HomeLydia Kuo of Nicorette & Nicoderm: “The to-do list will never go...

Lydia Kuo of Nicorette & Nicoderm: “The to-do list will never go away so there is no point in staying late every night at the expense of your health and your relationships”

Make your health and those you care about a priority like work: The to-do list will never go away so there is no point in staying late every night at the expense of your health and your relationships.

As a part of our series about prominent female leaders, I had the pleasure to interview Lydia Kuo. Lydia is a Brand Manager of the Nicorette and Nicoderm CQ business at GSK Consumer Healthcare. In her role, she is responsible for media strategy, leading PR and Social media initiatives, and managing the base business. She played an integral role in developing the launch plans for Nicorette’s new Coated Ice Mint Lozenge, the first and only coated nicotine lozenge to help smokers quit. At GSK, she has also worked on the Digestive Health Category where she was part of the Benefiber team, where she repositioned the brand as a digestive wellness brand. In addition, she spearheaded the reinvigoration strategy for alli, the only FDA-approved weight loss aid brand, which led to the launch of the new You’re Ready campaign and trial driving innovation. Prior to GSK, Lydia worked at Kraft Foods and Mondelez International where she helped manage RITZ Crackers and drive consumption during key holiday seasons. Her work on Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate resulted in the brand being repositioned into the premium category. In her spare time, she enjoys running along the Hudson River and experimenting with chocolate chip cookie recipes. Lydia earned an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a BBA from the University of Texas at Austin.

Thank you so much for joining us Lydia! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In a previous life, I was in the financial services industry helping companies raise capital for acquisitions and other business needs. After a couple of years of talking to company management, I discovered I was more interested in learning about their business strategies than about their capital structure. This is what prompted me to switch into brand management where I would have the opportunity to shape the business of some of America’s beloved household brands. Over the years I have worked on some amazing and iconic brands in the food industry such as RITZ Crackers and Trident Gum, and now I am in the consumer healthcare space. Working in the consumer healthcare space has been very rewarding and exciting; the brands that I get to work on truly have a significant impact on helping people feel better and live longer. I currently manage the Nicorette brand, which has recently launched a new product called Coated Ice Mint Lozenge to help smokers to stick to their quit journey.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading within your company?

Recently, I was helping a group of junior marketers prepare for their presentations in front of the sales and marketing organizations at our annual commercial meeting. For many of these presenters, this was their first time making an important presentation in front of almost 300 people. My goal was to make sure they shined as brightly as possible under the spotlight. I had been working on this and other parts of the commercial meeting for the last 4–5 months. During the on-site rehearsal, I was providing the presenters very direct feedback as the presentation was the following day. Unbeknownst to me, my CMO had been observing the situation. Later that night, he commented about how this was the first time he had seen me exhibit a tough, no non-sense leadership style. His comment took me a bit by surprise as I figured my business results and my managers’ feedback would have given him a good sense of my leadership style. This experience taught me that I should take every opportunity to demonstrate my leadership style internally.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started working on the Digestive Health team at GSK, I started referring to our team as Team Poo at meetings as a joke instead of our formal name, Lower GI team. Before you knew it, the name stuck! Other teams started calling us by the nickname, and it became quite an endearing way to refer to us. I even assigned the poo emoji as our mascot and decorated the area with poo emojis. It got to the point that even senior people were calling us Team Poo. Ultimately, the nickname changed the internal perception of the group known for small brands to a fun and engaging group. It also made our products appear more approachable and less taboo.

The lesson I learned from this is to not under-estimate the importance of creating team spirit. Have fun at work and find ways that liven the mood for everyone. By doing so you are creating a positive work culture that will lead to more productivity and a more engaged and connected team.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Nicorette is committed to providing smokers with the tools they need to fight cravings and encourage them to quit smoking. We understand that quitting isn’t easy, so we are always looking for ways to improve our products and the user experience. This year, we’re excited to unveil our new Nicorette Coated Ice Mint Lozenge — the first and only FDA-approved coated lozenge.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

Nicorette partnered with former smoker and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. to unveil the Nicorette Coated Ice Mint Lozenge and launch the Taste Test Drive campaign. Dale was a smoker for nearly 15 years, so he knows firsthand how challenging it is to quit smoking. His quit journey is very authentic and will hopefully inspire others to feel confident to start their quit journey too. As part of the campaign, he’s enlisted his cousin Danny Earnhardt Jr., as well as some real-life fans and smokers to take the new lozenge for a Taste Test Drive as they embark on their quit journey.

