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International Account Manager: Becky Ives
You know when a drink is just the right amount of sweet? That perfect taste might be thanks to Becky Ives, who spent many years as an account manager for flavors in the food and beverage industry.
To build a career in food flavors, explains Ives, you need a mix of customer relationship and marketing experience and an interest in science. She spoke with JMA about her journey — and how a vacation changed the course of her career.
JMA: What appealed to you about a career in food flavors at the beginning?
BI: At the beginning, to be honest, my interest was mostly in how to get a good job that paid. I knew I wanted to have fun and I wasn’t willing to do something that I wouldn’t have fun doing. I started out in sales: I got a laptop and a company car and I thought that was cool. I also had a love of food, and that’s what kicked me into gear — food flavors are fun, exciting, creative and a little edgy.
I have a cross section of skills, and that was one thing I did know was valuable. I was up against engineers, and most of the recruiters wanted to hire chemical engineers. I had to go out of my way to contact HR people before they came to campus and then get special approval to set up interviews. It took a lot of initiative, but the recruiters loved me because that’s what they need in sales people.
JMA: Tell me about your career path.
BI: After graduating from Purdue, I went on to do B2B sales for a large chemical company that manufactured ingredients that go into consumer products. In that role, I was exposed to companies developing new drugs, tablets and injectables. We worked with the inactive ingredients — the things that made the products work better. I was there to sell and I started as an internal sales rep. I did a lot of learning, which enabled me to go out and work with the technology team.
Over five years, I had a progression of three different roles in that company and went from a generalist to managing really large accounts and working with companies solving large, complex problems. Then I moved into the customer relationship management (CRM) space and implemented a new sales and marketing system company-wide.
JMA: With exposure to so many sides of the business, what did you do next?
BI: In 2001, Deloitte hired me as a CRM process expert. I helped them automate systems to reduce wasted time and increase the company’s ability to develop stronger relationships. They had hired ahead of the curve and then the market crashed. It was dot bomb time and I was laid off on September 10, 2011. Once September 11th happened, I was like, “Life is too short and I have to figure out what to do.”
JMA: That’s a crazy time to be out of work, but it makes sense that it was a powerful time for reflection. What did you do?
BI: I went on vacation to see friends in Asia and go scuba diving. They encouraged me to stay, so I ended up there for six weeks. I networked and found a recruiter. I landed with International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF) — in exactly the right place. I always wanted to work internationally, but I was too young and too junior to do it from the U.S. So, I moved to Asia, took the bull by the horns and made it work. IFF hired me to work in its Singapore office.
JMA: Did you continue building your career in food flavors?
BI: I had two roles. One was category management. In that position, I was overseeing the beverage category — basically, what flavors go into what beverages. It was primarily a marketing role. I also had a regional account management role and responsibility for growing large, global accounts in Asia. I worked on Coke, Dannon and other sweet flavors. I worked with Starbucks on a global level as well.
JMA: Along the way, what made you nervous?
BI: The way you’re remunerated is usually a generous salary and annual performance bonuses. Your compensation is tied closely to the organization’s goal, the team goal and your individual goal. So, there’s nervousness about your individual performance and an element of stress about your ability to influence how the budget is set. In a publicly traded company, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver. Am I delivering results? How am I being evaluated?
JMA: How did you feel about moving to Singapore? Were you concerned about cultural differences being a young woman?
BI: I was so excited to go to Singapore. It was a huge change for me. I can remember the first time I went to Asia, I was nervous about offending people and worried about how to build trust and establish relationships. When you are a woman in north Asia — Japan and Korea especially — it’s different. Most women are secretaries and not expected to have authority or speak up. There was always a little tension. The team still worked together, but people were resistant to ask for my help because I am a woman. I had to let my ego go and work in different ways to be effective. The challenge was to figure out how to help internally so my team could help the customers. As I did that, the team started to trust me more.
JMA: On an average day, what did you do?
BI: In my last role in the food flavors industry, it was a lot of internal project management. I made sure we were on track to get things to the stores and clients. I did a lot of work with the internal technology and sales teams and made sure we met sales objectives. Throughout my career, the ability to build strategic relationships with key decision-makers has been very important. I’m constantly having lunch with people and networking.
JMA: After several years in Singapore, where are you now?
BI: I chose to leave the organization because I lost my mom around the same time that there were a lot changes in the organization. They wanted me to move to China, and I was at a point where I was going to either commit to staying in Asia for a long time or come back to the states. I loved working for them, but couldn’t see doing it in the U.S. I ended up leaving and took a few years off to travel. I started options trading as a way to generate income and figure out what to do next.
JMA: What’s the salary range in a food flavors career?
BI: In the U.S., where I started isn’t where someone would start today. I bet kids coming out of school with a BS who are specializing in flavor sales could expect $50,000 - $60,000. For an account manager in North America with five years of experience, that could be closer to the six-figure range. When I left the industry, I was a regional account manager and had over 15 years of corporate experience. I was earning a competitive salary in my industry and was receiving several different corporate incentives that I earned through my performance and years of experience.
JMA: What did you love about your career in food flavors — what’s the bottom line?
BI: I really loved the idea that while I was focused on sales and business, it was still science-based. I felt like I was using my smarts with science, business and creativity. I’m not a scientist and I would go crazy in a lab, but I want to know how things work.
Head shot: David Loew