‘Turning Product Dreams into a Reality’: Leading Innovation in Africa and Europe
We caught up with Steve White, Head of Innovation Europe and Africa, to hear more about his career and Innovation at Diageo.
Feature 13 JAN 2022
Tell us about your career at Diageo so far – how did you get to your current role?
After a variety of sales and marketing roles, I joined Diageo in 2004 and quickly turned my hand to the interesting world of Innovation. As an Innovation Marketing Manager, I got a really exciting introduction to the business - from defining the brief, creating ideas, to launching a product in the market, I quickly got a clear view of how to drive change and innovate brands at Diageo.
Over the next few years, I took on several Global and Regional Marketing Director roles, from Premium Rums, Whiskey, and a range of other categories. I travelled many locations supporting our portfolio of brands in their key markets. I was fortunate to play a leading role in bringing the Zacapa rum brand into the Diageo family, spending a wonderful time in Guatemala at our “Distillery above the clouds” which is 2000m up on the side of a Volcano, to conclude our relationship!
During my time in Johnnie Walker, where I led global launches for Johnnie Walker Double Black, Johnnie Walker 18 Years Old and Johnnie Walker Gold Label, I was based in Amsterdam, where two of my daughters were born, so I have extra special memories there! I’ve also led marketing through our Global Duty-Free businesses, creating luxury experiences in key airport locations, and exclusive propositions for our travelling consumers. It was amazing - we opened our first ever dedicated Johnnie Walker travel outlets.
Now based in GB, I lead our Innovation agendas for both Africa and Europe, as the General Manager for Innovation. One of the most amazing parts of our business is how the team collaborate to shape the future of some of our most iconic brands with innovations such as Gordon’s 0.0% and Smirnoff Raspberry Crush.
I’ve had so many opportunities to grow at Diageo and gain knowledge and leadership across different markets and brands. It’s been challenging, rewarding, and always enjoyable.
Why do what you do at Diageo?
I live to make a difference in the work that I do and find enormous satisfaction in growing and changing what our business does for our consumers and customers. Innovation provides a very rewarding place to work as it can make both a short- and long-term difference to the way Diageo performs, with the results being visible through new products hitting the shelves and making a difference to our overall performance.
Why is Europe and Africa Innovation important to our business?
Innovation means evolving to meet the future needs of our consumers, so that we stay relevant and credible, attracting new consumers to choose our brands, and bringing brilliant product propositions to life.
What makes your job exciting?
Every day we stretch the thinking of our business and make ‘dream’ products a reality. It’s incredible to see, touch and taste a product you’ve worked on creating. We believe in an entrepreneurial approach, and pushing boundaries to thrill senses, and through that, we make a difference to the business.
What skill sets/capabilities help you thrive in this team?
Every single person in our team has a commitment to quality, innovation, and progress and like Diageo’s 10-year action plan, Spirit of Progress, we’re dedicated to creating a more inclusive and sustainable world.
We are not a uniform team - we have people with lots of different backgrounds and experiences. This diversity of thinking helps us build, challenge, and inspire each other every day. The key things we look for are natural collaborators, optimists, brave and resilient people. We also look for people who seek accountability and are keen to make a difference.
Any career advice for someone looking to join us?
Be curious, seeking out experiences and roles which stretch and challenge you. Stay open to learning throughout your career journey – you are never the finished article and that really is ok.
Don’t be afraid to fail, our best leaders have often had a significant failure in their track record, it is what they learn from this that matters. Don’t settle - seek to shape and change your situation and the organisation to make things better.