Claudia Sestini, is a senior Global Marketing executive with a 20-year track record of leadership and delivering growth. Her strengths are inspiring and motivating others, getting things done and connecting people. She is passionate about DEI and helping people and brands grow. Her core values are honesty, integrity and being authentic. She demonstrates this by bringing her true self to work & by getting involved with projects that support her passions.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
My upbringing was very multicultural and diverse thanks to an Italian father who was a self-made, studious Geologist and Petroconsultant and an Egyptian mother who was entrepreneurial and vivacious.
Growing up in the mid 80s I was fortunate to live in Florence, Italy, and attend an American International School where my peers were of all nationalities. I was labelled as curious from an early age and recall sitting in my bedroom at about 9 years old building complex maps of how all my friends connected to each other, their likes, dislikes and how they interacted with each other – you could say I was building a ‘prehistoric’ paper-based version of facebook! I would spend hours writing stories, diaries, reading and trying to figure out the people around me. I didn’t have a set path, but I knew I loved everything about people and wanted to take them apart and understand what made them tick which later on in life brought me to social psychology at university and eventually sales and marketing.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
The most definitive turning point in my life was my father’s death when I was 17 years old. It was sudden, unexpected, and highly traumatic. Up until that point I was carefree, passionate but very disorganised and flippant about outcomes. I recall the night of my father’s passing, coming back to an empty house at 3am having to process and deal with my father’s heart attack on my own. I immediately went into a state of uber organisation, making lists of everything that had to be done, people to call, what-if scenarios, bills that had to be paid, how my mother would take to the news since they were separated. Sitting in my father’s study in the early hours of the morning, I went from being a kid to becoming the high functioning adult I have become today within a matter of hours. I learnt to compartmentalise my feelings because things needed to get done, people needed to be informed and I needed to appear strong. One of my dearest mentors once said to me that some of the most successful people have had to deal with some degree of trauma or adversity. This might be true, but I know that you don’t know how resilient you are until you are put under extreme pressure. I think this has set the tone for my career, where I have always gravitated towards high pressure, dynamic transformation roles where people and businesses trust me to get the job done.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”
I am a fan of the saying “hold the vision, trust the process”. Whether you are starting your own business or developing your career you must have a strong idea of your brand, what you stand for and where you want to get to. From a personal brand perspective, I am known for making people and brands famous and getting the job done. I am passionate about helping people and brands who have a strong purpose and my purpose is to have a net positive impact on the world. This has driven most of my career decisions and board advisory roles.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
On my worst day I am someone who feels immense guilt at not being able to deliver outstanding results. Coupled with imposter syndrome, which a lot of women suffer from, this can make for a terrible combination. Over the years, I have worked hard on reminding myself of my achievements, the fact that I have overcome tough challenges in spite of strong headwinds. You start small – what did you achieve today for example? Remind yourself of all your achievements often. If you managed to overcome a situation in the past, you will most likely overcome another challenge in the future. Taking a moment every day to remind yourself of your achievements does wonders for self-belief which propels success because if you can believe in yourself, others will too.
I have learnt that failure is ok if you fail fast, learn from the situation and move on quickly. I have also learnt that rejection is someone exercising their right to say no – it’s not personal and can be ring fenced enough to enable you to move on.
Make every interaction you have with people memorable – remember that people buy people, not services or products. And to Maya Angelou’s words – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”. Reputation building is important so make every interaction count in a way that is authentic. This is true in personal interactions just as much as when you market your product or service – positioning, story, value, and purpose are everything.
Remember the power of people and community – you are not alone, and you do not have to solve problems on your own. Connect with people that bring you joy and remember to give back. In the moments when I am demotivated, lost, scratching my head on a challenge I reach out to my communities – whether it’s friends or my professional network. The power of crowd sourcing for inspiration and problem solving is immense, especially when you bring your optimistic self and remember to give back with true intent.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
Personally speaking the pandemic was a moment of re awakening – I went through a tough divorce, moved house and came out at the other end stronger. I was incredibly lucky to have a supportive network and employer which speaks volumes about the power of community and empathy in the workplace.
Professionally, like so many out there, the pandemic was a moment of quick pivot. As a marketer it meant carefully managing the P & L, using zero based budgeting and being creative in the channels and tactics we used to connect with our audience. I also leaned more into the intersection of marketing and people and culture by leading many employer brand initiatives, including DEI, to bring people together when we were working remotely.Finally, from a leadership point of view the pandemic offered an opportunity to coach people into thinking creatively to find solutions to new challenges – this was extremely rewarding.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
I am proud of all the brands I have launched from the ground up including the Comedy Central UK TV channel, which was nominated for a “best marketing campaign” award, and Gain Theory, part of WPP. I’m proud of these not only because they were commercially successful launches requiring cultural transformation, but mostly because I had the pleasure of leading and inspiring an army of talented people who trusted the vision and gave 100%. When you launch a new brand into the market, you have to flex a wide range of muscles but the ability to build strong, high performing teams who are motivated and trust each other is a key superpower.
I am proud of the DEI work I lead to inspire, empower, and support women. At Gain Theory I co-founded Lumena in 2017 a global initiative which is needed in the Data & Analytics field where there is a huge gender disparity. My role is to lead and guide a Global Board of women and Advisors across North American, EMEA and APAC on how we will move the needle for our women. Over the years we have brought better gender balance to the company at all levels and raised awareness and engagement around topics such as mental load, imposter syndrome, unconscious bias and misogyny.
I am hugely humbled by the role I play as Board advisor for two ethnic minority SMEs and a charity. Knowing that the guidance and advice I give will have a tangible impact on someone’s life and the communities they serve is hugely rewarding and lends itself to my “net positive impact” purpose.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I’d like people to make their own contribution to sustainability. Sustainability is a loaded and overwhelming word with most people asking themselves “what difference could I make?”. My view has always been to find something you are passionate about and do what you can, however small a contribution that may be. I support sustainable fashion and support any initiative that might ultimately help reduce landfill so I shop for clothes in charity shops and second hand websites such as Vestiaire.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
People buy people. The power of connecting with people, inspiring them and helping them grow has a multiplier effect on your personal growth.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
We still have a long way to go to cement women in leadership positions.
We must do more to create work cultures and policies that are supportive of female progression. I am constantly disappointed by the amount of women whose careers have been stunted by starting a family or have simply left an organisation thinking they could not balance parenting with work demands. I am also stunned by the huge volume of women who leave the workforce when they hit the menopause because they don’t receive support from their employers. Both women’s health topics cause a huge drain in valuable workforce talent.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
I have four pieces of advice. Firstly, curiosity will take you far. I have always been curious about people, what makes them tick, taking things apart to understand how they work – don’t be shy to ask questions as long as you have true intent. Secondly, and this has taken me far in life, create a personal board of advisors – a group of people from diverse backgrounds and thinking styles – who can advise you on your career. It’s important to get more one point of view and balance these out in your mind acting as the CEO of your career. Thirdly, build side hustles that bring you joy –
this might be anything from volunteering or advisory roles all the way through to setting up a side hustle that generates an income. Finally, re evaluate your paradigm around time – time is a useless construct, instead pivot to thinking about how you invest your energy and how it yields a return for you personally.