Former Diageo Moët Hennessy MD Jayne Harvey on Being The First Female Leader of a Thai Whisky Business

By Isabel Wong

It all began with her university thesis on the geography of the French wine industry. Jayne Harvey first joined British alcoholic beverages company Diageo back in 1996, and after 17 years working at the producer of Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Baileys, she was made the managing director of Diageo Moët Hennessy Thailand (DMHT). Not only did she have to move across the world to Bangkok with her family to take up the post, she was also the first female leader in the Asian nation to lead a whisky business.

After leaving her managing director position at Diageo Moët Hennessy Thailand, Jayne Harvey founded her own organic bedding business to advocate for better sleep. (Photo: Courtesy of Jayne Harvey)

While leading a joint venture between Diageo and Moët Hennessy in Thailand, Harvey was also committed to empowering women and the poor with Plan W, a USD$10 million global community investment programme by Diageo. The programme aimed to provide proper education and opportunity for those in need to develop their work skills. Within two years of operations, the Plan W initiative was able to empower over 6,000 villagers through activities such as community farming and funding for women to strengthen their economic capacity in a village in the Buriram province.

Despite leading a successful career, tradeoffs and sacrifices in life that came with a corporate leadership role made Harvey rethink how she wanted to live her life. In the end, she decided to start her own organic bedding business Lily & Mortimer to advocate for quality sleep and a more balanced life.

According to Harvey, the first step to living life to the fullest is having better sleep. The concept resonates with the “sleep revolution” advocated by Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post and the founder and CEO of wellness startup Thrive Global, as Huffington once said “it’s clear that if we’re going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep”.

L: Lynk | J: Jayne Harvey

L: You led a joint venture between Diageo and Moët Hennessy in Thailand, and managed the Scotch whisky category. To many, whisky is a “man’s drink” and female professionals who work in the industry have shared experiences of having males explaining whisky to them, have you had any similar experience?

J: I agree that traditionally, whisky has been seen as a drink for men, however as consumer trends change, socialising is done more in mixed groups while consumers are introduced to more versatile ways of drinking whisky. This is opening it up to a broader consumer profile.

As the first female leader of a whisky business in Thailand, it was great to be able to break down the barriers and change some of these perceptions.

During the time when Harvey was MD of Diageo Moët Hennessy Thailand, she was also committed to empowering women and the poor with Diageo’s USD$10 million global community investment programme Plan W. (Photo: Courtesy of Jayne Harvey)

L: What were some of the first challenges you had as the first female leader of a Thai whisky business?

J: It was humbling to hear the response from many of our female employees that they were inspired by having a female managing director. I don’t believe I faced any challenges because I was a woman. Day one included an emergency decree that increased the excise tax on alcohol by 25 percent. It got more exciting from that moment onwards.

L: You have two decades of experience leading consumer goods business operations in the UK and Thailand, did you spot any difference in the gender dynamics in Asia?

J: I believe the way to develop a balanced, high performing team is by creating a work environment that allows all your people to perform at their best. Asia is playing catch-up in certain areas such as flexible working and shared paternity leave, but it is coming and I hope this means more businesses will be able to retain talent in their organisations, and we will see more balanced leadership teams.

L: Thailand has a relatively friendlier professional environment for women compared to other Asian nations, what is the country doing differently to enable such an environment?

J: It is fantastic to see the number of women holding managing director and CEO roles here. I think there are a number of factors that have supported this, including changing cultural norms and access to education.

From a business perspective, boards need to believe that a more balanced executive team results in higher productivity and performance. Actively recruiting female talent for key positions, creating succession and development plans for rising stars all have helped ensure female talents are ready to take on executive level positions when the time comes.

Harvey also said if more women are empowered to start their own businesses, it’s going to be a trillion-dollar global opportunity. (Photo: Courtesy of Jayne Harvey)

L: What are some of the key themes in leadership development these days?

J: We’ve talked about agility and resilience for some time, and these continue to be important. But in order to lead an organisation through the inevitable waves of disruption, I believe leaders need to develop a certain degree of emotional intelligence to match. Behaviours linked to a highly developed EQ will create a far more engaged team that can get things done.

I also see a shift to continuous learning. Businesses are looking into AI-powered technologies to create learning interventions in a traditional academy setting or leadership retreats.Ensuring leadership is building competence in all aspects of their roles is also a key theme. For example, nudging them ahead of a performance review session to practise inclusion. Giving more ownership of their development to leaders at all levels of an organisation, they no longer have to wait to be selected to be on a “development program”. This is exciting as I believe technology can support a blend of leadership development interventions that will embed a shift in behaviours and accelerate performance.

The sleep crisis Harvey experienced when she was a corporate leader prompted her to found luxury homeware brand Lily & Mortimer where it sells ethically-sourced organic bedding. (Photo: Lily & Mortimer)

L: You started your own organic bedding business because of the sleep crisis and stress that came with your corporate life. Was it an easy decision for you to make to step away from your executive role?

J: There were a number of factors that meant it was the right time for me to pursue my goal of creating a value-driven business. I was determined that it would be something that allowed me to live life to the fullest, rather than something that depleted energy and created too many tradeoffs.

The best self-care action we can all take is to invest in our sleep as improved immunity, mental health and decision making are just a few of the benefits from increased sleep quality. Whilst studying with the Cambridge University Institute of Sustainability, I used cotton as my industry focus. As I learnt more about the environmental impacts of what is naturally a very sustainable crop, the two things came together as we often talked about “sleep well, live well”.

This starts with our commitment to Fairtrade supporting farmers to get out of debt cycles, moving to organic practices that are better for their health and livelihood as well as the environment. Organic cotton can grow with less than 30 percent of the water used to grow the same weight of conventional, irrigated cotton. It was not an easy decision to make the career switch but now I just wish I had started sooner.

Something I am passionate about is supporting more female entrepreneurs to get started. There are many reasons why women don’t get to start their ventures even if they have great ideas. In the UK alone, it is estimated that there could be an additional 600,000 female entrepreneurs if there were better access to financial aid, mentors and support networks. This could be a trillion-dollar opportunity globally.

This interview is a part of Lynk Elite Expert Women interview series, click here to learn more about the initiative.