As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Eshuys.
Katie Eshuys, Global Chief Sales Officer at That’s it., is a young entrepreneurial executive experienced in accelerating global growth for food and beverage brands, focusing on health and wellness categories. She specializes in scaling disruptive, high-growth brands across the United States and international markets. As a leader in the “start-up to global business” space, Eshuys is committed to ushering in the new wave of bold and innovative lifestyle products.
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?
I was born and raised in Australia and started my career as a retail buyer at Coles, one of Australia’s largest grocery retailers. Since an early age, retail and consumer goods have run through my veins. My career was on a fast track in Australia, but I had greater ambitions and wanted the opportunity to learn and gain experience in a new market — and I knew I needed to leave Australia to do so. My decision to take a job in the United States was a frightening one with many painful bumps along the way, but it’s ultimately what put my career on the path it’s on today.
Once I was living and working in California, I was able to make the move from a global corporate company to the small private business space. This leap enabled me to develop my entrepreneurial leadership style, which has been essential to my progression into C-Suite at my current high-growth company, That’s it. I now have the opportunity to share my passion for innovative, better-for-you foods with consumers, along with leading a strong team to deliver on this mission — both in the U.S. and internationally.
In a couple of words: What does a C-Suite executive do that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
All leaders need to be strategic, motivating, and resilient, but the differentiating factor of a C-Suite executive is vision. I believe true greatness comes from a leader’s ability to personify a company’s vision, and inspire the team to not only connect with the same set of goals, but to reflect it in their everyday actions.
Are there any myths that you’d like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive?
Many people think successful women in C-Suite must act in stereotypically masculine ways, such as being aggressive and having a ‘control and command’ style, but that’s not true. I’ve found that ‘transformational’ leaders behaving as coaches and showing vulnerability can be just as effective. In a modern workforce, it needs to be acceptable for any employee to display softer skills, set boundaries, support their home life, and not to glorify ‘busy’ work. Ultimately, a strong leader will act within their own style and be the most authentic version of themselves, rather than trying to fit a mold that they believe is expected of them.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe women still often struggle to be seen and heard by their male counterparts. There have been countless times I’ve personally experienced this; men avoiding eye contact with me across the boardroom or ignoring my input. The degree of this varies across industries, job functions and countries — I’ve noticed it more frequently when I’ve been in sales roles where the female-to-male ratio is low, and was also especially true during my time in the liquor industry, where things can feel archaic. Regardless of the industry or role, struggling to be heard can be a huge challenge for women in the workplace as it can lead to self-doubt and a distrust in our own voice. Women need to have confidence to express ideas and have this met in a supportive, inclusive environment.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job, and how you thought the job would be?
Coming on as CSO, I naturally assumed that my role in C-Suite would mostly involve leading the sales team and strategy. I quickly learned, however, that C-Suite doesn’t have a singular focus in the same way the rest of the the company does. Being part of the C-Suite demands taking on more of a generalist role that requires a broad and general business acumen along with the ability to execute seamlessly across many functions of the business. Thankfully my background is diverse, and my previous experiences across sales, retail operations, marketing, and analytics have enabled me to adapt quickly to C-Suite demands. I enjoy learning new things everyday and in a small business, you must wear many different hats, and lead your team from the trenches.
Do you think that 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.
I don’t think that everyone is cut out to be an executive — and that’s okay, because not everyone wants to be. C-Suite executives need to have clear vision and an ability to bring out the best in a team, to coach them to think strategically, be innovative, and take action. Above all though, they need to have a strong underlying degree of fearlessness. One of my favorite examples of a fearless leader is Kara Goldin, CEO at Hint Water. I’ve spoken with Kara directly about her experiences, and one of her most pivotal moments was when a Coca-Cola executive laughed at her idea to create a fruit-infused water brand. Kara pushed beyond doubts and fear and started Hint Water, which is now a multi-million dollar brand. Without fearlessness, Kara would not have been able to chase down her dream after being told ‘no’ by so many established business people around her. Go Kara!
Thriving as a C-Suite executive also demands high amounts of resilience, ambition, and self-awareness — and I recommend that anyone without an appetite to develop these characteristics steers clear.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their teams to thrive?
