Leading Employees to Professional Fulfillment

with Theresa Alesso, President of Sony Electronics’ Imaging Products and Solutions Americas Division

Listen now on

Theresa Alesso

Episode 17

”Your leadership can help provide mentor capabilities for you, can help give you an honest assessment of where your opportunities are and where your development areas need to be. Because no one’s perfect. We all need to develop. But we own our own journey.”

Theresa Alesso is President of Sony Electronics’ Imaging Products and Solutions Americas Division. She has been with Sony for over 30 years in various roles. In her current position as President, she’s responsible for sales and marketing operations for the company’s professional products and imaging solutions. In this episode, Theresa talks about supporting women in business, mentoring employees in their career journey, and leading them to professional fulfillment.

”Anyone, man or woman, can accomplish anything. But there are certain hurdles women in business have to plow through or jump over. And I love to be able to tell the story, inspire other women, that they need to speak up for themselves. You may never a hundred percent be qualified for any job, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and put your name out there. Otherwise you’ll watch everybody pass you by if you don’t take some risk.”

Listen in to hear

  • Tips to create a management style that works
  • Creative ways to keep your remote team engaged
  • How to provide opportunities for employees to reach their potential

“Figure out what’s going to make you happy and where you see yourself 10 years from now. And then take the opportunities that are in front of you that help round you out. ven if it’s not your end-state and even if it’s not a promotion. It’s super important that people are open to moving laterally, gaining as much in their toolkit as they can, so that when that next position to get that promotion comes, you can say, ‘But look, I’ve done each area of this business. I deserve the shot at this.’”


Sony Theresa Alesso aspect ratio

Theresa Alesso

President | Sony Electronics' Imaging Products and Solutions Americas Division

Theresa Alesso is President of Sony Electronics’ Imaging Products and Solutions Americas division. She has been with Sony for over 30 years, in a variety of capacities.  Recently, she oversaw all aspects of the company’s professional division.  Prior to that, Alesso served as Chief Transformation Officer, leading projects and driving change within the consumer and professional groups that resulted in profitability, cost savings and efficiencies.  She has also held leadership positions supporting many of the professional division’s core businesses.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: Have you thought about where you want your career to be 10 years from now? What does that look like? What could that look like? And what are the steps you need to take to get there? That’s what Theresa Alesso is talking about with us today.

Theresa Alesso: If you own your journey, your life journey and your work journey, and they’re kind of integrated, you have to figure out what’s going to make you happy and where you see yourself 10 years from now, as hard as that is to do, and then take the opportunities that are in front of you. That help round you out. Even if it’s not your end-state and even if it’s not a promotion. And that’s, that’s sometimes hard for people to hear, but it’s so critically important because some of the laterals that I personally took are what enabled me to sit in the chair that I’m in now. Maybe I didn’t realize it at the time. So it’s super important that people are open to moving laterally, gaining as much in their toolkit as they can so that when that next position to get that promotion comes, you can say, but look, I’ve done each area of this business. I deserve the shot at this. Um, but lateral is critical.

Narrator: Theresa Alesso is President of Sony Electronics’ Imaging Products and Solutions Americas Division. She has been with Sony for over 30 years in various roles. And in her current position as President, she’s responsible for sales and marketing operations for the company’s professional products and imaging solutions. But when she first started with Sony, she had a goal of the job she wanted to work towards. Now, looking back, she’s reflecting on the work she did to get here, and how to guide employees on their own career journey.

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Theresa Alesso.  But first, a word from our sponsor.

Theresa Alesso: So as the President of Sony, what we call IPSA, Imaging Products and Solutions Americas, I have a very diverse portfolio that I’m responsible for and running the business, uh, predominantly faces the professional market. So I have multiple businesses, including our imaging business, what we call our broadcast media business. So that’s what you see, uh, for the cameras that are shooting, um, football games and things like that within the major, um, sports leagues. We have a healthcare division that does inside and outside the operating room work. We have a B2B division, which focuses on Corp Ed and government, primarily within display. And we have a sports division, which we previously purchased a company called Hawkeye, and they’re a UK based organization. And they’re part of my portfolio to do all player tracking within the sports business. I run everything end to end the entire P and L, marketing product management, uh, advertising, PR social, uh, pretty much running the whole business end to end.

