. Here I am, a woman, the daughter of Indian immigrants, leading a brand in a category associated with — let’s be honest — old, male, etc. I really want to open the category, which means changing the way we show up as a brand.One way we’ve done this is by recently launching a series called Conversations for Change. Our first event honored Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders and brought together allies and activists from all different industries in support of the initiative. It was humbling to be in a room with such influential men and women. At the same time, it gave me a tremendous sense of pride to be leading the brand on this new journey of progress and change — especially when it’s a departure from what the category typically represents.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m excited about the work we’re doing with The Glenlivet to drive conversation around challenging standards and expanding perspectives. In a practical sense we want to challenge what the single malt Scotch category is traditionally perceived to be — out of reach, stuffy, older, cigar smoking on leather couches. I’d love to see the brand become more of a symbol of openness and universality. As we make this evolution, we’re taking a more active role in causes that promote this, while engaging partners and supporting initiatives that connect consumers through a shared vision of inclusivity and new perspectives. To date, this includes proud partnerships with High Snobiety, LA Summit, Forbes Women’s Summit and Time’s Up. We hope this will open the category to new consumers, and as a brand we’re in a unique position to help amplify this conversation.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Build a culture where your team isn’t inhibited by fear of failure. We hear it all the time — don’t be afraid to fail — but it isn’t that simple, is it? As leaders we have a responsibility to create that safe space by actively managing risk to give others appropriate leeway to push existing perceptions and encourage new perspectives.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
From my perspective, advice for any leader in re: to large teams is 1) surround yourself with people who you can learn from and 2) trust them. New leaders especially want to be involved in everything, but it’s essential to tap into the expertise of others to help manage the larger team. It’s not only empowering but gives other managers a real stake in the game.
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?
Definitely. My father helped me get to where I am today. His strongest trait was integrity- ensuring to do the right thing when no one was looking. I remind myself of this trait everyday. Although it is not always easy, I think about this all of the time. He also thought it was important to leave a strong legacy behind. I try to think about this as well in my day to day, as it helps you to focus on what actually matters, especially as it relates to the workplace.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Looking at my career, I feel extremely fortunate to work for a company that values positive change, and where I can champion a more progressive mindset both internally and externally. One of the special ways I’ve been able to do this is through my role as an executive sponsor of Pernod Ricard’s Women’s Resource Network, where we’ve sparked genuine conversations on gender equality and worked to bring value to the female and male community through various initiatives (financial investing, health benefits, etc.) Through my work as the VP of Marketing for The Glenlivet, I’m honored to contribute to the continued creation of a purposeful brand that is expanding perceptions on a category and topics that are often taken at face value.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Put your teams on the stage — as leaders we not only need to surround ourselves with people smarter than us, but give them the spotlight and let them shine
2. You should feel uncomfortable almost every day — if you’re not, you’re likely not bringing anything new to the table or moving things forward in a meaningful way
3. Make it personal — Getting to know others and building relationships is essential to good business, and it makes your work infinitely more enjoyable
4. Never doubt yourself — you likely know the most on your subject matter, so don’t forget it
5. Take time to make a positive impact on someone every day — at the end of the day, this is what really matters, and what others will remember. I have had several managers that have the unique ability to focus on what matters and let go of the small stuff.
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’d love to see everyone have a seat at the table — literally. At Pernod Ricard we have a lot of young, impressionable talent, like our brand ambassadors who are often out in the field or normally behind the bar. They’ll come into meetings at our offices and inevitably sit on the sidelines or in a corner, and I’ll invite them to take a seat alongside the executives. I think physically having a seat at the table has a real impact on the psyche. I see a serious boost in confidence and participation. It’s a small but important gesture that will hopefully has outsized impact personally and professionally for the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” It’s a quote by philosopher William James that I will always remember hanging in my Dad’s library. My Dad’s life was cut short by pancreatic cancer, so it’s an especially poignant reminder that time is precious, and that whatever it is you want to achieve, you just have to go for it.
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.
Will and Jada Smith! I’m obsessed with the Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk. It’s extraordinary to see this famous family come together and engage in such open and honest dialogue on so many relatable topics — from parenting to marriage to relationships, to just daring to be different. I love them as entertainers, but truly admire the sincerity and vulnerability that comes with these episodes. There’s a lot to be learned from them.