Newly appointed Heineken USA CEO Maggie Timoney, who earlier this month became the first female executive to lead a top five U.S. beer company, wants her performance, not her gender, to do the talking.
Asked by National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) CEO Craig Purser what “different perspective” she brings to the beer industry, and Heineken USA, Timoney — who paused for about five seconds before answering – delivered a simple but powerful response.
“I’ll be judged on my results, not on whether I’m male or female,” she said, to applause from a crowd of mostly male beer distributors who attended the trade group’s annual meeting in San Diego.
The message from Timoney was clear: In a male-dominated beer industry, she should be seen as a peer, and her ability to turn around a struggling Heineken USA organization should have nothing to do with her sex.
“I was put in this job not because I am a woman,” she said. “I was put in this job because Amsterdam believed in me. And I hope, with my team and with the fantastic people at Heineken USA, that I can deliver those results, but I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Moving beyond the obvious gender narrative has already proved challenging. During the NBWA’s own welcome reception on Sunday night, a male wholesaler approached her after a “few beers” and described the party as a “circus” while simultaneously referring to her as the “freak at the circus.”
Timoney, who shared the anecdote on stage Tuesday, said she thought it was “hilarious,” but the reaction from the crowd was more varied. Some laughed, while others gasped.
“I will be judged for my results,” she reiterated.
In June, Heineken USA, which has seen off-premise retail sales decline more than five percent through the first eight months of the year, according to market research firm IRI, named Timoney its next CEO.
Timoney, a U.S. citizen who “cut her beer teeth” as a sales supervisor for New York’s Sound Distributing Corporation, was previously the CEO and managing director of Heineken Ireland. She’s been with Heineken for more than 20 years, serving in a variety of roles and working on strategic planning, global partnerships, and international distribution.
Nevertheless, the June announcement generated considerable buzz, since it was the first time that a female had been appointed to lead a beer company of Heineken USA’s size and scale.
After the dust from the news cycle had settled, Timoney’s husband, Glenn, asked her about all of the headlines and suggested that she would be inspiring a future generation of female business leaders.
“He said to me – ‘A lot of young girls are looking at you to see how you do,’” she recounted. “As if I didn’t need any more pressure, right? And I really had a tear in my eye, because I never look at myself differently.
“I know I have a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders to deliver for Heineken USA, to deliver for the industry, to deliver for myself and my family and for female leaders and young girls everywhere who say, ‘Yes, yes, I can be there,’” she added.
So how does Timoney, who supplanted former Heineken USA chief Ronald den Elzen, think the industry should evolve?
She believes that a combination of hard work, a renewed focus on consumer desires, and cross-tier unity will not only help Heineken reverse its trends but will also help the larger beer industry recapture market share that’s been lost to wine and spirits over the last two decades.
“It begins and ends with the consumer,” she said. “They are the judge and they are the jury.
“If you interact with the consumer on their terms, and not on our terms – and I think that is another shift we need to make – then wherever you sell beer, there is a lot more similarities than differences,” she added, drawing on her experience working to grow volume and revenue in Ireland.
Timoney, who was asked about her first impressions of the U.S. beer market since taking over as Heineken USA CEO on September 4, addressed issues such as the pressure from wine, spirits, and cannabis as well as lost beer occasions.
Alluding to similar pressures in Ireland, Timoney said both beer industries spend too much time talking about the challenges and not enough time developing actual solutions to address them.
“I think we need to do something,” she said. “I heard yesterday that we don’t need disruption, we need transformation. But in order to get to transformation, it starts with people. And when I look around Heineken USA, or I look around the room, I ask the question – do we hire the same thinkers as ourselves?”
Timoney stressed that it’s “not about being male or female” either, but rather about hiring people with fresh perspectives.
“If we love beer, we have to stop doing things the same old way and don’t be afraid to hire people that think differently than you, because it will only make you better,” she said.
She closed by calling on members of all three tiers to collaborate on moving the industry forward.
“We have a huge responsibility — a collective responsibility — to work together and stop throwing the toys out of the pram, which can happen sometimes,” she said. “If we don’t work together, we are not going to make a dent in ensuring that beer gets back on the pedestal that it deserves in this great country.”