Narrator: While we taxi to the runway, let’s learn more about Theresa’s industry in The Flight Plan.

Theresa Alesso: My industry is, uh, the professional industry. So again, it’s more about, um, customers that are using our Sony technologies in their day-to-day business, making money using our products or teaching, uh, students using our products, or potentially with the military, right. Learning how to fly an F 16 using our flight simulator projector product all around the professional space. That’s, that’s my business. That’s been my business for the last 32 years.

Narrator: While the Sony Group has more than 100-thousand employees, Theresa’s responsible for her own division within the company.

Theresa Alesso: I have over 300 employees and no employee is the same. We’ve got a very unique base of employees. Um, Many of them have engineering backgrounds, some have come out of the sales side. They are all, um, looking at new ways of doing business and how their skills can bring our customers, uh, strategic benefits for their business. Um, one of the interesting things about Sony is we have this global framework. So although our employees are all unique, we try to address all of them in a way that bridges those gaps and brings their uniqueness to the table. We focus on our employees. We focus on our business and we focus on our culture, because the uniqueness is what makes everyone special and then how we can really elevate and ignite that, um, we do within this global, uh, behaviors framework.

Narrator: And Theresa’s team has a few ways to identify each employee’s unique attributes.

Theresa Alesso: We use Clifton strengths, um, as a key and Hogan as two key ways to kind of bring to the table who our employees are, what their strengths are, their attributes, their weaknesses, so that as I build teams of people to work together, I can get each one of those pieces and really build a team that can drive, uh, for a better customer experience, which then brings us more revenue and profit and creates, I think, a better working environment because everybody coming to the table really gels because of those, uh, either uniquenesses or differences.

Narrator: Speaking of being unique, Theresa’s team has faced some unique challenges as a multi-national division. They especially felt the effects of the pandemic.

Theresa Alesso: Especially during COVID I would say COVID. Year one, we went from the majority of our teams working in offices to everyone being at home. Uh, I run North America. So we have that to contend with on any given day. We’ve got employees in Canada, as well as in, in the United States. So getting people together to collaborate using the virtual environment and not getting teams fatigue, um, are challenge is that, um, we need to continuously work on and try to overcome.

In the beginning, we were all very engaged in whatever the virtual connection was. But over time, like anything, it’s hard to remain fresh. So we’ve had to think about creative ways to keep the team engaged so that, you know, when it’s a video meeting, you need to see that video moniker. So, you know, you better be ready in all, in all ways. And it stops people from multitasking and really trying to stay present. But I think the largest challenge has been, um, onboarding new, new people. We’ve hired a ton of new people over the last two years during COVID. And onboarding virtually, you don’t get that connection, right? You don’t get to really see and feel the kind of vibe of, of who we are at Sony. So that’s been, um, a large hurdle. And we’ve done our best given the circumstances to engage, empower the new employees, train them and get them really into that whole Sony spirit and what our DNA is all about.

Narrator: Part of experiencing the Sony spirit is celebrating employee excellence through awards. The awards events also had to change because of the pandemic.

