can’t expect them to suddenly know
how to work together.
I was weighing way too heavily on
my strengths as a marketer, which had
served me well in the airline industry
but had no relevance in this business.
And I was totally ignoring my glaring
weaknesses. When I got fired, it wasn’t
like a bunch of people were laid o;. It
was one person. It was me. To the day I
die, I will never forget the humiliation
of being singled out, told that I was not
only getting fired but I lost my green-card application, my visa. They gave me
a one-way ticket back to New Zealand.
That was my severance. I had three
months to not get deported, basically.
It was pretty bad, and while it took me
a number of years to fully recover and
develop the learnings and strengths
that come after something like that,
there’s no question, when I look back
now, that I would not have had some of
the latest successes in my career had I
not gone through that.
Once you’ve survived getting fired, you
have a lot more basic confidence and
willingness to take risks because you
know you will survive. For example,
later on when I was leading the Gatorade turnaround and things were going
incredibly badly to start with, I actually
did say to my boss, “Either fire me now
or let me do what I know to be true.”
The self-awareness piece, to me, is by
far the biggest [thing].
I think it just brought me down 100
notches and made me realize I’m really
good at some things and I’m terrible at
others, and some of those skills I have,
over the years, really pushed myself to
develop and acquire. Some of them I
recognize I’m never going to be good
at, but I’ve become much better at
partnering with others that can help me
understand where my deficits are.
I think that’s a really important output
of it: recognizing you can’t be great at
everything, and that’s fine, but as long
as you’re aware of where you might trip
up, you can find the other people to support you and you support them.
You’re credited with turning Gatorade
from a stagnant brand into a powerhouse. What connection can you make
between the process behind that
achievement and how meeting organizers can inject new life into their events?
I think a challenging piece of advice
would be this: Don’t be afraid, when
you’re thinking of creating agendas and
experiences, to be exclusive. What I
mean by that is sometimes I think when
we’re creating marketing ideas — certainly employee events or consumer
events — it’s easy to want to appeal to
everyone and make sure everyone has
a great time. But sometimes when you
do that, you make the experience less
memorable because you’re trying to
appeal to everyone.
Using the Gatorade example, when
it was founded 40 or 50 years ago, it
was a tonic to help athletes achieve
greater performance. Fast-forward
to the late 2010s and it’s being sold
in Walmart, stacked high with potato
chips, to anyone who has a throat. I
remember what led to the turnaround,
and it was incredibly hard to convince
people — the board, the analysts,
administrators — because we kept
saying, “We have to walk away from
trying to be all things to all people and
go really narrow again. Instead of targeting 18-to-49-year-olds who have a
throat, let’s go out to 13-to-17-year-old
ON THE WEB
› Sarah Robb O’Hagan will deliver
a Main Stage presentation at
PCMA Education Conference 2017,
being held in New York City on
June 11; 14. For more information,
› To learn more about Sarah Robb
O’Hagan, visit extremeyou.com.
‘Don’t be afraid, when you’re thinking of
creating agendas and experiences, to