Women Of The C-Suite: “Set a goal, work toward it and never give up” With Rashida La Lande, SVP at The Kraft Heinz Company

“I dream it, I work hard/I grind ’til I own it” from Beyoncé’s song “Formation.” (It doesn’t always have to be Gandhi!) What I find…

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“I dream it, I work hard/I grind ’til I own it” from Beyoncé’s song “Formation.” (It doesn’t always have to be Gandhi!) What I find inspiring about this quote is the work ethic that’s inherent in it. It’s not about things coming to you; it’s about setting a goal, working toward it and never giving up. It’s the willingness to continue to pursue; to know that you’re going to fail, and that you have to keep pushing through it, anyway. That’s the inspiration.

I had the pleasure to interview Rashida La Lande, General Counsel, Senior Vice President & Corporate Secretary of The Kraft Heinz Company.

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

When I was growing up in Queens, N.Y., I felt like there were limited opportunities for me. It was a small, working-class neighborhood best known for producing rappers and basketball players. And the only people I knew who’d gotten out of that neighborhood were rappers, basketball players, doctors and lawyers. Well, I’m not tall enough to play ball; I have no musical talent; and I vomit at the sight of blood. So guess what? I became a lawyer.

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

One of the essays I wrote in applying to law school (I attended Columbia) was about the five people I would like to invite to a dream dinner party. Shortly after joining Kraft Heinz this year, I had the chance to bring this to life by sitting down for dinner with one of my dream guests, former Kraft Heinz Board member Warren Buffett. I was terribly nervous and he was terribly kind. After dinner, I immediately called my husband but assumed Mr. Buffett would forget about our conversation.

To my surprise, at a work event a few months later, Mr. Buffett sat down next to me. He immediately started asking about my projects, my family…. He even remembered my children’s names, proving it is possible to be smart, wildly successful and lovely all at the same time.

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?

Not long after joining Kraft Heinz, I went with our CEO Bernardo Hees and our U.S. Operations team on a tour of a few of our factories. I had been to manufacturing plants before, but never USDA- or FDA-regulated food facilities. I asked around and was told to be sure to dress warmly, as it can get cold in refrigerated plants. So I wore jeans and a sweater with a jacket, expecting to remove my jewelry and put on a hair net, lab coat, gloves, and protective goggles. However, no one mentioned shoes. I assumed I should go for comfort, given all the walking we’d do.

But to the horror of people working in the plants, I showed up in my everyday open-toed Ferragamo flats. We went to four plants that day and I had to borrow socks, shoes, and over-the-shoe boots from female employees in each of them. As the day went on, the plant managers started calling ahead to ask the teams to solicit shoe-and-socks donations for me. I was mortified! But the people in plants were incredibly gracious. Bernardo and the Operations team waited until the tours were over and then teased me mercilessly about being a city slicker and boardroom lawyer! I ended the trip feeling like a member of the manufacturing team after that.

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

The Kraft Heinz culture of Meritocracy and Ownership. This is a place where if you perform well and achieve results, you will be appreciated and promoted. There is a focus here on objective metrics that is unique and refreshing in corporate America — particularly for women and people of color. In addition, as the General Counsel, I feel empowered to solve problems creatively, effectively and efficiently.

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

Because Kraft Heinz is a public company, what I’m working on is either confidential or non-public. But it’s all exciting! Working at a public company and being fairly new to my General Counsel role, I have to think about what laws are implicated, what regulations are involved … what are the best solutions for the company. But that’s what’s fun about it — it’s all a process.

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

Manage, but don’t micromanage. Build a strong team that you trust; give them clear guidance and establish goalposts on the direction you want for the team. Have your team members report to you regularly, but give them the space to operate and grow on their own.