Theresa Alesso: The first year that we were all home, and how to utilize this new technology, a variety of new technologies and engage our own Sony technologies and all of this as well. Some of the big awards events that we would normally do, and we’d all be in a ballroom together with, you know, a thousand people or 1400 people at Sony North America to give awards out and root your fellow teammates on and really create that morale and experience kind of could fall flat if we’re all sitting in our home offices, um, behind a computer screen. So we took a different approach and we found creative ways utilizing, um, you know, technology to actually enhance the entire process. You know, when you’re in a ballroom and your name gets called out as winning an award and people are clapping for you, you know, it’s great. And it’s in the moment and then it, and then it’s gone, right. It evaporates. But when you’re, you’re behind a screen, we were able to kind of jump in and we would schedule these surprise fake meetings, if you will. And we would talk to the person that was winning the award about a different subject. And all of a sudden I would weave into, by the way, you know, you’ve won Samurai or you’ve won our top achiever award. And right at that time, I’m recording the whole thing. And I’ve got his or her face, like with the look of astonishment and surprise and pride, people were crying and I got them the whole headshot. And then we recorded all of these edited together and we then created this live event that we kind of showcased all of these videos. And then we were able to bring in pictures of their family and, you know, their favorite things to do. And we created this memorable time piece that they all get to take away with them. And for everyone sitting at home, there was no fatigue. Everybody was engaged and you were seeing this emotional connection that you could never have in a ballroom with 500 people. So it was great.

Narrator: Theresa herself was recognized with the Samurai award.

Theresa Alesso: Yeah. It’s the most prestigious award within Sony. And I won gosh, maybe about 10 years ago. And we even don’t call it winning. It’s nothing you can win. It has to be earned. And it’s a, um, a Samurai Spirit and it’s all about your breadth of work. So it’s not a top sales award. It’s all about who you are and what you deliver to your customer and what you deliver to your peers and to your management. So it was quite an honor. 

Narrator: We’re well on our way now. Are you comfortable? Do you want another pillow? These are silk pillows stuffed with goose down. Nice, right? Let’s fluff them up and get comfortable while we hear about what makes Sony Electronics a First Class place to work.

Theresa Alesso: I think there’s three areas that are critically important at Sony. And to me personally is consistently surveying our employees. Um, we do one large survey a year, but then we also do what we call pulse surveys. We want to check the pulse of our people and we want to make sure the engagement score is high. We want to hear what are the areas of concern, right? It’s easy to get an ivory tower syndrome and not know anything of what’s going on with our people. And we’ve really been able to avoid that by consistently surveying, pulse checking. And then most critically what we hear and what we learn, now what are we going to do about it as an executive management team? Right? Put it, Put their, their needs and wants into an appropriate action. So surveying is critical. I think another piece is social. Um, I talked earlier about, you know, some fun things that we tried to do to engage our employees. We have a number of social network, uh, network. That, uh, um, cover pretty much every type of employee, every area of interest and doing social happy hours, doing social games, doing a number of different activities with these networks, allow our employees to get to know each other because with a company as large as ours, and even just in my professional space, onboarding so many new people, you could get lost in the shuffle. So these networks give our employees a way to sign up, reach out. We do a lot of, um, help within the environment and within our communities, and it’s for areas that they’re interested in with peers that have the same interests. And I think that helps people bond. So that would be number two. Um, and then learning. We talked a minute ago about, uh, the talented team and what they do. We’ve built, um, an entire learning portal so we can get employees, um, that are interested in just about any area of business the access to learning materials. They can be done self paced because we’re all crazy busy. Everyone’s wearing a bunch of hats now, more so than ever. So at their leisure, they can go in and in areas of interest that they would like to learn more, they can use it. And as a manager, if I see an employee that is, um, struggling in a certain area, I can, I can kind of push them to the learning center and say, check out that advanced Excel class, you know, we really need you to fine tune this aspect. And it’s there for them to do at a self pace, uh, level. So those, those three areas are very important to the overall digital experience.

Narrator: Professional development, and especially self-driven improvement, is something that Sony takes seriously. They work hard to foster and support the growth of their employees.

