When I started we were three. By the time I left it was just me. I spent the last 6 months interning at Bacardi, and this is the story of my last three months, where I was alone manning the IT Communications department.
In June 2013 I started a 6-month internship in the IT Communications department of Bacardi, the largest privately-held spirits company. It was my first professional experience in the Corporate Communications arena, a very important one in today’s business world. In fact I believe that the responsibilities of Corp Comms are growing beyond communications alone and more companies should adapt to what that means for their business, but that’s a topic I’ll cover another time.
Explaining everything about my internship in a single blog post isn’t too hard, it’s organising it in a way that will make it easy for you, my dear, dear reader to understand that’s a wee-bit more challenging. So I’ve taken it upon myself to organise this piece a little differently from previous ones: in labeled sections. I’ll begin by (1) introducing the role our team (IT and Communications) held in achieving the company’s objectives, then (2) we’ll look at what my responsibilities were from June to September, and finally (3), the reason why you’ve read up until this point, I’ll tell you about my last 3 months at Bacardi and how independence, responsibilities and leaning in taught me more than I could have ever imagined and how I ended up receiving my orders directly from the Global CIO of one of the biggest spirits companies on Earth.
(1) our role and objectives, cheers
My internship started on a bright Monday morning at the EMEA and Global IT headquarters of Bacardi in Geneva, Switzerland. My manager introduced me to the IT team and explained what their, and now my responsibilities were: enabling all Bacardi employees (6000+) around the world to have the tools they need to make the company as profitable as possible. Our responsibilities were the same but based around two target-audiences:
Global IT team
With 240 employees in over two-dozen locations, fostering a communication culture internally is a very tall order. Some of our offices even had only one or two employees in them so making sure every one was constantly on the same page was a challenge. As the corporate world was becoming globally more unified we were obliged to make sure IT was not only bringing services that would enable that organisational shift but that it could also adopt them easily (otherwise known as, walk the talk).
Our end users were all Bacardi employees, and our role in IT Communications was making sure that all the services Bacardi IT was creating were swiftly and appropriately adopted by these users. In such a digital world, the partnership between IT and the rest of any business has become incredibly vital for any kind of sustainable future, whether short- or long-term.
These responsibilities weren’t abundantly clear to me until 3 months into the internship, but I’ll explain why that was so later.
When I was introduced to everyone I was told one person was missing. In fact that individual was part of our 3-person team within the Communications team. She’d just left on medical leave the previous day but would return within 2 weeks. She unfortunately didn’t come back.
(2) June – September, salute
My role within my first 3 months was essentially assisting the IT Communication Director by sourcing images and helping prepare various presentations, writing blog posts about recent events and creating promotional items (blog posts, emails, posters, etc.) for the IT End User Services. That’s the team responsible for the products that enabled Bacardi employees to unite and communicate efficiently and effectively on a global scale.
In August we started organising the annual week-long conference for all of Bacardi IT’s extended global leaders. This year, for the first time it took place outside Geneva in Pessione, Italy, home to one of our most important brands, Martini.
This section is small because in all honesty, it wasn’t the most exciting part of my internship.
(3) the reason why you’ve read up until this point, how independence, responsibilities and leaning in led me to receiving orders directly from the Global CIO of one of the biggest spirits companies on Earth, santé
One morning in September the Global CIO walked into the office I shared with two close colleagues. She told us that my boss was off on medical leave until November. But in November the same scenario was re-enacted when I was told she wouldn’t return until December and then again until January 2014.
This is the story of the second half of my internship at Bacardi and how I learned through,
Independence was one of the most important aspects of my final three months. Remember that the Communications department within Bacardi IT originally had three people and now it was me, the intern, alone. I don’t think fear crossed my mind at first. It was probably worry as I thought I might be transferred to another department where I would do small, irrelevant jobs until my contract expired and they could finally get rid of me.
But I really, really didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to still do communications, but I knew I’d have to prove my capabilities to people who’d never worked with me and therefore didn’t know what I was capable of. So after a phone call with my father I took a deep breath, drank a tall glass of water and marched up to the CIO’s office where I asked what my boss’ leave would mean to me. I tried to tell her as straight as possible that I didn’t want to do anything other than communications and that I was able to continue in my original path of promoting services. She said she’d think about it but that regardless of her decision I’d keep working on the organisation of the week-long conference in Italy where I received more responsibilities now that there was no formal project manager.
A few days later, on an organisational trip to Pessione to visit the conference grounds I received an email from the CIO. Her message was short and simple: it asked me to prepare a mid-year review letter which would be sent to her entire organisation, which would highlight some of the year’s achievements and what was still necessary to do in order to meet the fiscal year’s objectives. A mid-year review of IT’s achievements? It meant as much to me then as it does to you now. Quite understandably, three months into this internship I’d never been given such responsibilities and independence. I didn’t even know what the objectives and achievements in this fiscal year had been. I was lost.
