1. Aaron is an optimist.
His former work as diplomat for the US State Department has made him a “glass half full” man. It gave him long experience in opening doors that at first were stuck. “People instinctively want to move forward rather than be paralysed by the past.” His job at PMI fits that pattern. “My family and friends do not see my new job as an unthinkable departure from what I have been doing before. They can see a consistent thread in my career. After all, I have been a diplomat in plenty of places.”
2. Aaron knows that respecting differences is key to constructive dialogue.
“Wherever I have worked, I have learnt the importance of respect for people who are not exactly like you. Good things can happen when you break through a taboo and get on with it.” He gets irritated when the issue gets polarized: smokers versus non-smokers, the industry versus regulators. “This needs to be about all sides working together towards a common end. The possibilities are too big and important for anything else.”
3. Aaron sees emotion as a vital part of the solution.
“Everything in our world seems to be painted in black or white from a moral and political standpoint, and that is true of the conversation about smoking. But we need to challenge people with a simple question: ‘What can we do, together, to help people make better choices?’ That resonates with people emotionally.”
4. He is excited to be part of an ongoing conversation.
“Almost a hundred per cent of people do not want to talk about a subject that makes them uncomfortable. But a hundred per cent of people do want to talk about themselves – than, perhaps, hear something that might benefit someone they know.” He has only been at PMI a few months, but has already detected a determination, after years of defensiveness, to adopt a more positive attitude. “We are learning as a company, and as individuals, about the importance of a proactive communications approach.”
5. He believes communication must be at the heart of PMI’s smoke-free revolution.
“The word ‘transformation’ is in my job title for a reason. It denotes a new way of doing business at PMI. It denotes a new sense of purpose. But mostly it denotes an understanding that communications cannot be an after-thought. Good communications have to be at the heart of any real change.” He’s convinced that only if everyone gets involved in the conversation – smokers, the industry, regulators, urban planners, technology experts, and lifestyle gurus – is there any chance of a satisfactory outcome. A smoke-free future cannot just be one company’s vision: it must spark a wider sense of purpose.
6. He is keen to engage with NGOs and activists.
“The people who work for these organisations care about the world. They want to do the right thing. But they often work with shrinking funds, which means they cannot get the scientific data they need quickly enough. They need to partner with business to get real-time information.” Not all NGOs will partner with a company such as PMI. But Aaron believes those who are serious about tackling the long-term challenges will come on board, once they are satisfied that the company is offering grounded, trustworthy data.