Theresa Alesso: We have a variety of different programs that we use from a, a skill set development perspective. If someone is on a track to become a manager through the learning center, as well as, um, um, offsite training that you can’t just do on a PC. Right, as far as managing people. We put people into these boot camps and programs so that, um, when we have opportunities for advancement and if one of the, the necessities is to be able to manage people, you know, It’s not easy managing people in general, you need to have managers that understand what it takes. So yeah, to a certain degree,the learning center allows the employees to be ready for when that next opportunity comes. We don’t say, you must do this, this, and this to get that job. But we give them the tools that as they look at their career path, and as they’re working with a mentor that they may have, they can go through the learning center and say, well, boy, if I want to be in supply chain, I really need to understand, um, how to deal with the Japanese culture, because all of our supply planners are consistently talking to Tokyo. So boy, I’m going to take that class because it’s really good for me to know. I think it’s really important as we look at moving people up within the organization as leaders, we owe a certain pathway for them. But as an employee, they hold the keys, right. Without putting the keys in the engine and getting behind the wheel, the company can’t just make that career happen for you. I started 32 years ago in operations. I decided to go for my MBA. I decided to take the class. I knew I wanted to go into supply chain, cause that was like a, I saw was a key start point to get to my marketing job that I wanted or to get to. So we didn’t have the learning center back then. I had to just try to network and figure things out on my own. Now for people that were like me 30 years ago, there’s this whole tool kit available for them to really help themselves grow and give them a better chance at advancement.

From an understanding the career path. And it’s, it’s a challenge, especially for the more junior people kind of coming up because they may not know exactly what they want to do. Right. I thought when I got out of school, I was going to be in advertising and that’s what I wanted to do. And then when I got it Sony and there was this world that opened up in front of me, I realized that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to have interest in it and participate in it, but I had a different vision for my career. I think it’s important for people to own their journey. It’s our individual journeys. Um, your leadership can help provide mentor capabilities for you can help give you an honest assessment of where your opportunities are and where your development areas need to be, because we all, no one’s perfect. We all need to do. But we own our own journey. So I think that’s most critical. Um, then secondly, as far as, uh, movement, some could say, it’s easy for me to say now. Um, because sometimes as you rise up, then, you know, you could, you could kind of forget, but I really don’t. I, I remember every step of the way and I try to tell the folks that I mentor and the people that work for me whenever I get a chance to, to talk at an event. It’s all about. If you own your journey, your life journey and your work journey, and they’re kind of integrated, you have to figure out what’s going to make you happy and where you see yourself 10 years from now, as hard as that is to do, and then take the opportunities that are in front of you. That help round you out. Even if it’s not your end-state and even if it’s not a promotion and that’s, that’s sometimes hard for people to hear, but it’s so critically important, because some of the laterals that I personally took are what enabled me to sit in the chair that I’m in now. Maybe I didn’t realize it at the time. So it’s super important that people are open to moving laterally, gaining as much in their toolkit as they can so that when that next position to get that promotion comes, you can say, but look, I’ve done each area of this business. I deserve the shot at this. Um, but lateral is critical.

Narrator: Theresa is also dedicated to making sure women have enough support to figure out what they want to be doing career-wise, and begin working towards that goal. 

Theresa Alesso:  We have a network at Sony called WAVE: women of action, vision and empowerment. Um, I’m one of the sponsors for the east coast chapter. We have another chapter in San Diego as well, and that’s really important for me because I, I love to share my story because I think it’s a great story of, of hope and optimism and with tenacity and perseverance. Anyone, man. Or woman can accomplish anything. But there are certain hurdles, I would say, as a, as a woman in business that you have to, uh, kind of be able to plow through or jump over. And I love to be able to tell the story, inspire other women that, um, they need to speak up for themselves. And the fact that, you know, you may never a hundred percent be qualified for any job, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and put your name out there. Otherwise you’ll watch everybody pass you by if you don’t take some risk. And sometimes women, I have found, are a bit more risk adverse. And you have to put yourself out there. So I think the WAVE group that I work on is really important. I also do some speaking at some colleges because I talked earlier in the podcast that one of my vertical business units that I run is the B2B organization. And we do a ton of work with universities. So I love to get up there and tell the future leaders of the world that, um, you can have a lot of fun. You can be your true, authentic self. I’m a mom of two, God help me, teenage girls, and I’m raising some strong women. I can attest for that, but that you can do just about anything that you want to do, but you have to believe in yourself and you have to put your best foot forward and not be risk adverse.

