Lisa Mann on the importance of loving what you do

In January 2015 Lisa Mann joined KIND Healthy Snacks as Executive Vice President of Marketing. Prior to that she spent over a decade at Kraft Foods and Mondelez. I met with Lisa in her new office at KIND and she talked about the importance of following your gut and the strong bond she shares with her family.

  Lisa at Kind Head Office image: Forbes

Lisa at Kind Head Office image: Forbes

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I never really had the ‘one thing’, but I did have an interest in being a child psychologist.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Jimmy Fallon: He's funny and smart. While his humor is often based on self-deprecation – and even sometimes a little mocking – he does it in a loving way.
Madonna: Who wouldn't want Madonna at their dinner party? She has re-invented herself so many times and managed to stay topical and relevant. And she looks awesome!
John Irving: He's very cerebral but he has a way of being a mirror on the world in a way that speaks to me.

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. It’s a book that really reflects the struggles we all have everyday in dealing with love, loss, happiness, sadness, disappointment, accidents and disaster. He has a way of making you ultimately positive, but allows you to see and understand what's going on in your own life. I've always been a fan of his.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I go to bed close to 11pm (so I have to record Jimmy Fallon and binge over the weekend) and then I wake up around 6am. 

What is your favorite time of the working week?
Absolutely Mondays and Fridays. I love beginnings so Mondays are a fresh start to plan the week. Then I love Fridays because it's going to be the weekend. 

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
My career path is winding. Right out of college I started in sales for Hewlett-Packard. They were the ‘it’ company in technology, but there was a technology downturn and their products weren’t meeting new needs. I knew I wanted to be further upstream with regards to business and product portfolio strategy.

I went to business school and while I was there I interviewed at General Foods (which became Kraft). I was hooked for life. I still keep in touch with the Head of Marketing that interviewed me. I went to General Foods as a summer intern on Tang doing the Hispanic marketing and completely fell in love with marketing and consumers.

The company became Kraft General Foods, then Kraft Foods and I climbed the ladder until my husband’s career had us leaving New York. For the 14 years that followed I was essentially “marketing directors R us,” meaning I started a consulting firm where I did what I’d always done, but for clients around the country. I partnered with two entrepreneurs to launch and grow very small businesses. I was a consultant for brands like Barilla Pasta and General Electric and I worked in many different categories. I always worked but I also got to be with my kids. For instance, when I worked with Barilla I was onsite till 3.30pm every day and then I would pick my kids up and be back online later. I was always able to have an interesting career, but looked after my kids as well.

We followed my husband’s career to Atlanta, then Denver and then Chicago. I will say that at the time I was frustrated that my husband's career took me off the grid but when I look back now I really appreciate that those experiences are irreplaceable and I was able to bring up my kids the way I wanted to.

When we were in Chicago I was invited to go back to Kraft (which then became Mondelez). In my seven years there I worked in marketing services for a while before leading the marketing for Oreo and then the global gum business, which included brands like Trident and Stride.

In early 2015 I left Mondelez to join KIND Healthy Snacks as EVP of marketing. My husband and I are looking to move closer to the city. With the kids in college and one working, we’re now empty nesters!

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
All those years ago, when my husband had us move, I thought that would be devastating and detrimental to my career progression. I believed that I would not be able to have the career I wanted. I wasn't ready to step away and worried that once I stepped off I wouldn't be successful. In hindsight, it was precious time that allowed me to work but also be with my children. 

  Lisa at Kind Head Office image: Forbes

Lisa at Kind Head Office image: Forbes

What motivates you?
Personal happiness. My parents both died young, so I'm the type of person who asks myself every day, what am I loving and what am I not loving? I still work because I love it.  Everything I do has to be contributing to my personal happiness. 

People also motivate me. I’m truly fascinated by learning how to connect with people – either personally or through my marketing work.

What advice would you give to your children at the start of their career?
My son is six months into his first job. He graduated college in May so this is very topical and I am very clear with my advice. 

Listen to your Gut: You really always know the right thing to do. You have to turn off the voices of what you should do, what would impress other people, what other people want you to do and trust your gut. I believe that so deeply in everything.

And equally important, Always be planning, but never have a plan: You always have to be thinking about Plan B. Seek out your passions and what interests you, but never have a firm plan because there's no reason to and it will block off opportunities.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My relationship with my children. They are three adults now and we have a really wonderful adult friendship. I'm obviously also their mother, but we still talk. They engage me in their lives and, honestly, as millennials, they influence me in many ways at work and in how I see the world. 

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
My sense of humor. Since I love my work I have drive and ambition, but I really think that a sense of humor is a way to connect with people and also invite them in or deflate stressful situations. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Be open to possibilities, new ideas and new opportunities. My entire career has been serendipitous because I’ve allowed different paths to unfold before me. For instance, my husband’s new job "made me leave my job" which then allowed me to meet a wonderful entrepreneur who I worked with for 3 years, built a business and then sold it to another company. That would never have happened if I’d stuck to my plan. 

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?
A good listener, a collaborative style and a talent for developing people. 

Do you believe there's a secret to rising to the top?
The foundation to rising up has to be that you really love what you do. It can't be blind ambition. I know people rise because of blind ambition and, therefore, there are behaviors that I might not want to emulate. The leaders that I admire are the ones that clearly love what they do.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
My kids and my husband. My kids are old enough now that I can be completely honest with them. The part that cracks me up is that now my son, who is the oldest, will text me advice that I've given him. He uses the same pithy statements that I'll use and he'll text me words of encouragement and affirmation. 

What's next?
I just made a big career move. I’ve only been at KIND Healthy Snacks for a month and I’m inspired to partner with the founder to take this company to the next level. In doing so I believe we have to remember where the brand came from and build on the mission that’s always been there. It’s incredibly inspiring.  

As told to Caroline Hugall at Kind Offices in New York on Wednesday 4th February 2015.