Sophie Woodford
Kleenex Marketing Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa

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Today we meet Sophie Woodford who is Kleenex Marketing Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.  We asked Sophie about her career and how she combines that with family life. Sophie also talks about exciting developments in her role at Kleenex.

BoardroomMum Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sophie Woodford I studied Business Studies, majoring in Marketing at Newcastle Business School. It was a sandwich degree, which was a great way to get business experience before trying to find a graduate job. I spent nine months working at a Hotel and Conference Centre, and then six months at a PR agency before graduating.

BoardroomMum Can you please provide some information on your career to this point?

Sophie Woodford I originally joined Kimberly-Clark’s graduate programme working on Kleenex. I also worked on our Andrex and Huggies brands before I left to set up my own company – selling a range of tried and tested products for pregnancy and early years. I sold this business when my dad died and stepped in to help run the family business, which was a shopping centre in the North of England. Having sold this I then re-joined Kimberly-Clark, originally as a contractor as it allowed me to work part-time and still pick up the children from school. I was then very lucky that Kimberly-Clark offered me a permanent position, with flexible working hours, which allowed me to schedule my work around school times, and to gradually increase my hours as the boys got older.

BoardroomMum Were you clear on what you wanted to do as a career?

Sophie Woodford I always knew I wanted to work in marketing. As a little girl I set up a stall to sell eggs outside by Grandmother’s farm. One particularly slow day, a passer-by stopped to enquire if the eggs were “free-range” - I suddenly realised the power of marketing – I created a sign advertising my free range eggs and sold a day’s worth in the next hour!

BoardroomMum How many children do you have?

Sophie Woodford I have 2 boys – Thomas who is 13 and Harry who is 12. My partner also has an 11-year-old daughter, Lily.

BoardroomMum How do you combine career with family life?

Sophie Woodford It is not easy, particularly as I don’t have family that live locally. It would be almost impossible to do my job without the support of my partner, Adrian, who is a teacher and is therefore around after school and during the holidays. Kimberly-Clark is also a very supportive employer, offering flexible working hours and the ability to work from home when needed – perfect for guilt-free working when you have a sick child at home!

BoardroomMum Can you tell us a bit more about your work with Kleenex?

Sophie Woodford There are a lot of exciting developments happening at Kleenex at the moment as we’ve just unveiled stylish new packaging designs across the range. The range looks so much more modern and has been designed to fit in with our consumers’ homes, as we know that they currently they hide boxes away in cupboards or drawers. I hope the new designs will be something people are proud to have around the house, or in their handbags.
We’ve also just launched a brand new product: Kleenex Sensitive. Over 50% of women claim to have sensitive skin*, so Kleenex Sensitive has been a direct response from Kleenex to make life easier for those women. The tissues are really soft and gentle, but with no added lotions or balms to ensure that they’re suitable for even the most delicate of skin. I’ve been heavily involved with these plans from the start, so it’s great to see them starting to roll out in supermarkets.

BoardroomMum Do you have any other business interests?

Sophie Woodford Yes – I have a share in a local restaurant, which is really fun to be involved in. I’m passionate about food and great service, so I get to indulge both!

BoardroomMum What can we do for more women to reach these levels / fulfil their potential?

Sophie Woodford I also sit on the Diversity Council and head up a career development team, so this is a key focus area for me at the moment. We are currently putting together a programme to help women reach their full potential – this is focussed around providing role models and mentors, specific training to build confidence and ensuring that our working policies allow mums to continue their careers whilst balancing their young families.

One of the key themes we hear from working mums is around the guilt they feel – either guilt that they are missing out on their families, or guilt that they are leaving work early to attend school events. One of the ideas that we are going to trial is “nativity days” – offering our mums a day off to attend their children’s nativity plays!

BoardroomMum Do you believe quotas are a positive development?

Sophie Woodford I believe in measurement to identify the gaps, and I believe in the power of diversity, but I think that candidates should always be selected foremost on merit. However, that would mean that if a male and a female job applicant had equal qualifications, the most appropriate candidate would be the one that brought diversity to the team. I’d like to see candidates chosen on this basis, rather than to make up quotas.

I also believe that as leaders we need to ensure that we are considering a diverse recruitment pool, so I would be hugely supportive of moves to ensure quotas for diverse candidates for interview and succession planning.

BoardroomMum Any tips or recommendations for other women out there who wish to pursue their career ambitions and aspirations?

Sophie Woodford Firstly, make sure you get your priorities straight in your own mind. There are times when you may need to prioritise your family and run your career on a slower path. These change over time, don’t be apologetic about it but do be honest about what will make you happy.

Also ensure that you have the right support. There is the practical support of people who can help with childcare, but don’t ignore the emotional support – find other groups of working parents, or a mentor in the same situation. It’s important to share how you’re feeling.

Finally - a good dose of humour helps. I had to leave a meeting with our CEO once to go to nursery and remove a raisin from my son’s nose! I walked back in to the meeting and carried on my presentation, along with a comment about how I wondered if Richard Branson had to deal with such diverse challenges in his working day!

BoardroomMum Would you have done anything differently?

Sophie Woodford I love where I am today. Looking back, I’d probably have been a little less hard on myself when I first returned to work after having my boys. I wanted to prove I could have it all, and wanted to champion part-time working for other women, so I worked ridiculously hard trying to balance a young family and my job. I think now I’d have the confidence in my ability just to do the day job well, rather than trying to take on loads of additional responsibilities to prove myself.

BoardroomMum What are your plans personally and professionally?

Sophie Woodford My role has recently expanded from looking after UK and Western Europe to also looking after the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, which will certainly keep me busy professionally. It’s a large geography, with fantastic cultural diversity, which is really exciting to a consumer marketer! I’m very lucky that my job gives me the opportunity to travel, which is one of my huge passions, so I’m very much looking forward to visiting, and learning about the new markets I now look after. I’m very much hoping that I will be able to combine some of these trips with a family holiday – they may not be traditional holiday destinations, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for my children to experience different cultures.

BoardroomMum Thank you Sophie for your time and insight. We at wish you every continued success. *