Narrator: She also founded a group called FIG about 10 years ago. FIG is Sony’s Female Independent Group.

Theresa Alesso: And that group was, um, uh, gauged at female independent videographers cinematographers. Um, I’d say in, in professional broadcast and professional electronics, um, probably one of a handful of female executives, uh, or female leaders. And, uh, same goes true with our creators. You know, many of the camera people years ago were, were men and overall Sony noticed, and that there was a bunch of women that were making great strides. So why not bring them together to talk about their accomplishments, their challenges, and build this, this community, this village. So we started that, and about two or three years ago, it migrated into our alpha female, um, program. So we took our female independent group, which was cinematographers and videographers. And we blended that with our alpha, which is our, um, camera, our still in video camera. So we merged those two together into this alpha female group. And we are now, um, talking to them and we’ve taken a lot of their voice of customers, we call it VOC back to Tokyo, and have built cameras that are more suitable for smaller hands. Right. Much different use of a camera when you’re talking about a five foot two female versus a camera operator that may be a six foot two male. So we took a ton of feedback and we’ve really helped bring that to market. And we’ve created this great community of users and, and created this safe place for them to share stories and feedback and actually get jobs sometimes off of our Facebook page. They all post to help each other out. So it’s really great to see how much the program has grown. Um, I also sit on our, um, diversity equity and inclusion board that we have at Sony, which is super important to me. Um, because it’s not just about women. Um, it’s about bringing diverse people to the table because when you’re around a table at a boardroom and you have everyone thinking the same, that’s group think, and you really can’t break barriers and get new, fresh ideas that way. So being part of the DEI group, um, executive committee is important so that we can continue to bring talent in that helps each one of them develop and bring better, better solutions and better creative ideas to Sony. And last but not least I work on the, uh, bring your kids to work day, which is, um, it’s something really fun that we do, you know, during that time of year, um, every year, and we’ve created a really great curriculum where we’ve given, um, Children of our, of our employees, access to our broadcast product. We’ve created talk shows, we’ve let them edit it. We’ve let them, you know, do all of the work that we and our customers do every day. And we video tape it and we give them, you know, little goodie bags to go home and show their parents the projects that they created using Sony technology. So that’s also something fun that I like to do to give back.

Narrator: Theresa says she’s learned a lot as a female executive about how to succeed in the corporate world. And she has recommendations to other women wanting to move up in the company.

Theresa Alesso: First you have to stay tenacious and be a risk taker, as I said earlier second, I think that it’s important. We talked before. You know, work-life balance is what everyone says. I call it work-life integration. After 32 years, um, I bring my full self to Sony every day, right? The three barking dogs downstairs sometimes. My teenagers that I hang a sign outside when I’m saying do not open this door. But everyone knows who my kids are. My kids know so much of what I do have come on some business trips with me to see me at work, because you have to be able to balance so many different things and, and men have a ton to balance as well. So I’m not trying to say that they don’t, but, but as a, as a working woman and as an executive in a company like Sony, um, work-life integration to me is critical and then being my true self, um, so that people understand there are priorities that I sometimes have to make for my family that need to come before a certain business decision and vice versa. You know, there are plenty of times where I’m in Tokyo and I’m on Zoom calls at 3:00 AM to watch my daughter’s trumpet solo, um, because I don’t want to miss her solo. So I’ll talk to the teachers ahead of time. I’ll create this whole, this whole way to be there and make it special for her, even though I can’t be present. And then she feels great. And she’s like a rock star with her friends because their mom, her mom is in Tokyo being, you know, brought in. So you just got to be your true self, bring it all to the table. Um, be a risk taker and be authentic.

Narrator: And Theresa is leading by example.

