Theresa Alesso of Sony Electronics: “Being a female leader at Sony, I want to inspire young women and young people to understand that they can do anything”

Being a female leader at Sony, I want to inspire young women and young people to understand that they can do anything. I started as an administrative professional. I took every opportunity that was granted to me. Sony opened the door to allow me to get my Master’s, but I worked hard to get it. […]

Being a female leader at Sony, I want to inspire young women and young people to understand that they can do anything. I started as an administrative professional. I took every opportunity that was granted to me. Sony opened the door to allow me to get my Master’s, but I worked hard to get it. I want people to be true to themselves and realize the value in hard work, dedication, passion for what you do and the people that you do it with, which can accomplish great things.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Theresa Alesso, Division President at Sony Electronics. Theresa Alesso joined Sony Electronics as an administrative professional in 1990 and has continued to grow her career within the company. She is a seasoned executive with nearly 30 years of experience in the professional electronics industry, serving a wide array of diverse markets such as education, healthcare and broadcast/production.

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

My degree was in advertising and corporate communications. While I didn’t know exactly where my career would take me, I did have several elements on my wish list. My father worked in New York City his whole life, and our family would eat dinner at 8:00 pm every night. I knew this wasn’t the lifestyle I envisioned for myself since I wanted to be a mom and would need to balance everything. Since I live in New Jersey, I opted to focus my job search in New Jersey. I interviewed for an opportunity in advertising at Sony in New Jersey and an opportunity in advertising at AT&T and ultimately took the position at Sony. That was the start of my 29-year career in electronics.

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

While it wasn’t in my current role, I’ve had some exciting experiences during my time at Sony. One interesting story that will always simultaneously make me laugh and feel a sense of pride, began with a group I was leading to try to win a contract with the National Football League (NFL). I brought together a strong Sony team — all of them were men except for me — to meet with the 32 NFL teams. After a lot of hard work, under my leadership and guidance, Sony was able to outplace another electronics company to win a $22M deal with the NFL for video production equipment, which was used to capture practices. As a result of this landmark deal, my group won an internal Sony award in our offices in Tokyo. When our group walked up on stage to receive our award, many people in our Japanese led organization were shocked to realize that I was a woman. The award we were presented, which still remains in my office, says “To T. Alesso and his team.” Through that win and all of the other leadership opportunities I’ve been given at Sony, it has made me realize how fortunate and how progressive Sony is on both a national and global level.

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?

My lesson was really about knowing your strengths and having others who can help you advocate for them. Early on in my career at Sony, I was serving in an administrative function and one of my responsibilities was helping to organize the Vice President’s schedule. During my second week on the job, I inadvertently sent the company helicopter to pick up the Sony leadership team at the wrong helipad! To make matters worse, it was a rainy day, but I’m glad to say that 29 years later, I’m still employed!

The lesson I learned from this incident was to keep powering through. I took one for the team, owned up to it and eventually got the helicopter where it needed to go. But I didn’t lose my cool, I didn’t walk away and I ensured that the situation was rectified. The Vice President I supported who waited out in the rain for the helicopter was kind enough to realize that scheduling helicopters may not be what I’m really good at, but through all of the customer relationships and logistical challenges I worked through to fix the problem, he realized that customer service would be a better-suited role for me and I got a promotion a few months later.

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

Sony stands out with the care it takes in the customer relationships we build. We are not in this line of work for transactional relationships, but for deeper rooted reasons that support the customer and their business for the long term.

One example of this is our work with Montclair State University, in our backyard in New Jersey. The university was working with another electronics company, which was a very transactional relationship. Montclair State University was looking to align with a manufacturer on a much deeper level as they began to formulate the plans for a new state-of-the-art multimedia broadcast facility. After meeting with Sony, the university clearly saw that our work with them would be less about the single sale and more as a partner who really understands where they are taking the university. We were both invested in how this project would position their campus and curriculum, and how we could work together as leaders in both of our respective industries to help get them there.

