Carla Hassan: Leading with Purpose
By Julia Corbett
Carla Hassan brings her whole self to work. In her newly announced role as Chief Marketing Officer at Citi, she oversees the consolidated marketing and branding divisions to streamline messaging across the organization. Hassan also heads up marketing for global consumer banking to differentiate Citi’s brand and enhance its success while she looks to change the dialogue around issues such as pay equity and sustainability. Coming from a family that fled two countries to escape wars, Hassan’s experience as an immigrant shapes her as a leader, allowing her to see and value others for who they are. Her parents are her biggest heroes and her daughter, Noor, is her greatest source of strength, with contagious resilience after fighting cancer at a young age.
“I don’t think I can leave different parts of who I am behind, close the door, walk into work and decide that I’m somebody totally different,” Hassan says.
How do your personal experiences shape you as a leader?
Who I am has shaped everything about me as a leader. My resilience comes from my experience as an immigrant and not wanting to let my family down. My drive comes from being a mother to a cancer survivor and showing her that anything is possible.
Who has made the biggest impact on your life?
I draw so much inspiration and strength from my (daughter) Noor. What she went through was unthinkable. Yet, day in and day out she fought. Even in her darkest days, she had a great attitude. That is such a source of inspiration and it keeps me going when I’m facing obstacles.
Why is it important to lead with purpose?
It’s a North Star. What you believe in and what you stand for is critical. If you don’t have that, it becomes much easier to rationalize every decision versus making the tough call and saying, “No. This isn’t consistent with our purpose.”
What is your superpower?
My superpower is human connection. Empathy, authenticity and vulnerability play huge roles in that. Setting a vision is critical. Strategy is critical, but how you extract the most value from your team to accomplish your objectives is even more important. That is driven by humanity.
It wasn’t very long ago that I was told I’m “too nice.” In fact, people were surprised that I could even drive results. Now, it’s a trait of leadership that is highly valued. You get the most out of your team by setting a vision, trusting them, valuing their experiences and letting them go do amazing work.
What were some of the risks that you took that led you to Citi?
Leaving PepsiCo after 13 years to try to turn around Toys ‘R Us was a huge risk, but worth taking. I wanted to have a seat at the table of a leadership team that was turning an entire business around. I wanted to get closer to technology, first-party data and performance-driving metrics. Going through an experience like that reshaped me as a leader and positioned me well for not only my role at Citi, but also in my life.
You have worked for Citi, Toys ‘R Us, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. How have you navigated roles in different industries?
A long time ago someone told me, “Ask why and then ask again. Ask until you can’t ask anymore.” That has taught me to be very curious. Not for curiosity’s sake, but for learning’s sake. It has served me well in my career. I walk into every role and every company wanting to learn about the business and how marketing can impact it. For marketing to be successful, it must be purpose-driven. Being in different industries has also taught me to be OK not knowing everything and building the best teams around me.
What is an initiative that you are most proud of at Citi?
“It’s About Time” launched last year on International Day of the Girl. It centered on the work we have done around pay equity and female representation in the most senior leadership roles in our company. We wanted to tell our story, but more importantly, challenge the world to follow what we had done — be transparent about your numbers and be bold and loud about the goals you’re setting — because we have the platforms to make meaningful change.
What do you want to pass on to the upcoming generation of communicators?
Now is their time. If I can pass on anything, I would pass on courage. They should use their voice now more than ever. Use it wisely, use it carefully and use it in a way that makes an impact. But use it.