Theresa Alesso: It’s hard, you know, there’s, I, I think the great thing about Sony is we’re talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s easy to say, oh, I want everybody to have work-life balance. And you know, what does that mean? That means you’re always, you know, one is up and one is down. It’s it’s, it’s a, it’s a rough thing to handle. So the way I look at it and the way we’ve been able to support our employees at Sony is we give them a ton of autonomy. We’ve created something called flex Friday, which is not new, but every Friday we close at three o’clock. We have summer hours that close us down on Fridays at one o’clock. We started something, um, called, um, free Friday, where one Friday a month, the entire Friday we’re shut down. So it gives people a three-day weekend. In some cases, I always tell them the free Friday is for you to decide what’s most important to you. If it’s a beautiful day and you want to go to the beach, wonderful. If you’re so overwhelmed with email and just having that free Friday allows you to be quiet in your own space and catch up and feel better so that your weekend is more spectacular, great. Whatever you need to do for you, that’s what free Friday is for. We also have, um, winter break for five days in between the holidays and New Years where the whole company shuts down. This way, uh, instead of like, when you go on vacation and you come back to 5,000 email, the whole company is completely closed so that you come back and everybody feels fresh and recharged. And we just voted on our EMC to do the same thing in the summer. So now a second week in July is going to start this calendar year where we’re going to do a summer shut down for those five days. So it gives people nine days straight of hopefully no reactive email, if they want to catch up on their own stuff, or if they want to, you know, do absolutely zero work at all, perfectly fine, too. Whatever it is that makes them feel better and feel, um, not so overwhelmed. That’s what that week is there for them. We also have, um, gosh, we’ve done, you know, since COVID, we’ve given people time off for vaccines, we’ve given 80 hours of, um, COVID leave on Sony if you, if you’re ill, obviously, but more importantly, if you need to take care of a significant other or family member, don’t worry about it, you know, go take care of what’s right for you to take care of. And we also have something called unlimited vacation time. As sexy as that sounds, um, it’s just so that people don’t feel like they have to check a box of how many days. If you get your job done, let your manager know that you want to take some time off. We don’t have a minimum number of days for vacation. It’s whatever you can balance within your, your workload and the commitment you have to your boss, yourself, and your customer.

To support our customers, just to be fair, what we do is we keep our warehouses open and we keep any kind of parts or service because as I said earlier, um, I’m in the professional space. So we’re keeping the evening news on the air. We’re keeping, you know, uh, major league sports going. We’re keeping hospitals going, right. So, if they need parts, if they need service, if they need product, what we do is we put a skeleton crew, even during shutdown, we put a skeleton crew for support, and then we rotate those people so that no same person has, you know, both winter, you know, skeleton crew or everyone may pick a day. Then what we do is we give them a different day off during the year when we’re reopened so that everybody gets the chance to participate. So our customers are always still taken care of, which is an important piece for me.

Narrator: To go back to the employee experience, Theresa has different ways of measuring whether an employee is having a positive experience or not. One way is through their awards program which she has mentioned before.

Theresa Alesso: We’ve done a ton of work within what we call the Samurai awards program. So we’ve done this all virtually we’ve created this surprise tactic and been able to. Bringing in a personal aspect to the award, which has been great. We also have something called applause and the Sony applause program is an online portal program where peer to peer awards can be given. There are certain denominations, um, of dollars that a line level employee can give to his or her fellow employee for doing a great job. And then that gets posted, um, on this portal and we all have access to see what these great achievements are of our employees. And we can, I can send a little note like, Hey, Susan, great that you did that, you know, congrats. So that’s out there now too. And we have peer-to-peer applause. We have something that we call, um, management award. So every quarter I look at all of my employees and I get my direct reports to kind of bubble up the best of the best work in a quarter. And we give out, um, a management award. So that’s kind of like an applause award on steroids, where they go from maybe getting 500 points, which could buy you a $50 gift card to 12,500 points in an award from me as the president of the division, which makes them feel super special. And it gets socialized amongst, um, all of Sony, both consumer and professional. And it’s a great way to make people feel good. And I’d say those are the two key areas. Um, and I love the social aspect of it because then people can kind of jump on the bandwagon and you, you kind of get to see how much our employees care about each other. And that makes people, I think, um, bring even extra effort to the job because they see Susan won. I want to get an applause award and they get more excited about doing their job well.

