When Reme Fernandez recounts a few of her fondest memories, here’s what comes to mind: pouring a glass of cognac for her father after lunch on Sundays, sharing stories with friends and family over a drink at a concert or gathering, and even gifting someone a bottle of a spirit that was meaningful or new to them. So when she had the opportunity to join the spirits company Beam Suntory, ”I understood this was the category I had been looking for,” she says.
After interning at Beam Suntory while earning her MBA, the company offered Fernandez a full-time role. Just two years later, she is an associate brand manager (ABM) on Jim Beam’s global team.
“Beam Suntory has constantly encouraged me to think bigger and push myself to grow further,” she says. “The company believes in my potential and wants me to succeed, supporting me along the way as I tackle each new challenge.”
And yes, employees do get an annual stipend to purchase Beam Suntory products. “The ‘ambassador dollars’ are a great way to help us enjoy and build pride in our brands, and encourage those around us to try our fantastic products,” she says. “Plus, they have increased my popularity among friends!”
Here, Fernandez shares how she went from intern to manager so quickly, what she learned by earning her MBA, and why being curious about consumers is key to succeeding in marketing.
What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing and brand management? What do you like most about working in the industry?
I studied business management in undergrad, and very quickly became interested in the world of marketing. Understanding consumers—how they think, how they behave, how they make choices and connect to brands—and how companies can create products and experiences for them based on these insights was fascinating to me. I worked at Procter & Gamble for a few years, where I immersed myself in how strong brands can be built by listening to consumers and catering to their needs and aspirations. I also enjoy being able to physically see the results of the process in stores and shelves across the world, and talk to friends and family about the products so that they too can grow to love them. It’s incredibly rewarding to see and share the tangible output of your work!
How did you land your job at Beam Suntory, and what has been your trajectory at the company?
My first experience at Beam Suntory was as an MBA intern during the summer between my first and second years of business school. I interned for 10 weeks, delivered a project, and was offered a full-time role upon completion of my MBA. I always say that I’m very fortunate that the company liked me as much as I liked it! In 2020, I joined as an associate brand manager within a team of U.S.-based brands. Less than a year later, I was encouraged to apply to my current global role within the largest brand in the company, reporting directly to a global director. A year later, I am managing an MBA intern myself.
How did you know Beam Suntory would be a good fit?
It has a culture that really resonated with me. It’s an international corporation, but still privately owned and has a very familial feel. People are warm and welcoming, decisions are made for the right reasons, and employees are encouraged to shine and succeed at a personal and professional level. This was the place for me.
What are you responsible for as an associate brand manager?
As an associate brand manager on the global Jim Beam team, I get to work on the largest brand in the company by sales, as well as footprint. This comes with a great deal of responsibility, knowing that I’m helping to craft the present and future of a 225-plus-year-old family legacy, and the Beam Suntory family as a whole. Among other projects I lead, I am the point-person on Jim Beam’s Flavors range at a global level, managing portfolio strategy, pack architecture, the visual identity, and new market introductions. It’s a huge business that I’m proud to be responsible for and influence in my day to day.
How did earning your MBA help you in your career? What lessons from school do you still apply in your current role?
Most directly, my MBA helped me secure a dream job in the U.S. My career had been based in Europe, so making the jump overseas was facilitated by a degree in one of the top business schools in the country. Academically, I became a much more well-rounded business manager, honing my skills in marketing, but also finance, accounting, digital channels, and overall leadership.
Most importantly, I learned how to collaborate with people with incredibly different backgrounds in terms of nationality, education, profession, and ways of thinking or lived experiences. Attacking problems together and learning from each other was incredibly humbling and enlightening. It taught me to keep an open mind even when I was confident in my own answers, and seek the strengths of those around me. This is something that remains top of mind and I strive to apply in my work as much as possible.
Tell us about your involvement in the Hispanic & Latinx Employee Impact Group (EIG). How has the group enriched your experience at the company?
When I first joined Beam Suntory, I became a member of SALUD as a passive listener in monthly meetings and events. Quite quickly, I realized it was a powerful community and how much I had in common with them. At the same time, I realized how much the wider community could gain from the sharing of other cultures and increased inclusivity of diverse backgrounds. I became part of the leadership team under the Cultural Awareness pillar, where I helped drive programming such as panels and guest speakers around understanding the Hispanic and Latinx community and their customs and backgrounds.
In 2022, I took on the role of co-lead for the EIG. Through this role, we are increasing cross-EIG collaborations to further explore intersectionality across minority groups, support each other, and uncover how much we truly have in common. We are also expanding our representation and inclusion across the organization from a U.S.-based audience to an international one.
Not only do I feel like we are making a difference to the culture and engagement within the organization, but I have also personally enjoyed the opportunities for growth it provides, as well as the visibility and opportunity to network across the company. Additionally, while I am an individual contributor in my full-time role, I’m gaining valuable team leadership experience through the EIG.
You moved around a lot growing up and have visited 56 countries. How have these experiences helped you in your career?
By the age of 10, I had lived in six countries across Europe, and North and South America. This gave me a broad understanding and curiosity of different cultures and lifestyles that I have continued to cherish and seek out in my adult life (hence the 56 countries!). It made me more open minded when engaging with others, but also a flexible and adaptable person who looks at change as an opportunity to experience something new and learn. Change is not always easy (as my young self would surely confirm!), but it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, see the positives, and truly value all the great things that can come from it.
In addition to achievements you’ve already mentioned—earning your current role, co-leading an EIG—what else makes you proud when you think about your time at Beam Suntory?
I’m proud of the connections I’ve managed to build within the company, despite joining in a fully remote environment. Even without in-person interaction, I’ve created a strong network and am proud to know colleagues well beyond my immediate role—many of whom I now have strong relationships with, despite never meeting them in person! I have a group of mentors and an extensive network across teams and functions, and regularly coach junior ABMs through their journeys at Beam Suntory as well. It's a point of personal pride, but also a true testament to the culture of our company.
What advice do you have for those pursuing a career in marketing and branding?
I am still involved as an admissions interviewer for Kellogg School of Management and support Beam Suntory’s MBA recruitment efforts, so I get to speak to many young professionals considering a career in marketing and brand management. Unequivocally, the biggest piece of advice I give them is to be curious about consumers. To be truly successful, you need to have a deep and unwavering drive to empathize and understand the person you are speaking to. People think and behave in different ways and have different needs and motivations. You will likely not be the target consumer for the brand or product you’re managing, so in order to succeed, you need to leave your own preferences and preconceptions aside and constantly ask yourself what your consumer—not you—would want. Leaning into this curiosity, or developing this skill if it’s not innate, is the way to go.