As leaders in the executive recruitment space, JM Search receives countless opportunities to meet remarkable women in leadership who have reached great heights in their careers. Through our Women Rising Series, I delve deeper into their incredible career journeys and uncover the helpful insights they’ve gained along the way.
In this edition, I was delighted to speak with Brigette Wolf, who started her role as Chief Marketing Officer of My/Mochi this year. Prior to this role, Brigette made a significant mark at Mondelēz International over a 20-year tenure, taking on a wide range of leadership roles—VP, Global Head of SnackFutures; Senior Director, Global Platform Innovation; Senior Brand Manager, Belvita and Fuel Innovation; and beyond.
Brigette’s emphasis on trust, respect, and self-advocacy has allowed her to effectively lead teams in global corporations while achieving growth in her own career. Here are the insights she had to share.
Thinking about the people you’ve admired throughout your career, are there any characteristics they demonstrated that you try to mirror?
Humility is one of the greatest pieces, and respecting others at all levels. I’ve been with chairmen of businesses who spoke equally to the most junior person as they did to the one just below them. Their seniority was very clear, but they treated every individual—both their intellect and capability—in a way that allowed people to rise to a higher occasion.
When someone with such seniority and power shares their power, it is amazing how everything grows and elevates. There is this misconception that if you hoard the information, you will own it all. Actually, you weaken the entire system.
To share space and thoughts with others, to invite challenges and different perspectives, creates a more human and really incredible professional environment because you get the best thinking and conversations. You also get the best commitment.
At corporations like Mondelēz, when someone taps you on the shoulder to take on a new opportunity, is there a downside to saying, “I want to stay here for another six months?” Does it make more sense to say, “If they think I can do it, I can?”
This sometimes requires reading the room and the opportunity. Years ago, I was given an amazing opportunity to join the Global Category team at Oreo, which was a magnificent experience that opened new doors, but it was funny when it was presented to me. It wasn’t a question of readiness—it wasn’t the promotion I wanted.
In a conversation, it became abundantly clear that if I did not take this role, I would become a persona non grata. I decided to take it and see what would happen. As a result, that person who presented the opportunity became more of a champion for me in that domain, and other things unfolded from it.
I think, sometimes, you feel like you’re not ready. I would say you probably are. Your company wouldn’t be tapping you if you weren’t. Big companies in particular are known not to give lots of credit of capabilities and expertise for a long time. If they’re coming to you, it’s because they have more than vetted you and you are more than ready for that position.
Let’s say you had a peer who didn’t get their shoulder tapped, but they feel like they’re capable. Are there opportunities for people like that in big corporations?
There are a couple things to think about. First, what is an opportunity? There’s the quintessential promotion, but there are learnings you can get in the role you have and areas where you can reach out and say, “I’d love to help you on this.” So, within your universe, what can you control? You can also reach out to the people who would have roles on their teams that you’d want and say, “Hey, I know you don’t have an opening now, but I’m very interested in this. Should something come up, let me know.”
A second big piece for women—and I felt this way for a long time— is thinking, “If I just do my work, which is really good, and I work really hard, isn’t that enough?” No, it is not enough unless you are also promoting yourself. Even though something might come naturally to you, give yourself credit where credit is due to allow others to see your effort.
No one, on most days, is thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. On the few times they do—during panel reviews or talent reviews—they’re still thinking largely about themselves. That’s just human nature. The person who’s going to do the most advocacy for yourself is truly you.
It’s internal networking. Don’t assume people know the great work you do. Don’t assume they know what you’re interested in. Communicate and explain what you want and don’t be shy or apologetic about it.
When you think about the development and mentorship of people on your team, how do you approach that? What do you hold them accountable for in their own development?
I adhere to that golden rule of, “How did I want to be treated as an employee?” Sometimes, I joke that I wish I had me as a manager, and I’m far from perfect. I try to go a bit out of the way to understand who my employees are, so I can give them assignments that make sense and respect when something is harder, more time consuming, or going to interfere with their personal life.
Years ago, a manager gave me his expectations of working together. It was a pretty good level-setting and grounding. So, I’ll say, “This is how I work. This is what I expect from you.” At the same time, I’ll work with them on specific skills or give them assignments they want to work on.
Empowering people also means trusting them. If you trust them, you’ve given them the power to do it. It’s fun watching their growth, and their voice and opinions pipe in. If you don’t trust them, you’re checking up on them, and that’s not the same.
Let’s talk about your recent move to My/Mochi. What made you say yes? What pulled you over to a new company after 20 years at Mondelēz?
It was the right place, right time, right team.
The product is fabulous. It’s ice cream covered in pillowy soft rice dough. It was a blend of Japanese mochi and American ice cream that came together in the ‘90s. It has its roots in LA and this Japanese heritage. I saw this incredible opportunity. They had a great product and name, but not true brand equity and consumer connection.
When they were looking for the CMO role, they came to me. It was a bit serendipitous. I was looking to help them find the right candidate, looking for names, and they asked, “Why not you?”
In this case I was like, “I can help. I know brand strategy and I know consumer centricity. I can do innovation.” It was an opportunity to really grow this brand and take it to the next level and expand internationally, which has always been a passion for me.
I got lucky. It was a team that, when I met them, was so willing and eager to partner with me and to listen. I think it’s a magnificent feeling to put all these years of experience and expertise into practice and have those opinions so valued. We’re changing so much on this brand and rebuilding it with the consumer in mind. That is so liberating, and it is so much fun.
Any words of advice you would have for women at any point in their career?
Always trust yourself and have faith in yourself. Be solid with who you are. My daughters roll their eyes a lot when I say this, but I’m not joking: Every once in a while, stand in front of the mirror and say, “You are beautiful, and you are smart, and you are kind and you are enough.” When the floor has been wiped out from under you, you really have to trust yourself and your abilities.
But be open enough for new opportunities and feedback. We are not perfect, and we all have blind spots. In the moments where things haven’t gone right, instead of being defensive, think, “There’s something in here I can learn from.”
A moment of pause and self-reflection can pull yourself out of the emotional response, so you can move forward and actually be your best self.
A very special thank you to Brigette Wolf for her insights and thoughts!
For more insights from women in executive leadership, read the previous installment of our Women Rising Series featuring Helayna Minsk, PPI Beauty Board Director.