Heineken® is famous for its 150-year-old beer recipe. But there is no recipe when it comes to women succeeding at HEINEKEN USA (HUSA), and that’s something we’re just as proud of. In the past, beer has been a male-dominated field, but HUSA is proudly at the forefront of changing that – with women making up 40% of our workforce and 50% of senior management. It’s especially relevant today, as the national conversation about gender equality has never been louder or clearer. We’re always looking to be even more conscientious about diversity and inclusiveness while Brewing a Better World.
In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, HUSA spotlights three exceptional employees working in varying functions within the company and asks them to share their perspectives on being women working in beer. Their words are authentic and powerful, reminding us that without an investment in women, HUSA wouldn’t be the company we are today.
Tell us about your journey to – and within – HEINEKEN USA.
Makesha Brewer (Off Premise Sales Specialist): I’ve been with HEINEKEN since December 2015 in the Dallas Market. I started off as an Off Premise Manager then transitioned to a Sales Specialist during the Route to Market switch. Prior to working for HEINEKEN, I worked for PepsiCo for three years in their Foodservice Sales division. I got into the beverage industry because I thought it would be awesome to work for companies that produce the brands I love in my personal time. What caught my interest initially about working for HEINEKEN was Dos Equis. I was in college when The Most Interesting Man campaign came out and I can remember Dos Equis being the beer to have at all occasions. I really enjoy working for HEINEKEN. It’s a company that truly cares about its employees. In my role, we constantly get training on how to improve the market and grow our own personal careers.
Pattie Falch (Brand Director Sponsorships & Events): I came to HUSA in 1996, when we were still a very new and small company. I had been working in the legal field and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. My friend was a headhunter and she told me that HUSA had an office in White Plains and they were looking for someone in their Corporate Relations department. When I interviewed, the HR people thought I’d be really good in marketing, where there was also an opening. But it turned out to not quite be the job I thought it was going to be. It was more of an assistant than a coordinator. The first day, the head of marketing asked me to get him a cup of coffee! I didn’t even drink coffee at the time. I called my husband and I said, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ He said, ‘You’re 15 minutes from home, stick it out for a year.’ And now almost 22 years later, I’m still here. There were only 56 people in the company when I started, and no one in marketing was really running the US Open, which was a huge sponsorship that HEINEKEN Global had secured. I was willing to jump in and that was really the very beginning of my career in sponsorships at HEINEKEN.
Lauren Tang (National Demand & Sales and Operations Manager): I came from the cosmetics industry, which is heavily female-dominated as you can imagine, working for L’Oréal in the supply chain for two and a half years. I wanted to explore a different industry, but I really enjoyed supply chain, so I found myself talking to a recruiter one day and she put me in touch with HEINEKEN. Less than a month later I had an offer, which was really exciting. When I started, I was just taken away by how different it was. I spent a few months “being a sponge,” trying to absorb as much as I could, and then I settled in and found my place. I manage the S&OP process, which is a cross-functional, strategic process that provides to the business and to the breweries an unbiased view of the volume we will deliver. Throughout my time here, we have worked to evolve the S&OP process. We’ve tried new things, seen what works and what doesn’t. Change requires a lot of bravery. But I learned very early in life from my dad that being a good corporate communicator can pave the way to success. So one of the things I worked on very consciously in my first year here was my communication skills. Some of the things I learned were: preparation is key and generates confidence, be transparent about your agenda, and be more interested in the other person’s response than the question you are asking them.
What sets you apart at HUSA?
Makesha: Outside of HEINEKEN, I have another career. I am a First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard. I’ve been in the military since 2012 and currently hold the position of Battalion S2. This experience has trained me to be versatile and understanding of different situations. As a woman in an industry that is male-oriented, it’s important to be able to adapt well to change and have confidence in myself. I use that experience to guide me to be a stronger leader. I think the main thing I’ve learned from this is to have confidence in myself and my abilities because if I’m timid and shy as a woman in a male-oriented industry, I can get looked over. So my experience in the military has set me apart by instilling a higher level of confidence in myself.