Tell me more about what people can do to help make their loved one’s quit journey successful?

Quitting may be one of the most difficult things someone does and everyone’s quit journey is a little different. While there is no right way to quit, with the help of family and friends, there are certain things you can do to help make their path to quitting a little easier including:

  1. Be sensitive to their triggers. Many associate certain activities like drinking alcohol, playing video games and driving with smoking cigarettes. To help make their quit journey successful, you can encourage them to avoid the activities that trigger their habit or spend time with them doing things that help keep their mind off of smoking, such as going to the movies.
  2. Help them identify a good, clear reason why they’re quitting and write that reason down. It can help them commit to the intention of quitting and holds them responsible on an emotional level.
  3. Suggest they try a nicotine replacement therapy product, such as the new Nicorette Coated Ice Mint Lozenge, which helps reduce cravings and relieve withdrawal side effects.
  4. Let them know you’re there to support them as the start their journey by encouraging them along the way and celebrating the little wins like the first day they wake up without immediately craving a cigarette.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Over my career I have followed 3 key Leadership principles:

  • Know when you are needed and when you aren’t: Empower your team to make decisions as they are closest to the day-to-day fundamentals and help them by removing obstacles. This not only ensures great things happen on time, but it only helps to develop your team members.
  • Lead through example: Do what you say and only say what you will do. I have always been a believer to follow through on your words as that creates trust and fosters strong working relationships.
  • Seek diversity of thought and backgrounds when designing a team. Each member of the team brings something very unique to the table and it is my job to bring out and best leverage those strengths for an even stronger strategy and solution.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Follow your gut: It is hard to listen to your inner voice if you are always listening to those around you. At the end of the day, you are the one that will have to defend the decision and actions even if they weren’t your ideas. It is much easier to defend the decisions that you believe in. In the beginning of my career, I would often not voice my opinions/concerns if they contradicted my manager’s perspective. However, what I found is that when things don’t pan out, your manager might forget that it was their idea and then you are stuck defending it.
  • Make your health and those you care about a priority like work: The to-do list will never go away so there is no point in staying late every night at the expense of your health and your relationships.
  • Work culture should be considered when evaluating a job. Culture can be the fertilizer to help you blossom in a work environment. I have worked in a couple environments that were less than motivating, and as a result, the length of tenure of the team and how they describe the culture is just as important to me as any other criteria.
  • Redefine career success: Growing up in a typical immigrant household, career success was defined as maximizing your financial potential. However, each person is motivated by different things. You will have many careers in your life. Never be afraid to try something different because it is where your passion lies. Pivoting away from a very good paying finance job to go back to school to pursue a less lucrative career outside of finance was an emotional rollercoaster. It took some time to let go of the many life-long success metrics that were instilled in me from an early age. It wasn’t until I used happiness as a data point did I feel free to go after something that was different but ultimately more satisfying.
  • It is ok to fail as long as you learn something. I once launched a product that did not last very long on the retailer shelf. It taught me important lessons on who to partner with and how important it is to create early momentum that I will take with me for the future.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be considerate and treat people the way you want to be treated. This seems so basic and fundamental but I think we lose sight of it our everyday lives. We live in a very polarized and somewhat fractured world which makes it important that we address and interact with people in a way we would want to be treated and that includes taking a second to review the tone and the way we structure our words and sentences. I think this common courtesy would go a long way in building bridges with all people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I think at the end of the day you are measured by how well you respond to challenges and obstacles life throws at you. Many unfair and unjust things happen but it doesn’t help to wallow in self-pity. You have to pick yourself up and figure out what is the next step you can make to create some momentum. Sometimes crappy things happen for a reason and new doors and opportunities become available to you.

I graduated business school during the last economic downturn, so I was still looking when I left school. Three months after graduation, I was still looking and starting to get worried so I decided to take a corporate finance job that I regretted not long after I started. My manager was horrible and the culture was aggressive. I left 3 months later and got really stressed out about this mis-step. However, after some self-reflection, I realized that this was the sign I needed to re-commit to what I truly wanted to do — brand marketing. I became re-energized and began the job search all over again. A few months later I started interviewing with Kraft Foods and got the job. I have not looked back since!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My initial response is Oprah — because who wouldn’t want to meet the Queen of Media?!? However, at the end of the day I would choose to have lunch with my parents. They have taught me everything I know about hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance. With their support and love, I have overcome many obstacles and disappointments to get to where I am now. They are the everyday heroes in my life that mean the world to me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can learn more about the Taste Test Drive campaign here. Follow Nicorette on Twitter and Facebook at @nicorette