Narrator: And of course, Sony keeps data on employee engagement as well.

Theresa Alesso: We have engagement scores that we do for our yearly survey, as well as the pulse survey. So as we see engagement go up, that’s obviously a sign that our employees are, um, feeling more fulfilled because if they’re, if your engagement scores dip, we know that there’s gotta be something that’s going on that we need to dig into. So engagement scores are big. And obviously, um, if our employees are happy and feeling fulfilled, we see it in the financial results, right? They are shaping whether we’re being successful or not within our profits. And I’m really thrilled that Sony’s having another spectacular year this year. And it’s because of all of the great work from all of the people that dig deep for us every day. So I think the survey metrics are critical and the, the results, the business results.

Narrator: Theresa has had her own career highlights as well. 

Theresa Alesso: So, um, being here for 32 years, there’s been a bunch of different highlights for me, but I have to say, my number one, um, highlight is really being able to see, 32 years, I’ve grown up here with a lot of people. And being able to mentor certain employees and see them get promoted and be part of now my executive leadership team, when we kind of groomed them from the very beginning, is the most meaningful thing for me, because my job now, besides running the company is finding those next generation leaders and getting them ready to take that next step. So that makes me most proud, um, because I have to pay it forward. people tried to support me and mentor me and give me opportunity. So I need to pay that forward. Then I think personally, my, my most favorite part is just being able to travel the world. Being in a global company like Sony has afforded me opportunities to go all over the world and speak with all different types of people and get a perspective that I would have never, ever had the opportunity to do if not for the great company that I work for.

Narrator: Of course, things are never perfectly smooth. Let’s talk about some of the employee experience lessons Theresa has learned over her time at Sony in our next segment: Turbulence.

Theresa Alesso: I have to say in the last two years, it’s been a huge learning curve for me because most of my employees, other than salespeople were all in office employees. And I always felt FaceTime was most critical. And what COVID and the last two years have taught me is that if you give your team autonomy, if you give them the ability to get their job done and you provide connectivity tools, they will knock it out of the park. I have seen my team be more productive over the last two years than ever before. Now, I miss seeing them. Um, I can’t wait to get the opportunity to get back to the office and we’re all still working remote now. But boy, the flexibility that we offer them and the tools that we give them have provided top-notch connectivity and also productivity, which has, um, really been better than I’ve ever seen before.

Narrator: And during COVID, her team has tried some initiatives that didn’t work as well as she had hoped. 

Theresa Alesso: We tried to bring your pet to work day. Um, that was challenging. but in all kidding aside, right before COVID we did a big campaign around business acumen. Because what we’ve found is we’ve got really great salespeople that we want to bring into the corporate side to run businesses, but the business acumen and some of the Tokyo engagement, we really needed better training. Talking about the learning center earlier. Right? So we built this business argument class and really try to focus on that. But then the pandemic hit and we had other challenges. How do we get people tech technologically set up? How do we build virtual leadership skills? Because leading, you know, hundreds of people remotely is very different than leading a boardroom of people. So, you know, while nothing is truly, um, a failure, because I think in, in life and in work, you learn from everything. Um, this area was an area where we had to put a pause on it because we couldn’t effectively implement. So I would say that’s the best example I could give, uh, given the current two year situation.

Narrator: And there were some unintended consequences.

Theresa Alesso: I feel like I don’t want to make this a whole COVID podcast, but it talk about unintended consequences. Um, being that we have worked from home for two years and we, you know, while we’re a very progressive company, we’re still, you know, We’re a company that has a number of employees that have have roles that really we needed them in the office. And never would I have thought that we would get to a point where we would change that philosophy. So the undetected, theunintended consequence of the COVID remote work was that it’s now going to augment our return to the office. I don’t think we would have ever gotten to a point where we would tell our employees Mondays and Fridays will forever be work from home. If we didn’t have these last two years, that we’ve all kind of lived and worked through. So that’s a good example. So our hybrid, when we come back, which we’ll be announcing to our employees soon, so I can’t share here. Uh, but when we come back, uh, Mondays and Fridays will be remote. And then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, based on each of the business leaders, it’s their opportunity to bring their people together. So we give people still flexibility that we’ve all learned to enjoy. And I told you earlier, we’re more productive at home sometimes. So now it gives you the best of both worlds. We can connect as humans and, uh, on work assignments, but then also have that ability to enjoy a piece of that remote work environment.

