Genevieve Jodhan: a legacy of change | The Deal

When Genevieve Jodhan was named CEO of Angostura, T&T’s 193-year-old rum distillers, it was a decisive change for an industry still dominated by male executives. But, as Cate Young finds out, her understanding of the Angostura legacy is what makes Jodhan exactly the right woman for the job

Genevieve Jodhan. Photo courtesy Angostura

Genevieve Jodhan has a special something that can only be described as “presence.” When she strides into the conference room at the Angostura compound where we are meeting, I’m struck by my immediate desire to impress her. Impeccably suited and incredibly commanding, Jodhan has little time to waste as the first female CEO of Angostura, Trinidad and Tobago’s venerable rum distillers.

Milestones like this one aren’t new to Jodhan, however: she was also a pioneering force at 3M and served as their first female logistics manager back in 1997. Glass ceilings are no match for her, and she has continued with that same ambitious ethos during her time at Angostura. From the outside, her new position may seem like another notch on the belt of a woman fond of collecting “firsts,” but to her, it was simply the natural result of hard work and preparation.

“I never actually thought I would be in this position, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t prepared for it or that I can’t do it,” she says. “I was honoured to have been given that valuable recognition by the board of directors of Angostura, not only as a woman in this traditionally male-dominated environment, but more as a competent professional who was now capable of being a CEO.”

Now that she has the position, Jodhan is ready to get to work. “When I joined Angostura, I had specific goals in what I could bring to this company in terms of supply chain excellence and management, and I believed that Angostura was the best fit for my skills at that point.”

After completing her MSc in logistics and supply chain management at Cranfield University in the UK, Jodhan felt that Angostura’s pioneering spirit matched her own. The 193-year-old company has, over the years, expanded to 170 countries. Jodhan initially approached Angostura as a consultant, but she ended up with a full-time executive position. Jodhan was driven — something she says has additionally rubbed off on her from interacting with Angostura’s passionate employees and international partners. Their enthusiasm for the products encouraged her own.

But, even in 2017, ambitious women are sometimes looked upon as a curiosity or anomaly. Much has changed for the working woman over the last several decades, but sexism persists. Jodhan insists this has never been a problem for her.

“I’ve never felt that at Angostura. Some people might say that we’re more enlightened in Trinidad compared to the rest of the world. I see it when I travel — people marvel at me that I’m a female CEO. When I did my Cranfield degree, there were eighty-five per cent men and fifteen per cent women . . . I was already accustomed to working with men. It’s never really been an issue. In Trinidad, we are progressing, but wherever you go, women are facing challenges. The industry is still male-dominated, and we still have some work to do.”

Naturally, Jodhan has advice for women who seek to follow in her footsteps. Her words are clear and true: “Work hard, read voraciously, learn continuously, and never be afraid to ask questions. And it’s always good to have industry mentors to inspire you.” It’s advice that she says has been instrumental in keeping her engaged in her work and consistently moving forward professionally. But where she’s most adamant is about the need to work towards a reasonable work-life balance. She also maintains that it’s critical to set aside time to centre herself, and remember what matters most. “You need a lot of time management skills to even try to get that work-life balance,” she says. “Family and faith are very important to me. But you have to plan your minutes. I live by schedules.”

Jodhan credits her strong support system and full-time paid help with her ability to succeed and commit herself to her work, and it’s at this point in our conversation that she’s most animated. It’s a refreshing acknowledgement of the unspoken and often invisible labour many professional women rely on to keep their lives on track, in a bid to feed the lie that one woman can do it all. Jodhan is insistent that a support system is key.

“You can’t actually have a career without support. Some people have family support, some people have to pay for caregivers, but I rely strongly on my support system. I have full-time help or I wouldn’t be able to function. That’s the reality. If you don’t have the support system then you can’t move. And you can’t move if your support system is grudging. If your spouse is not behind you and one hundred per cent supporting you, then you can’t do this.”

When I ask, Jodhan pushes back at the idea that she is a feminist, insisting that for her it’s always been about being the best you can as a person. Despite this, many of her personal philosophies align quite nicely with the ongoing sociopolitical movement. She concedes, however, that there are times when she sees her womanhood as an advantage in her work. She credits the new Angostura packaging design to the company’s observation of products usually overlooked from a man’s point of view.

It’s this kind of paradigm shift that Jodhan hopes to encourage during her tenure, and this, too, is part of the company’s new ethos with regard to marketing. Spirits marketing is largely geared to the male consumer, but Jodhan knows that men aren’t Trinidad’s only big drinkers.

“In Trinidad, we want to be moving into the direction where we’re very much more aware of who is our consumer, and not alienate women in our advertising. Any programme we choose to be associated with must be all-inclusive. You don’t just have to target men and objectify women.”

Jodhan also hopes to continue the work Angostura has been doing to educate the T&T market about the premiumisation of rum. Maintaining the gold rum strategy it had already established abroad, Angostura launched Legacy in 2012 in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence.

“We made only twenty bottles, and we did it because it was extremely expensive,” Jodhan explains. “We hosted a fiftieth anniversary function and we auctioned them off for TT$240,000. It became the world’s most expensive rum. Our thinking was that we know we make very good, expensive premium rums, so starting with Legacy, every eighteen months we’ve been releasing another rum product that’s all about premium.”

The idea was to establish premium rums in the local market in a bid to get the T&T market to understand the value of aged rums. Last November, Angostura launched 1787, a fifteen-year-old rum that they hope will help turn the tide towards premium sipping rums. “We’ve always looked at what different products we should bring out, but we’re also looking at process innovation and how we can innovate and get more mindshare,” Jodhan says.

In the end, Jodhan sees her legacy as something more outside herself than I would have guessed. “I see myself as a custodian for a company that has a very long history, and I would like to leave the company better than when I found it.” It’s a humble goal, but a sincere one. Genevieve Jodhan embodies the brand essence of Angostura with “big-heartedness, enrichment, and inclusiveness.” Her dedication and passion are evident, and it’s far from a surprise that a woman with this much verve was selected as the one to lead this legacy company into its next double century.