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Energising Leadership

Insights from Sophie Kelly on Driving Transformative Change

Nicola Nimmo shares insights from her recent conversation with Sophie Kelly, SVP of Global Tequila and Mezcal categories at Diageo, highlighting Sophie's inspirational leadership journey and emphasising the power of personal energy, legacy building, and inspiring teams to drive transformative change.

I had the great pleasure of hosting the wonderful Sophie Kelly, SVP of Global Tequila and Mescal categories at DIAGEO, on behalf of The Marketing Society at their event on 15 February in New York.

I put Sophie ‘under the spotlight’ to ask her about her inspirational leadership journey… and we ended up chatting for nearly an hour! I’m delighted to be able to share some of the highlights with you.

Throughout our conversation, Sophie spoke a lot about her discovery of her own ‘energy’. The notion that you gravitate towards the things and people that give you energy, and move away from those that diminish it. This was an important recurring theme.

She pointed out that, when you’re CMO or CEO, you are essentially a Chief ‘Mood’ Officer and this is a big responsibility. Hence, it’s important to carefully manage your energy and understand the impact you are having on others. It becomes equally vital, of course, to work out how to remove yourself from situations where you feel your energy is being drained. Particularly when it’s to the detriment of your team and the work they’re doing.

Sophie went on to express how motivated she is by leaving a valuable legacy. To strive to create something that looks and feels different – and better – from where she started. She explained that to achieve it, you really must get under the skin of how that transformation is driven forward. Something she’s tried to do throughout her career, including in her recent DIAGEO roles.

I then pushed Sophie to share some of her secrets on exactly how she drives transformation, and her response was fascinating…

She explained how she applies her own energy management and transformation as a leadership strategy within the team. She also described how grateful she feels that her own career has been a series of new and different experiences that she’s learned from. They’ve all enabled her to approach each role with energy, excitement and passion.

Sophie was at pains to highlight that, when it comes to your team, be sure to surround yourself with people who have the same agenda and who are aligned to achieving the same goal, and then focus those people on what needs to be done to be successful. As part of this, it becomes imperative to shield your people and move them away from all the distracting and unhelpful ‘noise’ in the system.

Wrapping up, Sophie talked about the power of understanding your personal purpose as a way to push forward transformation. She explained that purpose inevitably changes as you progress through your career. The important thing is to make sure you are clear on yours at each stage. As Sophie pointed out: “I could tell you my purpose from 20 years ago… I’d get up in the morning simply to create great work. These days, I’ve realized I use creativity for transformative change. My team told me that my purpose is to inspire the dreamer in everybody. This really made me reflect and has definitely stayed with me.”

So, the main takeaways from our conversation were…

  • Understand how you can manage your personal energy and the things that surround you,
  • Consider carefully what legacy you want to leave and drive transformation accordingly.
  • Surrounding yourself with a team that shares – and is inspired by – your agenda.
  • Clearly define your purpose at each stage of your career and use it to inform everything you do.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge “thank you!” to Sophie for being so candid and sharing her valuable leadership experiences, insight and motivations.


Written by Nicola Nimmo, Managing Director, MBAstack

Published on 11 March 2024


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