Amy Taylor is President and Chief Marketing Officer of Red Bull.
In her own career and development as a leader, Amy has seen the value of diversity of thought and leadership style. At Out Leadership’s OutNEXT Global Summit in 2018, Amy spoke about the evolution of her own ideas of how a leader looks and acts, and how that made her a more effective leader: “I had certain archetypes of leadership in my life, a strong jaw and toughness and presenting as such, and I played that for a while. But in the last 10 years I’ve learned that some of my points of distinction as a leader that I’ve been able to leverage are my informality and imperfections and vulnerability.”
Amy founded and is the executive sponsor for the Inclusion and Diversity initiative at Red Bull, and she serves on several advisory committees at selected start-ups and advocacy groups, with a focus on human rights and equality.
Describe how you came out:
I came out when I was 29, both at work and to family and friends. That was 19 years ago, and I had been at Red Bull for about a year at that time. I’m really grateful for my family and my friends and to the community that I found at work that really never looked back or thought differently of me.
How has being out at work influenced your leadership approach and style?
I think there are many things that make me distinct – being lesbian is one of them. I’ve found that to be an advantage, not necessarily because I stand out or I’m different, but because it allows me to hopefully model a way of navigating the world from within this community, from outside of it, and on its behalf.
For me, it’s been an honor to be really thoughtful about it and it’s one of the many things that gives me real purpose.
The most important thing I have learned from a boss is:
I had an exchange with my boss during a pretty pivotal moment in my career. I asked him, “do you think that I need to change my style to operate at the next level? Do you think I need to be more precise, be more formal?” And he said, “First of all, you would never be able to do that.” Which is true. “And second of all, if I were to tell you yes, then you should go work somewhere else.”
It was the most sincere endorsement of truly being yourself at work that I’ve ever seen. He was encouraging me not just to dig in and be all of who I am, but to expect that it would actually help me get to the next level. That’s an ally. It’s not always the person who raises their hand and says, “I’m an ally.” It’s someone who actually supports people and acknowledges that the individual is part of the magic.
The most important thing I have learned from an employee is:
Realizing how much I have to learn from my employees has been a fundamental part of my learning curve as a leader. I wasted a lot of time in my first 10 years in senior positions as a “bootstrapper”, thinking that it’s up to individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and earn their way forward. But as Martin Luther King said, “it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
And about 10 years ago when I first moved to a fairly senior level, several young women in the organization came to me and said, “Hey, we think there’s an opportunity to create a dialogue around being a woman in the workplace.’ As a marketer I like to hear a brief which identifies a problem and gives a path to solve the problem. As a bootstrapper I didn’t see the problem. Only after two or three attempts to get my attention did I see that I was wasting an opportunity to make an impact and to show women in the organization a path to senior leadership, not just by modeling, but by actively facilitating it.
That was the moment I realized how much I’m learning right now. I’m convicted by people who are 20 years younger than I am. I’ve learned a lot since then about reverse mentoring, and I’m really interested in how we can leverage that in our organization as well as in the LGBTQ community. Fresh thinkers who are two, three years into the workforce can help senior leaders think differently about their opportunity to influence, and that’s been really profound for me.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite anyone from history, who would you invite and why?
I would love to spend time with Michelle Obama, partially because she helped to change policy in real, positive ways as a first lady very much in the public eye, not defined by her spouse, and as a woman of color. But beyond that, also because of her authenticity – not just her ability to communicate, but her passion points that she came back to consistently during her time in the White House.
She’s been an amazing trailblazer for women of color who face incredible odds in our society and in our history. There are certainly others, but for me, just sitting at dinner and having a real conversation, I would clearly want it to be her.
The three books I would take to a deserted island are:
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, because it’s about the idea that survival is rooted in a sense of purpose. Gandhi’s autobiography, because I could read it again and again, and it’s timeless. Patti Smith’s Just Kids, because I would want to dream about New York City and not being on a deserted island.
What would be the opening song in a movie about your life, and why?
Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
One thing that’s a really fundamental part of my story is that I met the love of my life at work. We had to navigate the workplace in that regard and manage the dotted lines, but the amazing thing was that we had the rare opportunity of seeing the best of each other at work. It’s so rare that you can just see your partner working. We got married just months before the Supreme Court denied the ability for states to block that right for same sex couples, which is amazing.
But the really fundamental part of our journey is that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor just a few weeks after we started seeing one another, and she died in June 2017. The reason I mentioned it in the context of work that a lot of people think about legacy when they think about their careers. I don’t think that much about my legacy. But I do think about my wife’s, and it convicts me every day not to waste the opportunity that I have to make an impact for women and for the LBGT community. That means in my immediate sphere of influence at work, but also in the world. I think of working for a brand that can contribute to the culture as a tremendous opportunity, but also an obligation. And I think about her every day when I think about why it’s important.