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C-suite execs share personal stories at Summit

Sunday, October 26, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Three female c-suite executives described the risks they took and the tough decisions they made during their journey to the top of the retail/cpg industry at the NEW Leadership Summit, Oct. 23 in Atlanta.

Sona Chawla, president, digital and chief marketing officer at Walgreen Co.; Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer for The Coca-Cola Company; and Jocelyn Wong, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Family Dollar Stores Inc., shared what they’ve learned about work/life balance, being a leader during challenging times and moving forward after a failure. Network of Executive Women Chair Betsy Hosick, general manager procurement, DM&S at Chevron Corporation, moderated the discussion.

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Chawla, who described the threads of her career journey as "opportunity, flexibility and evolution,” said work/life balance is "something I wrestle with, to this day. It’s very personal. Each woman’s circumstances and choices are different. You have to do what gives you peace and come to terms with what and who you are.”

Chawla and her husband decided to change their lives after having their first child and negotiating each day who would be home in time to relieve the nanny. The decision: her husband would stay at home while she pursued her career. "This was a big deal, especially for our relatives in India," Chawla said. "My parents thought the decision would not be good for our marriage.But I discovered I could have a career and [travel for my job] guilt-free. My husband made a huge sacrifice so that I could be all the things I could be. I may not appreciate it enough. My counsel on work/life balance is you’ve got to make it work for you.”

Perez, mom to a teen and preteen whose husband works at the CDC, approaches work/life balance as "total integration," she said. "I prioritize family. I am legendary for not staying in meetings if something with my children is going on. I go to their shows and plan the Halloween party.”

After the death of a mentor, Perez spoke to her husband about career sacrifices and considered her own eulogy and what her children would say about her when she passed. "What is important to us is God, family, our friends and then our jobs. We made a decision that our jobs would not get in the way of our family and it hasn’t."

As the head of Coca-Cola's sustainability efforts, Perez focuses on the next generation, the world's children. "My job allows me to keep my priorities and that means making choices and being willing to stand up and say, ‘I’m leaving right now and go to my daughter’s event’ or ‘a family commitment.’ In the past I’d hide and be at my kid’s event and stress out about someone finding out I was there. Now I am very upfront and my team appreciates it because they don’t have to hide anymore either.”

Wong is balancing family with the toughest job of her career, she said. "Family Dollar has been in the news recently [relating to a possible merger] and there has been a shift in the way I think about my job. I used to think in very technical terms about aligning our new digital strategies or how to work better with suppliers or take shopper marketing to the next level. Now, it’s about how I lead by example at a time when people have lots of questions. I have to think about what my job really is — and that is to inspire my team and make them feel great and valued every single day.”

The higher up the career ladder you go, she said, the easier it is to lose sight of all you have learned on the way. "Being a leader is not thinking about yourself, but about your team.”

Failure, Perez said, often leads to success. During the initial phase of a Coke rewards program, a misstep "crushed” her. "Then someone told me to ‘fail forward.’ He told me to look at the pieces of the program that worked and know my team will make it great. And they did,” she said. Today that program is the very successful My Coke Rewards.

NEW Chair Betsy Hosick of Chevron Corporation leads a discussion with
Sona Chawla of Walgreens, Bea Perez of The Coca-Cola Co. and Jocelyn
Wong of Family Dollar.

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