Empowering emerging talent

04 Mar 2020
A leader, learner, and reverse-mentee, Filiz Yavuz Diren, Managing Director of PMI Turkey, explains how she’s working to embed diversity in the company.

Filiz Yavuz Diren is no stranger to change. Throughout her 20-year (and counting) career at PMI, the qualified engineer has mastered various disciplines across the business – from finance and sales to business development and corporate affairs.

An impassioned leader, Filiz is passionate about digitalization and the company’s transformation, and believes gender equality, diversity and the full range of skills in today’s talent pool will lead PMI’s charge for a smoke-free future.

Filiz Diren Yavuz, Managing Director, Philip Morris Turkey
Different minds bring different perspectives, solutions and opportunities to the table.
Filiz Yavuz Diren, Managing Director, Philip Morris Turkey

What’s the standout moment in your career at PMI so far?

When I was working in finance, a position opened up in business development and planning. I really wanted the role, but I thought I shouldn’t apply – because I was six months pregnant. My boss at the time said to me, “What’s holding you back? Go for it!” Funnily enough, I was offered the position – and, of course, I happily accepted. So, that taught me that I had to overcome barriers in my own mind – they didn’t exist in reality. Now, I try to spread this ‘no barriers’ way of thinking to each employee in my organization. I always say, “Never be shy to ask for something you really want. If it fits with the focus of the company, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

After 20 years, what continues to fuel your passion about your job?

I’m inspired by the change I see all around me inside PMI. Digitalization is now at the forefront of our business transformation coupled with our determination to achieve our vision of a smoke-free future. For me, PMI’s decision to completely transform our company and business is a courageous one; we’re fully committed to changing the course of an entire industry for the better – and I’m very proud to see it happen.

What does it take to be an effective leader in the 21st century?

First, leaders need to be in touch with the wider world these days, but we must also demonstrate the skill to become experts in our field – alongside gaining a strong understanding of other parts of the business on whom we rely to meet our collective goals. More and more, different management teams across organizations are working together to take decisions – as companies become more project-based, just as we are doing at PMI. Secondly, pushing ourselves to create more diverse teams is also a must. This requires a conscious leadership effort. And last but not least, remaining agile, so we can adapt to change – and lead that change – is critical. Today, we are embracing and driving change at PMI, which is essential for success in the long term.

What leadership values underpin those actions?

The belief that we should empower our people and give them the space they need to deliver is really an important dimension for me. And we must help employees strike the right work-life balance. For example, as a mum of three boys, I’m happy that I’ve managed to achieve this balance at PMI. So, leaders must be mindful of the different needs of individuals in their team, and they must role-model new ways of working to ensure their teams are happy, more productive and can thrive. Of course, flexibility is much more within our reach these days, thanks to technology, so we should embrace these possibilities. After all, in a bustling city like Istanbul, where I work, it’s not easy for everyone to work 8am to 5pm in the office each day. So, flexibility is important; we provide more for our people and get the best outcomes for our company. After all, happy employees make a happier, more productive workplace!

How are you embedding diversity as a leader?

Working with women and men of different backgrounds helps to complete my thinking. For instance, I already think the way I think, so I don’t gain a huge amount of insight from those with similar outlooks to my own. That’s the beauty of having different points of view. Of course, creating harmony and motivation in diverse groups requires different leadership skills. But the result is absolutely better than single-profile teams. I am really supportive of our vision to create more diversity and gender balance in the company. It’s a winning strategy.

How does improving gender balance and diversity support the company’s transformation?

Different minds bring different perspectives, solutions and opportunities to the table. This is critical, and I observe it every day. Thinking outside of the box is essential. Sometimes, one person has the idea, but it requires the whole team’s diverse talents and commitment to bring it to fruition. Today, across PMI, our teams are becoming more open, diverse and willing to embrace change. But there is always room to improve and grow.

You mention that PMI is a team-oriented company. Is being an MD a lonely place to be at times?

In my role, I have authority and responsibilities. But one person cannot change much. That’s why I see myself as part of a team, so I never feel lonely! This is a rare and exciting opportunity for everyone in the organization at this time of change with our transformation. Of course, change is never easy, but as employees we must find the fun, inspiring parts of our job. It’s my role to inspire and motivate others in reaching our objectives – and that’s something I really enjoy.

Has the global EQUAL-SALARY certification helped to accelerate change inside your organization?

Yes, because the global EQUAL-SALARY certification confirms our high standards to our employees. Equal pay for equal work and equal career opportunities can only help to improve employee morale and give them confidence in our commitment to equality and fairness, which is essential to drive our business transformation forward. Also, it sets an example for other companies across the world. After all, equal pay for equal work should have been long established by now, but unfortunately that’s not the case for many women in many parts of the world.

How have you personally transformed throughout the course of your 20-year career at PMI?

When I was recruited, I thought the world revolved around me, but I’m a very different person today. It’s all about the team – not me. In Turkey, we have almost 2,000 employees, and we receive 100,000 job applications every year! So, we select the best fit when we recruit. Individual success alone doesn’t mean the company will be successful. It requires teams to work in harmony to effectively implement our business strategies. That is what I have learned. And I continue learning every day. As leaders, we need to listen to new generations of talent. That’s why I decided to be mentored by a junior member of staff as part of our reverse mentoring program in Turkey. It’s a great innovation to help leaders learn from the talent coming through in our organization. By listening and learning, we can make better decisions.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time outside of work?

I spend a lot of time with my family. Traveling and culture are my passions. Whenever I travel, I take notes of my observations. What I find most interesting is to visit the same place years apart and then compare my notes. It’s like reading the same poem when you’re 25 years old and when you’re 45 – your perceptions are different. I want to write more in the future.

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