Narrator: But when faced with challenges, Theresa leans back on her core beliefs as a leader.

Theresa Alesso:  In general, since I started here so long ago and have kind of been raised by Sony, if you will, I feel like, um, the Theresa from 1990 and how I approach people and my job, whatever those jobs were along the way, hasn’t changed. So transparency, honesty, authenticity, those words. Um, now that I’m the President, I’m still having coffee in the break room with all of my folks, just in the same way that I did 15 or 20 years ago. And I think that’s really important because, uh, relating to our people, um, on a human level, again, makes them feel valued, makes them feel connected. And I enjoy it as well because when you can connect on a human level like that in a personal level, and I know who somebody is, you know, spouses or significant other, and if they have children and I know the questions that I’d like to ask so that I can stay connected with them so that they know that I care about them as a person, as well as what they’ve committed to me as a leader of the company. So I think that’s important. And the other, um, item I have on my desk is a firm, fair, and consistent. Those are the three key words for my management style. Can’t be a pushover, right? So I I’m, I’m pretty tough. I’m firm with my beliefs and what I want to get accomplished. I’m fair. Every person gets treated fairly. Um, there are no favorites or, you know, it’s like raising kids, right? Everyone needs their fair shot. And consistency. I think that is really important. When you come into my office, you’re getting the same Theresa every day. Right. Even if I have work pressures that, you know, that’s not your fault cause you’re coming into my office. So the consistency of how I deliver myself to my folks is just as important, um, uh, to me as hopefully it is appreciated by them. So they know what they’re getting.

Narrator: She also puts extra thought and effort into how to effectively lead as a woman.

Theresa Alesso:  One of the big things for me is authenticity. So you’re gonna, you’re going to see it all. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever cried in a boardroom, but I probably have come pretty darn close depending on what we were talking about. I think I try to keep my emotions in check. And I always try to think about it before, before I say, or do, especially if I am angry or upset, it could come out either way. Right. And just to try to, um, always give a quick thought about it before I start the discussion. I think it’s important. Because I know it’s something that I never want to be labeled, so I try extra hard. And sometimes, um, I I’ve learned to be a little too, too nice because I don’t want to be the B right. I don’t ever want the B to, be tied to me. So it’s a, it’s a delicate balance. I, it’s hard to explain how the thought process goes before I approach certain, very confrontational subjects, but I am extra, extra cautious knowing that I, I want to be authentic and true to myself, and true to the people. I mean, we’ve gone through, you know, some of my employees have gotten ill. We’ve had terrible things happen in people’s families. I’ve cried with them over it. And that’s because I care about them and I care about their family and I never worry, oh my gosh, is that, is that gonna make me look weak? Because gosh, after working 20, 30 years with some of these people, they’re, they’re my family. So, it’s I think a bit tougher being a woman, because you don’t want to be cast in a certain light, but I try to be authentic.

Narrator: And for all the leaders out there, she has advice for you about traveling on your own career journey.

Theresa Alesso: Be true to yourself. When you take on a role like this, you have to love what you do. So you have to figure out what makes you tick, what you’re passionate about, because work should never feel like work. You should love what you do and be your true self and, and be an honest, authentic leader.

Narrator: So think about where you’d like to be in 10 years, and set yourself in motion towards the future you want.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io


Read more

Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

Conversations with leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

Hosted by Firstup Founder and CEO, Nicole Alvino.

Listen now on

CruisingAltitude Icon nobg

Sign up for our newsletter

Marketing by