As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Daya Fields.
Daya Fields is a President at Amyris, Inc., overseeing both the Pipette and Purecane brands. She has been a leader in the beauty and personal care industry for nearly two decades, with specialty in the Baby, Nutrition, Health & Wellness and Home categories. She previously served as the Senior Vice President of Marketing & Product Development for the mission-based, personal care brand, Alaffia. Daya was a marketing leader in the consumer packaged goods industry in New York, where she spent a majority of her time at the Estee Lauder Companies (ELC). She was personally recognized by prestigious organizations including Conscious Company Magazine’s list of World Changing Women and by INNOCOS’ Global Cosmetics Summit on their Forces of Change list. She currently serves on the Advisory Boards of Cosmetic Executive Women’s West Coast Committee, as well as their Small Business Advisory Board, INNOCOS Global Cosmetics, Netrush, Saint Martin University’s School of Business and Homes First Non-Profit Organization.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Yes, I’d love to. I found this career path while pursuing my MBA at MIT during my first semester. At the time, I was on a consulting track but was introduced to a global cosmetics conglomerate at a career fair in London, and something just clicked. In a few short weeks, I was set up with interviews at L’Oréal’s New York office and scored my first corporate beauty gig as an MBA level summer intern. I was hooked on beauty, and since 2006, I’ve never looked back! Beauty and personal care became not only a personal passion but a viable long-term profession. In NYC, the summer of my internship, I was introduced to the Estee Lauder Companies and ultimately chose Lauder because of the professional development rotational program, longer employee tenure as compared to the rest of the beauty industry, and the respect the brands and company commanded in the specialty and department store space. While I once envisioned myself as a prestige & luxury marketing maven, my focus and expertise has evolved to mainstream, gen pop beauty and personal care. My sales channel focus is now in Food, Drug, Mass, Grocer with a specialty in Amazon — almost a complete 180 degrees from where I started. The ability to adapt in an ever-changing environment has been my most valuable skill.
After a decade in NYC I was recruited to the West Coast by Alaffia. The brand was heavily concentrated in Whole Foods brick & mortar stores and the natural & grocer channels. As the company’s SVP of Marketing and Product Development, I lead the launch of the brand in both Walmart and Target stores nationwide. It was the brand’s wins, particularly within the baby, hand/body/lotion categories, that made me an attractive candidate to Amyris. My chats with Amyris soon developed into an opportunity to lead both Pipette and Purecane brands based on my knowledge of the CPG industry and expertise in driving growth on Amazon. I was excited to join a team that is so passionate about science-backed formulas, sustainability, and consumer transparency. Amyris’ ethos is to change beauty and personal care into “clean is the new normal”. As an advocate for clean products and having years of experience in the natural channel, I was confident I could bring a fresh perspective to both brands.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the first initiatives I tackled upon joining Amyris was entering Pipette into the Tmall Global Pitch Fest less than two months after my start date. We submitted our application and out of 100 brands, nine were chosen. Pipette was honored to be among the winners selected by Alibaba’s third party judging committee. We were up and running on Tmall Global the week of October 19th — weeks ahead of our expected launch date of November 11th — Alibaba’s Singles’ Day. This was such a fantastic project to lead because I was able to help Pipette immediately expand into its first international market, acquire new consumers, as well as garner over a dozen press hits in Tier 1 publications. This all resulted in hundreds of millions of impressions for the brand. To make this type of an impact so quickly was truly rewarding.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I believe where there is sustained success it usually takes a village of support along the way, collectively throughout one’s journey. My mom and dad have always been committed to my success and taught me that no matter where I find myself, I always have options. My best friend from high school, Amy, has been a mainstay in my life for decades; she has seen me evolve from a “I think I can” kind of a girl to a “Mission accomplished. Thank you — next!” type of a woman — and has seen me through trials and triumphs. There is also much appreciation for my sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. — particularly those with whom I joined the organization. I also can’t forget, Andrew, a best bud from MIT Sloan, and the most impactful bosses that have empowered and supported me throughout my career. These managers were at PBS, ELC, Alaffia and now here at Amyris. WOW — it feels good to acknowledge all of these people in such a public way. I am forever grateful.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
My advice to relieving work related stress is: when you’re feeling anxious and nervous, remember to breathe. Any time that I’m feeling tense, I notice I’m not breathing deeply but shallowly. I remind myself to stop what I’m currently doing, close my eyes, put my right hand on my chest and internalize my process of breathing. It resolves the stress, the panic and anxiety immediately. Lastly, it will help you power through the moments in which you absolutely must see “it” through.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Hiring a diverse executive team directly impacts your ability to foster sustainable business growth. Having leaders in all areas of your organization who think differently, represent different geographies, and are ethnically or culturally diverse will keep you from having blind spots in your product or service offerings and development. The diversity makes you less likely to miss imperative business tactics. It took the beauty industry decades to launch foundations and concealers that work for women of color, and because they lacked perspective, they missed out on entirely new customer segments and the sales from these consumers. Most importantly, these consumers actually over-index in this type of product consumption. As America becomes more and more diverse, the only way to ensure sustainable, long-term growth is to have a diverse set of employees — from executive leadership on down — represented at the table.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Diversity should be a priority in the hiring process, but it doesn’t stop there. An organization also needs to consider their internal processes to retain its diverse employees. Do they feel heard at the workplace? Are they being given equal opportunities? Are they teamed with high priority projects? Do they receive equitable compensation? Do they receive public acknowledgement? There are lots of initiatives outside corporate America that address inclusivity, equity and representation, and I see private and public sector core recruitment and retention as an essential, long-term strategy. If there hadn’t been this type of openness and dedication at Amyris, Inc., I wouldn’t be here today.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Top line executives are the ultimate problem solvers. The rest of the team helps narrow down options and resolves issues to the best of their ability, but they are not as effective in resolving larger organizational challenges that span departments, geographies and cross functional teams. At the end of the day, the executive has to make the final call to solve the problem.