Pattie: I’m very real, very candid, maybe to a fault sometimes. I wear my heart on my sleeve so my face unfortunately gives every emotion away, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s probably my greatest strength and my greatest challenge. I think one of the other things that sets me apart is that I’ve proven myself to be very dependable. Whatever needs to get done, I’m going to get it done. Sometimes I get pulled into things that are really above and beyond what my day-to-day is. I think it’s a compliment that I’m a go-to person for a lot of things.
Lauren: I would say my age. When I started, I was quite significantly the youngest in Operations. I often find myself working with people who have 10+ years of experience more than me. At first, I would try to match their experience level, and I was scared to be viewed as unexperienced and scared to be vulnerable. What I’ve learned, or am trying to learn, is to go into every situation without my ego. Any ego that I have, I just let it go and let myself be vulnerable, ask silly questions, and just learn from the other person. It’s something I’ve been actively working on over the past year. And I think (I hope) it’s helped bridge any gaps that there would be on a personal level with people.
What woman inspires you and why?
Makesha: My first boss at PepsiCo, Amy Lofton. During my tenure, she served as the Director of Sales- Restaurant Channel Foodservice. Her message to me was always that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to and not to let the small things that happen in life steer me off course. I was inspired by her confidence. She took risks and thought outside of the box to come up with solutions to benefit the business. As someone who worked her way up from a sales rep to now being PepsiCo’s Global Business Director, she proved that if you work hard, network, have confidence in yourself, and take calculated risks, you can achieve any goal that you set.
Pattie: From an internal standpoint, I’ve always had a really great relationship with Julie Kinch, who has been somebody I always felt that I could look up to and that I could go to for the good, the bad, the ugly, and the in between. From an external standpoint, there was a woman named Joan Gilbride who I met on my first day of work when I first graduated from college, who was always a very positive, working mom role model. I’ve leaned on her over the years many times. The two of them both had a big influence on me.
Lauren: Fortunately, I have a very talented manager (Berenice Bortoni) who’s been my manager the entire time I’ve been here, and she’s a fantastic role model. So from day one, this sounds very naive, but I never even realized that gender could be a barrier for some women because I had such a strong example to follow. I felt very fortunate coming into that situation. The more I’ve matured and learned the industry and the field I’m growing in, I’ve become more and more grateful. She obviously has (and has had) the support of her managers and mentors, as well as the entire organization, to be a strong and empowered woman and that’s definitely something that has transcended to me. She’s had a huge impact on my career. Within the last year, Tara Rush became my formal mentor through the Women’s Leadership Forum. She is someone who has taught me the importance of remaining poised in difficult situations, and she has helped me through some really challenging situations. What strikes me most about both of my female role models is their authenticity – they are unapologetically themselves and people rally behind them. Additionally, Laurence Wolfe, my MT member, has also demonstrated how supportive he is of developing female supply chain talent. Supply chain here is about 50% women, which is very, very rare by industry standards. Lastly, and this may sound cheesy, but my mom inspires me. She drives me nuts like no one else in the world. But she’s also demonstrated strength like no one else. I can’t even fathom having that kind of strength.
A hot topic these days is work/life balance. Can you share some strategies that work for you?
Makesha: For me, balance is controlling what I can control and not stressing over what I cannot. Worrying over the things I can’t control will only get me further stressed. I believe everyone should find time outside of work for the things they enjoy. If you spend your whole life consumed by work, you will be stressed out. You will question your purpose in life. There has to be more than just work for any of us to have balance. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family that lives here in Dallas. I also run, it helps me to clear my mind and start my day off positive because I feel accomplished after I complete each run.