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

I am actively involved and invested in a work-life balance project at Sony, as well as the initiative to create a more diverse work environment — both of which are key to the success of the business in the future. As a woman in a leadership role, and a mom, these are both topics that are very important to me and to my fellow colleagues. There are advantage and disadvantages to living in today’s environment, where phones enable us to be connected at all times. One of the key objectives of this initiative is to learn how to better empower people to strategize and balance their work and home environment. In my mind, it’s about work/life integration, because work really is a subset of life, as are our families and hobbies.

For our diverse work environment project, studies show that a more diverse leadership board means more profit and more wins. As one of the only females at Sony in a position at this level, I take it very personally to ensure that we create and foster an even more diverse and inclusive working environment both inside and outside of Sony.

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

My advice to other female leaders is to empower their team. Let your team have the autonomy they need to learn, to grown and to make mistakes — as long as you’re there to pick them up, dust them off and get them back on the right track. The stereotype of female leaders is often that they’re controlling, but what I’ve found and what I truly believe is that female leaders listen better and have a better method of communicating with employees. You need to take that strength and ignite it to allow your team to flourish.

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?

Personally, I did not have one single mentor. My career has grown under the leadership, guidance and support of many. That said, I did have one particular individual during my career who was key to elevating me to a leadership role. What is very interesting about this individual, Steve, is that he has two daughters himself. When the company was looking for someone to be the director of News and Network Operations at Sony, which is a highly technical, broadcast-centric, old school and male-dominated area of business, I had no newsroom experience. But Steve gave me the opportunity after multiple interviews because he saw something in me, trusted in me, believed in me and knew that I would work hard to learn what I didn’t already know. I also went out on a limb and bid on the position, which is something I’d recommend to any female leader. It’s often not in a woman’s DNA to take too many risks or to apply for jobs that we’re not 90% qualified. In this instance, I had 70% of qualifications and I was going to work my butt off to challenge myself and learn that other 30%. Steve gave me that opportunity and it was in part because he saw my drive and my past work experience, but also because he was a father of two young women coming into their own in the business world and I think he was also trying to pay it forward. That is something I try to do every day on the job.

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

I think because of my success and the role that I have at Sony I’m able to inspire other young women to break the glass ceiling and strive for a leadership role. Because of the role that I’m in and the balance that it affords, I have the good fortune to spend time with the charities and organizations that are meaningful to me, whether it’s the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Girl Scouts, running groups within my town or volunteering at organizations in the local community. I try to give back based on what I’ve learned through growing up at Sony and working with the community. It’s easy to walk away or do nothing, but Sony is committed to giving back, which provides a platform and the encouragement for people in our organization to give back.

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

  1. Be firm. People need to know that you’re approachable, but steadfast
  2. Be fair. You can’t have favorites
  3. Be consistent. Employees always need to know where you stand and what your core values are
  4. Be a good listener and a good leader. I know where I want to take the company but my ideas alone won’t take us there. I need to listen to members of the team from the bottom up.
  5. You’re not always right. It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong. In a leadership role, you make decisions, you track the implications and results and if it’s not the right trajectory you have to be strong enough as a leader to say you’re wrong. We’re all human. Not all decisions are right. Be big enough to own up to your mistakes, rectify them and then get right back on track.

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. 🙂

Being a female leader at Sony, I want to inspire young women and young people to understand that they can do anything. I started as an administrative professional. I took every opportunity that was granted to me. Sony opened the door to allow me to get my Master’s, but I worked hard to get it. I want people to be true to themselves and realize the value in hard work, dedication, passion for what you do and the people that you do it with, which can accomplish great things.

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

My favorite quote is actually a saying that is prominently displayed on my desk: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail.” The key is to always put yourself out there and take every opportunity and it will lead to greatness. If you sit back and second guess yourself and wonder about the outcome, you’ll never push yourself to greatness.

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 admire Beth Comstock who is a former vice chair of General Electric and the author of “Imagine it Forward,” one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about change management in leadership roles and how to provoke change in a stagnant environment. Reading the book helped frame many ideas and solidify approaches that I’ve taken into my current role. Her experiences as a mother and businesswoman resonate with me and I appreciate our common background in the broadcast industry. Her focus on courage and creativity in the face of change inspires me.

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