Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

Why Embracing Your Uniqueness Is a Game-Changing Leadership Quality

a headshot of a person with wavy blonde hair smiling
Elina Vives, a vice president and general manager at Signify.
| Courtesy of Signify

Elina Vives knows firsthand that being a woman in charge can often mean feeling like you’re constantly being tested, but she has never let that stop her. In fact, it’s helped her thrive at work. “I like to get uncomfortable,” she says. “A significant portion of my career has been in male-dominated industries. Each of my roles has challenged me to think outside the box to break glass ceilings.”

Throughout her marketing career, Vives continued pushing herself to grow professionally, whether that meant taking on more responsibility or venturing into a new industry altogether. After holding VP-level positions at MillerCoors and Samsung Electronics America, Vives jumped at the opportunity to lead the U.S. consumer business as a general manager at the lighting company Signify, formerly Philips Lighting. “I felt I was at a crossroads in my career: I could either continue to follow the traditional marketing path and become a CMO or push myself to grow as a general manager of a business,” she says.

Here, Vives talks about what challenges she’s overcome on her rise to the top of her field, how she’s helping other women in their careers, and why now is an exciting time to work at Signify.

What attracted you to work at Signify?

There are a few reasons I decided to join Signify: This opportunity gives me the chance to learn about a new industry—lighting—but also sets me up to achieve even greater things in my career. In this role, I have a much broader, end-to-end view of the business. I am responsible for the organization’s operating model, collaborate closely with the supply chain, and work with our team to improve our direct-to-consumer e-commerce channels, for example. It’s exciting to touch all of these different areas.

I was also deeply inspired by Signify’s purpose to unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world and to help commercialize our sustainability vision with consumers.

What are you responsible for as the Vice President and General Manager for the U.S. Consumer Channel?

I oversee our consumer (residential) lighting business in the U.S. Our consumer brands include Philips, Philips Hue, and WiZ Connected. I’m responsible for driving commercial strategy and operations, organizational design, go-to-market excellence. I am also responsible for new product introductions, sales, direct-to-consumer e-commerce channels, and performance marketing.

I am drawing from my prior experience and working with our team to be more consumer focused. This includes talking about our products differently, moving from tech-and-spec to use case and benefits-driven communications. We are also creating more snackable communications now that we are marketing in a digital world, so we reach consumers where they are in the journey with content they want to engage with. Our goal is to create an authentic connection with our consumers and build lifetime value for our brands.

I’m also focusing a lot of energy on continuing to attract and retain the top talent at Signify; ensuring our team’s relentless focus on our retail customers and end consumers; and developing colleagues’ skill sets in terms of aptitude and attitude.

What challenges have you faced as a woman who has held leadership roles, and how have you overcome them?

I find the main hurdle for women, particularly in leadership roles, is gender stereotypes. Female leaders tend to be brought down for the same attributes that uplift male counterparts. I think we’ve all heard a woman be called “bossy” for commanding attention in a room, but a man is a boss for doing the exact same thing. We can’t put our heads in the sand and be paralyzed by these perceptions. We need to recognize when this happens and reshape the narrative. It can be hard to not dwell and not question ourselves as leaders—but we need to stop any negative self-talk and move on to be successful.

Tell us about Signify’s S.H.E. employee resource group, and your involvement with it. How does it benefit and impact women like you at the company?

I serve as the executive sponsor of our women’s employee resource group: Supporting. Helping. Empowering. (S.H.E.). Whether I’m sharing my own best practices to achieve work-life balance, supporting individual career development planning, or engaging in Signify’s other diversity, equity, and inclusion events, I’m committed to helping women at Signify become advocates for their own career advancement and realize their full potential. I think it’s important for leaders to pay it forward and help make an impact on others’ professional journeys.

What has been your secret to successfully managing a remote team?

My leadership philosophy—whether the team is remote or not—is simple: Seek to understand before being understood. Empathy is an essential leadership skill and key to building trust with your team. I firmly believe that the better a listener I am, the more we can accomplish together. My goal is to build a culture of trust and care within my team.

Why is now an especially exciting time to work at Signify?

We are in the middle of a transformation, with a significant focus on developing our people and being a great place to work. We are also unlocking the power of light to go beyond illumination through our innovation and connected solutions, so there are many opportunities to contribute to the next big idea or technology.

What advice do you have for other women who hope to attain leadership roles?

Play the long game and be laser-focused on the goals you want to achieve. Embrace who you are as a woman—it is power, you don’t need to assimilate in a “man’s world.” Lastly, advocate for yourself and build a “board of directors” to help advocate for you.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Teach people how to treat you. It’s important to set boundaries. For example, when we were in the office, even though I had established an open-door policy, I would shut my physical door to signal that I needed some time to get work done and or take a mental break to recharge my battery. We are also better leaders when we take care of ourselves.