Pattie: I was very fortunate that when I had both my boys, almost 19 and 16 years ago, HUSA was still a relatively small company that allowed flexible work time. That even made the decision of continuing to work an easy one. I was always really honest and upfront with anyone who asked, especially my bosses, that I loved my job and would always do whatever needed to get done, but there were certain things that were non-negotiable to me. I never worked on either of my kids’ birthdays when they were little. If I had to leave work to do something with my kids, I’d be on my computer later that night after they went to bed. I never allowed anything from work to get missed, but I also never let my job get in the way of anything I needed to do for my family. I will say the best compliment I ever got was very recently, at my son’s soccer game. A mom who was sitting next to me, who I sort of knew but not very well, said she had no idea that I worked. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow. I’ve done a good job being present where I need to be.’ I have a great career and I’ve been able to be there for my kids as well. There are days you break down, especially when the kids are little, like, ‘How am I going to get this all done?’ There are highs and lows. But HEINEKEN, at the heart of it, is a family company that treats its employees well and wants to grow the business and do the right thing and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always stayed.
Lauren: I believe work/life balance is what you make it. It’s about knowing yourself, being honest with yourself, and doing what you need to do to preserve your own energy – and most importantly, giving yourself permission to do that. For me, if I’m overwhelmed with work, which has happened in the past, I’m fortunate that my boss is very receptive to me saying, ‘I can’t deliver this. This isn’t going to happen.’ It’s always been an open line of communication. If you’re someone that needs that balance, don’t be afraid to speak up and take that balance. Personally, I find so much can be solved with exercise and a little meditation.
March is all about celebrating women. Can you tell us what this month means to you?
Makesha: For me, it means remembering the great strides that women have made in the world and continuing that effort. We live in a time where women are doing far better than we once did. However, we must continue to make strides so that questions such as equal pay are not even back thoughts anymore. Each day, every woman and man can make a difference by hiring women in male-dominated industries, teaching about women who have made history, and just being aware of the gender equality gaps. Just like Black History Month, we should not just celebrate women one month out the year, but every single day.
Pattie: I think as women, regardless of what you do, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a CEO, a cashier at a store… women need to support women. When you work in a high energy, competitive culture, you sometimes forget that. In both my professional life and my personal life, I truly could not get through it without the support of the women I surround myself with. It’s wonderful having a month to recognize women for the great things we do. You don’t know everybody’s story. You see them, but you don’t know what a struggle it is for some people to get up in the morning and get out the door. And I really hope this whole month is about women reminding ourselves to support other women because “together” is how we really do great things.
Lauren: I love that we have occasions to celebrate diversity and empower people that maybe have not always been set up to succeed. To me, that’s what International Women’s Day, and any day that recognizes a group that feels underappreciated or undervalued, represents. Not having experienced it myself, I strive to support anyone who feels that way. What I would love to see in the month of March is for women to feel that type of empowerment and demonstrate that level of support for one another. And hopefully it can translate to the rest of the year.
Lastly, what is your favorite beer in our portfolio and where is the most memorable place you’ve enjoyed it?
Makesha: Dos Equis! The most memorable time I had a Dos Equis was with my family at my cousin’s graduation party. We were all just sitting around, enjoying ourselves, talking about memories. It was really heartwarming to share those memories with my family over the beer I sell!
Pattie: My favorite beer in the portfolio is Amstel Light. Long Beach Island, 1996. My husband and I were down there with friends. I had interviewed with HUSA on Wednesday, got the call on Friday that I got the job, and on Saturday we were drinking Amstel Light on the beach at a bar in LBI. That was my favorite memory of Amstel Light, that Saturday night. I haven’t thought about that in a long time!
Lauren: My favorite is Heineken®. We used to have a HUSA indoor soccer team, and I was the only girl who consistently played. This is when we had an office in NYC and played at Chelsea Piers. We were okay on some days, but in general, not very good. Going back to earlier in our conversation, once again I did not even realize gender could be a barrier; never once did I feel like these guys were taking it easy on me as a girl. A bunch of marketing guys and a bunch of sales guys, and none of them seemed to blink an eye that I was there playing soccer with them. After matches, after we had gotten the frustration out following a loss, or occasionally when we were in pure celebration-mode, we’d go the bar around the corner and enjoy a few Heineken®s. All of us sweaty and smelly, laughing and having a good time on a Tuesday night.
We’d like to thank Makesha, Pattie, and Lauren for sharing their inspiring stories and unique perspectives. We raise a crispy Heineken® to them and to all the incredibly talented women at HUSA who make our forward-thinking company shine. Here’s to women in beer!