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Essential Leadership Advice for Women, From a Chief Marketing Officer Who Worked Her Way Up

smiling person sitting in a restaurant
June Sauvaget, the Chief Marketing Officer at Brex.
| Courtesy of Brex

Retail, beauty, consumer tech—June Sauvaget has worked across many industries throughout her 21-year career in marketing, which has included stints at advertising agencies and brands like Gap Inc. and Spotify. Just a few months ago, she landed her latest role as the Chief Marketing Officer at the fintech company Brex.

“Every new sector forces me to think about the consumer need and business challenge differently,” she says. “While the dynamics of the business and audience may be different from one company to another, the marketing challenge in almost any business is to establish a human connection with the customer that evokes an emotional response to your brand and ultimately inspires the customer to choose one brand over another. This is exactly what I love about my career choice.”

Here, Sauvaget shares why she’s inspired by Brex’s company mission, what she’s working on right now, and important tips for women striving for leadership roles.

What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing?

Marketing is a fascinating profession that requires hard and soft skills, qualitative and quantitative thinking, creativity, and reason—and this is really what drew me to it. The profession has evolved so much in the 21 years that I have been doing it, so it really keeps me on my toes.

Marketing requires a balance of subjective and objective understanding of the world: how humans think, what’s happening in society at large, how to respond to and shape culture, and how you marry compelling messages with the fundamentals of the business/product/service. Marketers have to uniquely understand consumers, help drive company growth agendas, and make clear what the company stands for. They not only respond to, but also shape people’s values, investments, choices, relationships, and decisions. At the end of the day, marketing has to be one of the growth engines to the business.

What attracted you to work at Brex, and specifically in this role?

Brex is setting out to help growing businesses by understanding their pain points and actually solving them. We want to empower business owners with the financial control and readiness to respond to the changing dynamics of the world and their own customers. Having a hand in enabling small businesses’ growth sounded incredibly exciting, and it is.

As we understand the new challenges that their businesses face, we make relevant, valuable adjustments to our product and the way we market to them. I really felt that this role was going to give me an opportunity to do something that matters, to shape the future of financial services in the B2B space—and empower small business owners everywhere.

What are you responsible for as the CMO?

I am responsible for developing and driving the brand, supporting product launches, enabling partnerships, and ultimately driving growth for the business. Functionally, I oversee brand, product marketing, growth marketing, content marketing, partner marketing, and social marketing.

Emotionally, my role is to be the consumer expert within the company—with data to back that up. More importantly, my task is to shape a brand that is trusted and loved. To do that well, we need to connect with consumers in a way that many financial institutions have not been able to do. That requires responding to our customers’ needs, wants, fears, and ambitions.

You joined the company very recently. What was your experience with the remote onboarding process?

I have been thoroughly impressed with the onboarding experience, and how well calibrated the remote working culture is at Brex, especially considering that they went to a remote-first culture the month before I started. There’s an instant warmth and camaraderie that you feel right away, which evokes a strong sense of belonging very quickly, in spite of the fact that we are all remote.

Prior to my first day, I was equipped with a very extensive onboarding document so I was able to begin reading and absorbing the business. But, let’s not fool ourselves—I am still learning quite a bit every day since I have been at Brex for a short time.

What is a short- and long-term goal you’re currently working on?

When Brex first launched, we were focused on offering a credit card for venture-funded startups because founders often jump through hoops to get business credit and banking, often needing to put down personal collateral and accept unreasonably low credit limits. So, Brex set out to empower founders by offering something that didn’t have the traditional, restrictive application requirements. While we will continue serving venture-backed startups, we’ve expanded our core offering to serve all growing businesses. One short-term goal is to adjust our positioning and messaging to ensure that our new expanded audience is aware of and familiar with Brex.

Brex combines many services that businesses used to have to get through multiple providers: credit cards, deposit accounts, expense management, accounting, and more. Having all that functionality and data in one place offers new possibilities for money management, reporting, automation, and spending insights. One long-term goal is to make sure all growing businesses know that we can offer a 10-times more effective and powerful product than you could by offering just a card or an account.

Why does the work you’re doing at Brex excite and inspire you?

Our mission—to reimagine the financial infrastructure to empower every growing company to reach their full potential—is compelling, and making clear what Brex stands for is core to my mission. We take companies that have great ambitions and make sure we are able to help them realize that ambition with financial tech. When we are able to achieve this at scale, we will also be helping millions of businesses realize their full potential. The fact that our growth and success is intrinsically connected to our customers’ success feels incredibly honorable and inspiring.

What has your experience been like as a woman in leadership?

In my career, I have worked across every continent and across 92 countries. This means I have encountered varying levels of respect toward women in the workplace. The reality is that women are not seen as equals in many instances. I’ve sourced a lot of energy from proving this wrong, but I take greater joy in my responsibility to inspire other women. One can display grace, gratitude, and fortitude. The most important attribute in leadership and professional success, regardless of gender, is to have integrity. When you develop trust with those you work with, you will naturally command credibility and be compelling in the work you do.

What advice do you have for other women pursuing leadership roles?

First, take risks. No woman has risen to a leadership position without taking a few risks. It’s normal to feel hesitant about what you don’t know and what isn’t familiar. But don’t let that fear restrict you from pursuing a great idea or goal. Be fearless in the attempt of doing something new or challenging!

Make sure to be authentic. I can’t count how many times people have told me that I need to be more aggressive, more vocal, or just plain louder. The underlying message there is to act and behave like a man if you want to be heard or successful. I have never subscribed to this concept. I lead with empathy, and I have zero desire to be the loudest person in the room. If I have something important to say, I will. If I don’t, I do not need to speak.

Pick your battles. Those who know me, know me as an optimist. That’s because I choose wisely when it comes to where I allow negative energy to enter into my life, personally and professionally. In work, you are facing constant trade-offs, negotiations, and compromises. One must be wise in placing energy where it matters most, and approach the problem pragmatically.

The best way to learn how to be a great leader is to take notes on the leaders you interact with through your career. Replicate what inspires you, and avoid the pitfall behaviors of poor leadership. For example, I don’t think highly of those who speak poorly about their own team. Your team is made up of people, and you are responsible for their lives. Lean into that and be nurturing. People will respond to that.

What are a few misconceptions about what it means to work in marketing, and how would you respond to them?

The greatest misconception is that the profession is based on intuition and creativity alone. The reality is that everything we do has to be grounded in data and consumer insights; even how we approach media buying is extremely scientific. One of the things that marketers joke to each other is that everyone thinks they’re a marketer, and freely shares their opinion on the work that marketing does. To some degree, I can understand why everyone feels like they could do marketing themselves. We are all consumers and therefore are all being bombarded with marketing every day, so it’s natural to develop an opinion. The reality is that the development of marketing campaigns and messaging is much harder and more nuanced than most people think.

What advice do you have for others who want to pursue a career in marketing?

Marketing is an amalgamation of many different disciplines: creative, media, growth marketing, social, partner marketing, content marketing, product marketing, consumer insights, CRM, experiential marketing, public relations, and more. It used to be that the marketing profession was a more generalist role—more often than not, you touched on all aspects of marketing. Today, however, many choose a path in one of the core disciplines and build an entire career around that. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but in my view, it’s important to challenge yourself to have some experience across many of these disciplines.

The reason I believe this is important is two-fold: One, you should probably see what area of marketing really ticks for you and the best way to do that is to work through different aspects of it. Secondly, it’s important to understand how all consumer touchpoints work. The more you understand, the better you will set up your career to oversee an integrated marketing organization in the future.