Self-awareness is key, as is inviting feedback from your team. Feedback is a gift, so encouraging and accepting it will not only increase trust with your team, but it will improve your self-awareness and enable you to become a stronger leader. It’s also very important to protect your focus and only worry about what you can control. Lastly, I am a big believer in manifestation. If you believe it to be true, it will be. Spend time visualizing and manifesting your goals, and apply this to your everyday life. I enjoy marathon running and when I’m training, I constantly visualize myself crossing the finish line over and over again — nothing can get in my way!
I also consider myself to be a strength practitioner, which means utilizing and enhancing your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. I’ve found a lot of success in this approach, as it is an efficient way to emphasize your talents and energy. Nobody can do it all, so I encourage women to put more emphasis on making progress in areas they can harness growth, rather than trying to be a perfectionist at everything.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One of the best things about my role at That’s it. is that I truly believe that we are working towards building a more nutritious, educated and healthier world. We’ve all seen the research — diets that are high in real, whole foods can reduce the risk of chronic disease and make people live longer. And yet, the average American diet relies heavily on processed food, devoid of the fruit and vegetables our bodies need to thrive. Unfun fact: two-thirds of calories consumed by children and teens come from ultra-processed foods! Every day at That’s it., we’re taking steps to change this by making healthy, nutrient-dense food more accessible and convenient to the country. We’re actively working to increase fruit consumption in the K-12 school system, we’re partnering with organizations that share a mission similar to ours, and everyday we create products that make healthy eating more accessible to the masses. The fact my work empowers me to drive a health agenda as our number one objective is something that makes me feel incredibly proud.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since you began?
I flew out to Texas a few years ago to meet with a buyer at a very important global retailer. Little did I know that this particular buyer had a problem with respect for women — and I was about to experience it firsthand.
I arrived at the meeting a few minutes early, checked in at the reception area, and waited there until being summoned to his office a few minutes after the hour. At that point, the buyer insisted that I was two minutes late, and demanded that he would not start the meeting until I did ten pushups for every one minute that I was late. That’s right — he said that the meeting would not continue until I got on the floor in my pencil skirt, and “gave him twenty pushups.”
At first I laughed in disbelief and discomfort — I thought there was no way that he could be serious. But sure enough, he refused to discuss business until I finally made a move to get on the floor. As I started to bend down, he finally brushed me off, gestured to a seat at the desk, and indicated his willingness to begin the meeting.
To this day, I’m disgusted with this man’s appalling behavior and determination to prove his power and control of the meeting. I can’t help but wonder if he would have done the same if I had been male — and I fear that the answer here is a clear no.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was playing in a Costco Executive Golf tournament a few years ago and was determined to show my colleagues that I could swing a club. I was partnered up with a guy called Reggie Bush, who was a very tall and athletic-looking man. Things were going well as we approached the third hole. In front of about eight other players, all of whom where men and big sports fans, I asked Reggie what he did for a living. Everyone froze and began chuckling under their breath. How was I, new to America, to know he was a professional NFL player? Why was a celebrity playing in a business golf tournament!? I was confused, but thankfully Reggie was very kind and didn’t make a big deal of it. I only realized a few holes later how famous he probably was and felt mortified. The lesson I learned here: Leave the corporate golf tournaments to the pros.
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 today?
I’m grateful to have many colleagues, friends and family that have played incredibly supportive roles throughout my career. However, I have found that the most impactful people can be the tough, relentless, and — at times — unfair individuals that you come across. Sometimes you can learn more from people that are difficult because it forces reliance and determination… and that has certainly been the case with me. I once had someone from the management team tell me I was going to fail in my role because of my age and lack of experience in comparison to my peers. From the moment those words left his mouth, I was more determined than ever to deliver results and succeed. I recruited a mentor to support me and found myself exceeding the expectations of the business (and that manager) within six months.
Encountering challenging bosses, such as the one mentioned above, has taught me the importance of focusing on developing relationships with mentors, leveraging key stakeholders for development opportunities, and trusting your own capabilities, despite discouragement or doubt from others.
As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare you mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or examples?