Looking back today, and probably to a certain extent back then, that task was the best thing to happen to me. I spent countless hours researching in old presentations, on the intranet, and speaking to people until I finally got it (well at least to write most of it and then let her fill in the specifics). But should I had been walked through every step I probably wouldn’t have learnt anything as well.
The CIO would later tell me, on my last day, that that was the first of several “tests” she gave me to see if I was up to the challenge of being my boss’ back up in her absence. I succeeded, and in fact later during my internship review in front of her team I presented a scorecard of several projects I’d been a part of. On this one I’d given myself a 9/10. I was touched when she told me I could have given myself a 10/10.
But that mid-year review, which was read by hundreds, was the first time I worked independently on a project for Bacardi. It was slightly scary for me since I’d never worked on any executive communication, let alone write an entire letter alone, but looking back I’m grateful that I wasn’t hand-held through that task. I wouldn’t have learned as much if I was purely executing what I was told rather than being forced to understand on my own.
In the months that followed I would go on to write every other executive communication from the CIO, including the quarterly CIO Webcast and all of her speeches.
Some colleagues and I were part of the organising team for the extended Lead Team conference in Italy. When the project manager of the conference, the IT Communications Director, left we were given entire responsibility of the event. Reporting on a bi-weekly basis to the CIO, we each specialised on our own domain which to all our surprise made us much more efficient. In past years the project manager would oversee the entire event and give orders which were then executed by the organising team. This year we were each leaders of our own specialty but executors too. This meant there were less problems and no lags with communicating orders.
The event was an astounding success. Not only was everything planned and ready long before the event, but it all cost much less than previous years. On the last day participants were asked their feedback and they all agreed that the event was one of the best; a true success. During my internship review on my last week, I scored the event as a whole, with the participation of all a 9/10. I was again asked to change that to a 10.
We’d beat the odds by spreading the responsibilities.
My boss, the company’s Global CIO and Sheryl Sandberg have a lot in common. They’re both female leaders in a business landscape dominated by men. But beyond that, they both believe responsibilities are things you take, not things that are given to you. It’s the main theme in Sandberg’s renowned book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. While her book promotes women taking ownership of their responsibilities and boldly showing their will to do more it could easily apply to interns. Though the book is still in my “to-read” list I’ve had chance to watch Sandberg in several interviews and lectures, where she recounts her book’s main objectives.
Interns by definition have less experience, but that doesn’t mean we should feel belittled; in fact it’s a reason for us to try and shine. However, shine shouldn’t be confused with swank.
That’s why I borrowed Sandberg’s metaphor, lean in. We should humbly show our possibilities when opportunities arise (like, for example when your boss is on medical leave). Then you take ownership of these duties and execute them to the best of your abilities. You should rise to the occasion.
I was lucky enough to be having a private lunch with Bacardi’s CIO when she offered to extend my stay. You can imagine it’s not the kind of request a CIO often makes to an intern, so I was all the more touched. In an email a few days later I kindly turned down the offer to pursue a Master’s degree and to complete my military service (an obligation for all Swiss men). But I can say with confidence that such an offer would never been been made if I hadn’t leaned in and showed my capabilities, and more importantly, my will to do more.
That being said, don’t wait for your boss to depart on medical leave to lean in. Begin by speaking to others. I found that having candid conversations with people, regardless of status, always created stronger bonds within teams. But my biggest, most important piece of advice to you is always, always be genuine. People will catch on to it if you’re not yourself, even if it means being more candid than a professional environment usually allows to be. Be yourself
(in other words, don’t be a kiss ass).
All are interchangeable. I’ve assigned a specific experience to a particular approach but each could have equally been replaced by the other. Looking back today I can see that it wasn’t in my first 3 months when I was purely executing orders that I learned the most: it was in the second half when I was planning, executing and learning from mistakes.
It was through responsibilities and leaning in. It was also by approaching people, asking questions, and always being available for answers. By the end of my 6 months I’d met some incredible and fascinating people, I did regret leaving because it really did take losing something to notice how good it was. There certainly was a lucky silver lining in this unforeseen circumstance of losing a manager but these responsibilities weren’t simply given to me, I had to earn them by proving my capabilities. Those who think luck can be the only key to success are wrong, because luck can certainly bring you 15 minutes of fame, but it’s up to you to extend them.
So next time luck shines on you make sure to lean in, take responsibilities and learn to learn independently.
I’m grateful to the CIO who gave me this opportunity and never stopped testing me.
— Thomas Edison
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”