As Chief People & Diversity Officer, Michelle sets the strategy for leadership, diversity and talent development at all levels within Molson Coors. Her leadership enables the business to be a stronger, more effective competitor with enhanced commercial capabilities to fuel growth and win in the marketplace.
Michelle was appointed to the Molson Coors Executive Leadership Team as part of the 2016 acquisition of MillerCoors, where she served as Chief of Human Resources. At MillerCoors, Michelle was responsible for building and sustaining organizational and leadership capability while ensuring the company retained, developed and attracted top talent to deliver strong business results. She also served as senior director of diversity and integrated talent management, leading the strategy for diversity and inclusion, as well as talent resourcing and management for the company.
Previously, Michelle worked for Miller Brewing Company where she served cross-functional partners on HR strategic projects and supported the legal department as assistant general counsel for areas including sales and distribution, labor and employment and finance.
Michelle received a Juris Doctorate from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Bachelor of Science in economics from Florida A&M University. Michelle and her husband, Cory, split their time between their homes in Denver and Milwaukee where they’re both actively involved in youth services and education initiatives.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My background has everything to do with my current role today. I was born to a teen mom and raised by my grandmothers, so I grew up around some very strong women. My grandmothers gave me three important lessons that I’ve always kept in my toolkit. First is humility. There are no ‘big’ or ‘little’ “I’s” – there is just us and we. The second lesson is to always work hard. My grandmother said sometimes you get what you work for, and other times you don’t. It was her way of saying failure happens and that’s ok, it’s about how you work to respond. The last lesson is to pay it forward. So much of what I love to do is helping others – helping people realize their dreams. HR is a big part of that. We offer people jobs and careers which help them support their families, as well as ways for them to develop within our company for personal growth. I love my job and am blessed to be in a career where I can give back and help others grow and succeed daily.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Molson Coors?
My first job after law school was in the law department at a large international manufacturer. I worked hard and did everything I thought I was supposed to, but ultimately I feel that I failed there – it was like flunking a test you had studied so hard for. Culturally, it wasn’t a fit for me and I wasn’t yet at a place where I knew my own voice. I learned a lot about myself, both personally and professionally during that time, and the experience helped me become more true to myself.
Then, I joined the Miller Brewing Company. It was there that, for the first time, my employer saw more in me than I saw in myself. The head of HR at the time was the person who initially asked me to move from the legal department to human resources. I declined the offer many times, but he persisted and continued to provide me with resources and experiences that really opened my eyes to the opportunity. He spent a year sending me to different countries to witness other HR programs and better understand the power of human potential. He convinced me that I could learn, create and make a real impact in HR – and I haven’t stopped since. Now, in my new role as global Chief People and Diversity Officer at Molson Coors, I’ve taken all those learnings and continue to pay it forward, helping to develop individuals within our company.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Molson Coors?
When a colleague of mine went on maternity leave, I inherited the recruiting team at MillerCoors, the US business unit of Molson Coors. I quickly learned that you may end up working two jobs at once before you get “the job.” Candidly, I was told by other colleagues at the time that this team needed help. Being in HR, I know our purpose is to deliver to our customers – our employees – and this was a big challenge for me. Over time, I was able to grow the team professionally, strengthen their impact on the business and help guide a complete turnaround in the department.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Earn your seat at the table, sit down, challenge and deliver value. Of course, we all know this from Sheryl Sandberg and I find it incredibly important. Working in the beer industry, I’m often the only woman in the room, which could have been a huge barrier for me. But, I didn’t let being in the minority hold me back. I found my seat at the table and did so in a way that was authentic to me. So much of that comes from being first self-aware, open to continuously growing and feedback, having a sense of confidence in my abilities, listening to my own voice and not being defined by others’ standards.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
To be myself. From the very beginning of my career, it was important for me to truly discover who I was so I could set myself up for success in the future. We’re not going to succeed everywhere, and that’s ok. I had to make the space to hear my own voice, and that is something I don’t think we, as women, do often enough.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For me, setting expectations is important for managing a work/life balance, and is something I am always practicing. I utilize my rule of five. What is the current order of the five most important things to me in life: religion, family, community, career and me. The order of these change for me based on context, but I’ve learned when I’m not clear with myself and my husband about my number one and number two priorities – I fail miserably at ALL five. When I accepted this new role at Molson Coors, I told my husband the next year or so would be tough from a time commitment perspective. I was very clear of what my needs were and setting those expectations has been key to my success both at work and at home.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Not asking for help. Too often we are too prideful to ask, because we see it as a weakness. Instead, we should see it as an opportunity for learning and growth. A lot of this comes with confidence and self-reflection. I always suggest reading The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay. It is an empowering read that can change how you see yourself (in a positive way), which carries over into your professional work.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship is all about giving back and paying it forward, which, as I mentioned, is one of the guiding principles in my life. I’ve had many colleagues throughout my career who have brought things out of me and helped discover my gifts. Being in HR, I’m constantly mentoring and helping to bring out the leaders in our company. It’s what makes my job so fulfilling.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The word admire invokes such an emotion for me as an African American woman. When I think of the word, I first think of the many shoulders on which I stand – both men and women – notable individuals like Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., all who paved the way so that I can truly and equally participate in America society and ultimately, have access to a dream that my grandparents and those before them did not. If I think about female leaders in particular, I owe so much of my career growth and personal balance to a number of individuals including, Karen Ripley, my first boss at Miller Brewing Company, Danae Davis, former Miller Brewing Company executive and Cheryl Harvey, a more than dear friend. They’ve always pushed me to be me. In addition, Denise Smith, former head of HR at Miller Brewing, stretched me like no other boss – I literally felt my brain growing. And Tracey Joubert, our current CFO and former CFO of Miller Brewing Company, opened doors for me and coached me all the way to the table. All of these women have pushed, inspired and helped me to grow both personally and professionally as a woman and a leader, and for that I am eternally grateful. So, I am because of so many.
What do you want Molson Coors to accomplish in the next year?
Reflecting on my first year in my new global role at Molson Coors, I think we have huge opportunities ahead of us. First and foremost is developing a culture with a growth mindset. Since our acquisition of MillerCoors in late 2016, we are now one of the world’s largest brewers, and I’m committed to bringing our people together as one team. I’m grounded and focused on what we can do at Molson Coors to bend the curve and continue brewing greatness. I’m also happy to be one of the two women appointed to our Executive Leadership Team, and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow our female leadership at every level.