I have always been an athletic person — I compete in endurance events and rely on long morning runs to clear my head and mentally prepare for important meetings. As previously mentioned, I’m also big on visualization. Before a big meeting, I’ll visualize almost everything, even down to the room and its layout. I’ll get to the room early and work through what I want to accomplish and how. I also find that taking the ‘power stance’ is an effective technique for me. Standing in front of a room delivering a presentation can be intimidating, but when I’m in my power stance, I automatically feel stronger and more assertive, which then enables me to deliver my message with confidence.
Why do you feel like it’s important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
Study after study shows that diverse executive teams and work places are good for business. They lead to higher employee morale, engagement, retention and therefore, a stronger bottom line. I also believe that diversity in leadership means diversity in thoughts and ideas, and access to different sets of cultural and personal experiences, all of which are essential to any company’s success.
One area within the diversity conversation that hits home particularly hard with me is the high percentage of LGBTQ employees that hide this part of their identity at work. I recently read that about 25% of LGBTQ employees are not out with their colleagues and 55% are not out with their clients. As a member of this group myself, it’s hard to hear that so many feel forced hid a central element of who they are in order to achieve professional success. I hope that by living my own truth and being comfortable with this in a business environment, others are encouraged to do the same.
What are a few steps we can take to create an exclusive, representative, and equitable society? Do you have examples of brands that do well in this area?
This is a particularly important issue for me, as I happen to be part of a few minority groups that are not well-represented amongst business executives. I’m female, a non-U.S. citizen, and part of the LGBTQ community — so the statistics are against me. I think it is critical for companies to strive to create an employee base that is more representative of modern society, and to also push to support equity and fairness in society, outside of just making profit. Consumers are really beginning to notice and seek out companies and brands that do. One company in particular that has really impressed me in this area is Peloton. Everything that Peloton does — whether that be branded video content, communication from instructors during class, official partnerships, etc. — is actively working towards creating a more equitable community. They’ve taken on responsibility to combat racism, support underserved communities through financial assistance, expand their DE&I team, and implement an internal training and development program. In addition to all of these important steps, the company has created a genuine inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community which has certainly been felt amongst their members (or “family”). Peloton’s intentional inclusive efforts really brought people together on a global scale when it was needed the most. (Hello, 2020.)
What are the “5 things I wish someone told me before I started” and why? (Please share examples for each.)
1. Advocate for yourself: Verbalize out loud what you want and the support you need to get there.
2. Find your passion and stay curious: Make your passion an obsession and turn your curiosity into knowledge.
3. Elevate other women: At some point in our careers, we have probably all felt threatened by other women and thought it was an unavoidable part of our work dynamics. Forget that! We have a responsibility to shine light on our women colleagues to amplify their ideas. You will be a better leader for it.
4. Respect rest and protect your energy when needed: There is no shame in setting boundaries. We need to allow ourselves to find the balance so we can come to work 100%, as better versions of ourselves.
5. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable: We’ve all heard the saying that nothing great happens in our comfort zone, and it’s true! Never be afraid to take risks, celebrate the wins, and learn from failure.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
An issue that I feel passionate about is increasing education in nutrition and healthy eating for children. Kids receive schooling in so many areas: math, science, history, etc. But arguably, none of these subjects will impact them as dramatically as what they need to learn about adequately fueling their bodies. I believe that learning about nutrition from a young age can help kids develop lifelong healthy relationships with food, better equipping them to maintain a healthy lifestyle into adulthood. At That’s it. we’ve recently launched a five-video series called Smart Apple Academy that has been designed to teach kids about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition. We’ve already seen a great response to it, and are continuing to explore any and all creative ways that we can continue working towards positive impacts in this area.
Can you give us your favorite Life Lesson quote? Can you share why it’s relevant in your life?
“Imagine if you could design your own life.”
I saw this on a sign back home in Melbourne in my early 20s. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t that be cool if we could design our own lives.” And then realized… Wait, we can. I still think about this sign today, and it makes me realize that we have the power to design and write our own story. If we don’t, we’ll become spectators that can fall victim to our own circumstance. Even when things go as planned, this quote reminds me that we can always reframe and revise the script.
If you could have lunch with one person in the world, who would it be and why?
That’s an easy one: The Queen! Queen Elizabeth is the original badass boss. Plus, I imagine she would serve some great scones with jam, and hopefully some Champagne.