THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Julie Kinch, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Heineken USA

06/03/2015 04:09 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

Julie Kinch is responsible for all HEINEKEN USA legal business and review. Julie joined the company in 1998, prior to which she served as vice president and general counsel for Remy Amerique.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at HEINEKEN USA?
After more than 16 years at HEINEKEN USA, there have been so many, it is difficult to name just a few! The early entrepreneurial period when I first joined was a fabulously exciting time and the growth during those days was exhilarating. Creating an in house legal function that has been embraced by the organization has been extremely rewarding. Out of some of the greatest challenges came some of my greatest highlights. Several years ago our business was struggling - financially and culturally. We knew we had to revamp almost every aspect of our company. With this burning platform, I led a group of employees that focused on the cultural issues and changes that we needed to implement, starting with candor and transparency. It is powerful for senior leaders to create an environment where employees can truly speak their minds. And then leaders need to really listen, only then can true cultural changes happen. It has been incredibly gratifying to see the turnaround of the last few years. And most recently the organization came together to define our company's purpose: "We Brew Experiences that Inspire Legendary Lives." Together, we dug deep to identify what makes our company unique and how our people can embrace and rally around that every day. It was an incredible exercise, and really showcased how we inject our personal passion into our jobs at HEINEKEN USA.

I've also seen tremendous evolution and change, within the industry as well as our own company. When I joined, I was the first female member of the Management Team. Since then, we have been even more intentional about creating an environment at HEINEKEN USA where women can thrive as well as their male counterparts. To this end I founded the Women's Leadership Forum, which is dedicated to supporting our company objectives while empowering women to expand their influence and increase their visibility. We still have a long way to go, but I am so proud of the work this group has done to date.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at HEINEKEN USA?
Over the years I have developed a wonderful network of contacts that have helped me in my role at HEINEKEN USA. In times of crisis or opportunity, I have tapped into these contacts for counsel, guidance and support. Immediately prior to HEINEKEN USA, I served as General Counsel at a spirits company named Remy Amerique, Inc. That was my first experience as in house counsel, and I had a lot to learn about the role of legal and about leadership. It was a steep learning curve for me in this highly regulated world of alcohol beverage sales and marketing. My role at Remy prepared me very well for my role today, and right from the start, I was able to hit the ground running here at HEINEKEN USA. The nuances of the alcohol industry laws are very unique, and while some of them may be challenging, my team and I see them as opportunities for us to think creatively to stand out from the competition.

What advice can you offer to women who want to work in your industry?
When people think of the beer industry, they typically visualize a field that is predominantly male -- but there are wonderful opportunities for women to lead and advance at HEINEKEN USA. One piece of advice is to speak up and let your opinion be heard. Women should feel empowered to vocalize their opinions, because their perspectives are critical to shaping a company's culture and growth. For our company, we're seeing that women are drinking cider and beer now more than ever, which means they represent an increasing part of our consumer base. Our opinions are absolutely critical across every aspect of our company, from our leadership team to our consumer base.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That it is challenging for anyone, men or women, to maintain work/life "balance". And technology has made this both easier and much more difficult. Technology has provided us with so much more flexibility when it comes to where and when and how we work. But it also makes it impossible to escape. As for balance, for me it has depended on two important factors. First, I have a wonderful husband, who has been a true partner in all aspects of my life. And second, I strive to find "flow" in my life, where I can feel like I am making a difference in the lives of others - at work and at home. I believe that women can have a meaningful career and fulfilling personal life so long as they are clear in defining what that means for them, and that they ask for help from others and don't try to "do it all" themselves. In a world of dramatic competition, it takes confidence to identify what is most important for you and your family. I have been very fortunate to be able to make personal choices that allow me to achieve this flow. I strive to insure that those that work for me do the same. It also helps to work at a company that understands this and has policies in place to ensure its employees can achieve this. One small example of this is that we have a no email after 7 PM rule. Once you leave the office for the day, we want our employees to power-down and spend time with their loved ones or just disconnecting. Of course, there are special circumstances, but generally the company prefers employees to unplug when they are home. Knowing that the Management Team works to model this behavior helps set the tone for the entire organization.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
A very significant challenge for women remains finding mentors or role models within their organization. The lack of women in leadership positions makes it difficult for women to take the risk and go for new and challenging roles. Companies are increasingly embracing the research that shows that companies that have more women on boards and in senior leadership outperform those that do not. At HEINEKEN USA, the Women's Leadership Forum is intended to empower women throughout the company and to provide training and activities to help them grow and develop. Over 90% of our workforce (women and men) have participated in activities sponsored by the Forum and have found these events helpful.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My first CEO at Remy was a great mentor; he included me in almost all aspects of leading the company. He was very open and shared with me his thinking and how he analyzed problems. He took me through his approach and strategy. This provided me my first insights into how to make efficient and effective business decisions, how to analyze all sides of a problem and how to communicate decisions and plans. On the personal side, I depend heavily on a small circle of other working women who give me perspective, challenge and much needed friendship. They are a priceless sounding board as well as a powerful cheering section for me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many other female leaders that I admire, but I have to say that my first and best female role models were my grandmother and my mother. My maternal grandmother had to quit school at 14 to work in a local factory to help support her family. She worked there for more than 40 years and eventually became a successful and much admired manager. From her I learned the value of hard work, integrity and good friends. Some of her life long closest friends were the women that she managed, which illustrated the kind of leader she was in a very physically challenging and often tedious environment. My father's career required a lot of travel so he was away for long stretches of time while I was growing up. My mother was truly running the house and raising us four kids. My mother is a wonderfully positive person who strongly believes in the importance of education. She had tremendous expectations for me while at the same time creating an environment of acceptance and understanding, She continues today to be my greatest supporter!

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have always welcomed a challenge. I became a GC with no in house experience. I joined HEINEKEN USA as its first in house lawyer as well as its first female SVP. I didn't think it was so unusual at the time, it was just the next opportunity. It took me several years to appreciate the responsibility I had to mentor and develop others, women and men, in the organization. I am also a mother and stepmother - - with five children aged 16 to 33 - - and those experiences have had a tremendous effect on me. Blending a family (and raising teenagers) takes time and patience and the wisdom to know when and how much to encourage or push children, when to step aside, when to let them struggle on their own and yet to always provide an unconditionally loving environment. I have brought some of those learnings to the workplace recognizing that a strong visionary leader must flex her style for each situation. I believe that at my best, I am able to help others see the undeveloped potential in themselves.

What do you want HEINEKEN USA to accomplish in the next year?
There is palpable momentum behind our brands and with our employees right now. We are doing great things in all areas of the company, living up to Heineken USA's purpose - to brew experiences that inspire legendary lives. There is a magic within the HEINEKEN organization that not only embraces people's differences, but encourages those differences. I would like to see us continue to dedicate ourselves even further to embracing our purpose and working together to move the business forward. Exciting things are always brewing at Heineken USA.