Featured Video Play Icon

A Conversation with Heineken USA CEO Maggie Timoney

For the latest episode of Comparably and Entrepreneur’s Leadership Lessons series, Comparably CEO/Co-founder Jason Nazar spoke with a woman who is shattering the glass ceiling of an industry dominated by men, Maggie Timoney of HEINEKEN USA — the nation’s leading high-end beer importer and a subsidiary of Heineken N.V. From a single brewery in Amsterdam nearly 150 years ago, HEINEKEN has grown into a global business and importer of the world’s most valuable premium beverage brands (Dos Equis, Tecate, AriZona SunRise Hard Seltzer, Amstel, Red Stripe and more). In 1933, it became the first imported beer to re-enter the U.S. market after Prohibition, and today, the company proudly employs over 400 employees across the country.

Timoney’s career with HEINEKEN began in 1998 as a National Sales Planning Manager in the United States, and she has held several global and management positions within the organization. The Ireland native was formerly General Manager for HEINEKEN Canada, SVP of HR in the U.S., and CEO for HEINEKEN Ireland before taking on the role of HEINEKEN USA’s CEO in 2018.

An incredible raconteur, Timoney provided thoughtful insight on the most important lessons she learned from her 25-year-career and in life. In fact, playing basketball was a huge early passion for her and her life on the court was often used in analogies to illuminate many of her sage leadership ideas. Timoney’s business acumen combined with her brilliant personality made this one of the peaks of the series so far. Here are 10 takeaways from the conversation:

1. A lateral move may give you the depth of experience that a jump to another company won’t. A career filled with 18-month long stays at a series of different companies won’t necessarily get you the development you want. Take advantage of opportunities to learn a new skill set in another department or grow your professional career by moving internally within your organization. Timoney made a cross-functional move from her role as GM of HEINEKEN Canada to SVP and Chief HR Officer with HEINEKEN USA. She says her career greatly benefited from this decision.

2. Doing your current job well is often the best career move. You are not going to get that job you’re eyeing three promotions from now if you don’t do a good job in the one you’re at today. Focus on the job at hand, excel at it, and “wonderful things will happen,” advises Timoney.

3. It’s not a CEO’s job to have all the answers. Timoney says that good leaders depend on the people they hired to support them, especially those with differing areas of expertise: “If you think about the companies that have survived, and even thrived, during the pandemic they worked together as a team to figure their way out of the crisis.”

4. Don’t impose your work style on others. “We like people to look like us and act like us. And that’s already an issue for inclusion and diversity,” Timoney shares. It is natural to trust others who adapt to our work methods over those with different ways of working or solving a problem, but a CEO needs to look past that at the quality of the work itself.

5. At the end of the day, we’re all people. Timoney’s father always told her that whether you’re the man sweeping the street or the Pope himself, it’s still “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” in the end. “The majority of people are good people who try to do the right thing. The intent is there,” Timoney says thoughtfully. Remember that your shared humanity is the greatest equalizer, and proceed with that faith.

6. When a CEO has to lay down the law, timing is everything. While it is often a leader’s job to listen and listen well, it is also their responsibility to make difficult and final decisions themselves. “You have to use your judgment on the timing of when to do this,” Timoney advises. “What I do is create a safe environment so that my team can call me and say, ‘Can I talk to you? You didn’t consider these two things, and you went too early,’ etc.”

7. Make sure your leaders are ready to lead. Timoney always asks three things of the leaders on her team:
• Be capable in your function.
• Be a great leader.
• Have a broader business perspective than just your function.

8. Keep one unexpected interview question in your back pocket to get a true read on a candidate. Instead of the usual question about the success of a candidate’s last project, Timoney prefers to ask something that can gauge the interviewee’s ability to think on their feet, their personality, and their ability to be open. One of the questions is, “What three songs would you bring if you were going to be stranded on a desert island?” A question like this can tell you a lot about the person and what’s important to them.

9. Naivete can be an ally in an unfair system. Timoney was raised in an active family, with a father who would take her outside to play football (soccer) in the street with the local boys. She also played high school and collegiate basketball, and whenever there was a pickup game and the men didn’t have enough people she would always be asked since she played the sport. She believes that all of these experiences ended up serving her well because she never felt “less than” because she was a woman and never assumed she would achieve less for being a woman.

10. Be open-minded. Leaders and executives often have very strong convictions, and that’s a necessary part of the job. So is remaining open-minded. “If you stick to only your own ideas, you’re going to miss some brilliant ones,” warns Timoney. “[In my head,] I have a switch that I turn on, and a curtain that goes back that says ‘Be Open’.”

For more from this hour-long talk with Maggie Timoney, watch the full webinar here. The growing collection of episodes from our series gives readers access to the best practices of successful CEOs from over 30 of the biggest brands, including Headspace, Zoom, Chipotle, Warby Parker, and ZipRecruiter, to name a few.