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest misconceptions are that we’re not approachable, that we don’t want to hear how our employees are doing personally — that we’re all about results and nothing else matters. Early in my career, whenever I saw a C-level executive in the hallway or in the cafeteria, I got out of their way and kept my head down, never wanting to interact or be noticed — I truly didn’t think that “they” wanted to be bothered with “me” What I realize now that I am at this level is that it can be a lonely place. I’m an exec that wants to know my people and my teams. The best part of my day is to hear their ideas about their development and gain perspective in making things better.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Although social norms are changing for the better, as a mom, I believe one of the most obvious challenges women face are flexible work arrangements. In order to fully embrace this concept, businesses need to focus more on productivity and less on time spent at a physical desk. 2020 was eye opening to the way we work and lots of positive things came out of it. As a woman in business, the biggest work-related challenge I faced this past year was balancing my role as a corporate leader on the pulse of ever-changing consumer buying behaviors with being a teacher of three school aged children eight and under, all while remaining a present and engaged parent. It was an hourly challenge. I addressed these challenges by remembering to breathe, prioritize, sit quietly and think about the present and the future. I let go of the “should have” and “could have”. Said “no” to what’s not absolutely essential. And lastly, thought about the well-being of my children and family. Once I did these things, what I needed to do in that moment became unquestionably clear. Female executives need to relinquish the pressure to be superwoman in all areas of life and embrace being “good enough” in certain areas, from time to time, until we can catch our breath.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
- I thought I’d be focused on revenue goals weekly, but I am actually focused on revenue goals daily.
- In my role, I also never thought I’d find myself actively thinking about my team’s well-being so frequently. I now recognize in actuality that I think about my team’s well-being several times a day and actively look for and observe their engagement through our daily meetings and calls.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t think this role is made for everyone, as the pressure can be quite intense. The business style and personal traits I believe could thrive in an executive role are the following:
- The individual needs to have overcome several personal and professional trials and tribulations, and in spite of this, can pick themselves up and keep rising to the next level.
- They need to be okay with not being accepted by everyone.
- They need to be willing and ready to embrace change.
- They’re able to network and develop close relationships they can lean on at any moment.
- They see the big picture and purpose.
- They need to be desensitized to rejection, but are also results-oriented.
- They are able to build a strong team.
Alternatively, those who care deeply about other people’s opinions of them, who shy away from conflict or who can’t handle tough conversations, negativity, failure and evolving challenges should reconsider the executive track.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’d recommend they simply help each other to solve problems and work through professional issues and challenges. Celebrate small and/or big wins — game-time — as soon as they happen. Don’t delay.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m proud of my past and present work to help provide sustainable products that people have grown to love and trust. At Purecane, for example, we have a strong commitment to sustainability. As a vertically integrated organization, we use 40 times less water than competitive sweetener brands, and our packaging is made from recycled sugarcane, meaning zero trees are harmed or utilized. We use carbon-neutral shipping as well as recycled byproduct to enrich the fields where our sugarcane is sourced. Knowing its good for you and the planet makes my work extremely gratifying.
Additionally, when I hire people and create teams, I recognize that offering people jobs allows them the ability to support both their immediate and extended families — and their communities.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Prioritize knowledge on building wealth and act on it. This includes generating more than one stream of revenue to ensure long-term lifestyle sustainability.
- Recognize that, whatever chapter you’re in right now, good or bad, it will not last — change is inevitable.
- Every loss, transition or failure will make you more prepared for your very next step.
- Weigh yourself on a scale every week, as things can get out of hand without realizing it! 😊
- Finally, never burn bridges — this adds to the total options and choices you have in life…for life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Since first volunteering in the 8th grade, I have cared deeply about the growing homeless dilemma in the U.S. It’s a multi-faceted complex problem. Some people are born into homelessness, others want to completely live off the grid; there is also poverty, substance abuse and mental health issues that play a substantial role in this growing epidemic. Lawmakers from State to County never seem to want to combat it in a cohesively aggressive way that will ensure continuity. With more than 3.6 million people in the U.S. on the verge of homelessness based on the recent evictions lift by the federal government (July 31, 2021), this problem is about to get far worse before it gets better. I personally have been serving on boards that address the homelessness problem from Massachusetts to Washington State since I was in my 20s. I do my part but it’s not enough. The issue is top of mind for me almost daily living near cities where there is painfully visible homelessness (Olympia & Seattle).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The future depends on what you do today” — Gandhi. It’s relevant because it’s true in almost all cases. The seeds I planted 15 years ago, 5 years ago, 11 months ago have blossomed into what exists today. Many of the experiences positive, many successes that I’m proud of, and many people I have helped, supported, and mentored along the way. However, those handful of failures, those times where I could have used more light in my daily life and a broader perspective…I’ve learned a heck of a lot from these experiences too — enough to not repeat the same missteps or have the same misunderstandings.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I am truly inspired by the former CEO of BET Networks, Debra Lee, who in two decades at the helm of BET, built a global entertainment powerhouse, bringing this dominant brand to more than 60 countries and 125 million households. She made so many black men and women feel they were finally seen, included and reflected in mainstream society. To finally see the TV screen filled with people and faces that resembled themselves and their journeys was life-changing, building confidence and self-esteem. Debra bravely challenged cultural norms and addressed the way black Americans were depicted in the media. I greatly admire her vision, strategy, diligent execution and the longevity of her work.