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

It’s no big secret that girls are socialized differently than boys. Sometimes, we need to overcome some of this in order to be successful in our careers — sitting in the back of the room, apologizing too much, not letting our voices be heard, and so on. However, some of the very characteristics that make it difficult to move ahead can be very effective in managing a team — listening effectively, managing through difference, building though consensus. Play to your strengths, and make sure that you surround yourself with some team members who you trust, but whose strengths and weaknesses are different from yours. They’ll come up with ideas that would never occur to you — and will protect your blind spots at the same time.

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?

There are too many to count. When I looked at my success at the law firm (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York), there were people who were mentors and guided me through day-to-day issues, legal matters, how to deal with clients. I definitely had sponsors who would advise me on how to get to the next goal in my career. And I would also say there were people who worked in the support center, IT, the mailroom and who were assistants that were just as critical to my success. They had my back, and they helped me perform when I needed it… and without them, my work product would have suffered. And my husband and my parents, of course! My success has always been a team effort.

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

I’m active in a number of non-profits, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Boys’ Club of New York, and the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a New York-based organization offering comprehensive, holistic, and long-term support services to young people between 8 and 22 years old.

Also, my family has hosted a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving for nearly 30 years. Actually, my dad — an attorney who’s active in countless non-profits — started it along with one of the organizations he runs in Queens, N.Y. It became a family affair. We solicit a lot of food donations. When people are cooking for Thanksgiving, they make an extra turkey, extra macaroni and cheese, fish — and also donate clothes and children’s and baby gear. There are years when we’ve had people lined up around the block; there are other years when we’ve had so much food that we were able to donate to nursing homes and homeless shelters in the area. It always makes me appreciate that we’re doing the right thing. It’s a great way to both give back to the community and recognize what Thanksgiving is about — which is being thankful for family and food and the opportunities that we have.

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

1. Treat everything as a learning opportunity. Take the time to strategize and come up with a plan for every decision that you make and then, after the results are in, take the time to revisit your plan and assumptions. What went as expected and what didn’t? Learn from the data and use what you learned on your next project.

2. Trust yourself. Most of us have a little voice inside that pops up at the worst possible moments and causes us to question ourselves. My team came to me to for guidance on a minor crisis and at first, when presented with the issue, I heard that voice and it instigated an immediate panic. “How are you going to deal with this? This could have serious repercussions and you have never dealt with this issue before.” I steadied myself and told that voice to hush. I knew the law. I had seen companies deal with the issue many times. I had seen where the strategy worked and when it didn’t and even been on the post-Mortem team that analyzed the response. And I have a strong team. We worked together and I am proud of the way we handled it.

3. There are no short cuts to success. It’s all about the process. Never give up. You WILL fail. You WILL make mistakes. If you get knocked down, get up, and keep pushing forward.

4. Enjoy what you are doing. Every single day, I learn something new or face a new challenge. I love my work as the General Counsel of Kraft Heinz.

5. Remember that everyone’s voices count. Great ideas, valuable contributions and inspiration can come from anywhere. Stay open and open-minded to all possibilities.

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 hope to inspire more people to learn more about and work with Kraft Heinz and the Kraft Heinz Company Foundation to achieve our goal of eliminating world hunger, which impacts a shocking 800 million people worldwide. Kraft Heinz food science and nutrition experts developed a micronutrient packet that contains vitamins and minerals essential for healthy growth and development. As a company, we have pledged to deliver 1 billion meals to people in need by the year 2021, and have partnered with non-profit organizations such as Rise Against Hunger (a global hunger relief agency), Feeding America, and local food banks and community gardens throughout the U.S. to feed people in need. This is a cause that’s near and dear to me — especially since fighting hunger in local communities has been so important to my family and me for decades.

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

“I dream it, I work hard/I grind ’til I own it” from Beyoncé’s song “Formation.” (It doesn’t always have to be Gandhi!) What I find inspiring about this quote is the work ethic that’s inherent in it. It’s not about things coming to you; it’s about setting a goal, working toward it and never giving up. It’s the willingness to continue to pursue; to know that you’re going to fail, and that you have to keep pushing through it, anyway. That’s the inspiration.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me and connect on LinkedIn.

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Originally published at medium.com

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