Women’s History Month - Executive Spotlight: Cheryl Heinonen

We’re kicking off Women’s History Month at Macy’s, Inc. by spotlighting one of our company’s newest female executives, an accomplished leader with an impressive resume who also happens to be a passionate supporter of women’s issues. Meet Cheryl Heinonen, executive vice president of corporate communications, and proud advocate for women and working families.

Cheryl started her career with Macy’s, Inc. in January 2017 in a newly-created role as the company’s head of communications, bringing communications strategy for all stakeholders together so that Macy’s could speak with one voice. Cheryl exemplifies women in leadership not only through her career, but also through her work and commitment to a wide range of women’s issues over the past two decades.

For Cheryl, empowering women means ensuring the health, safety and financial resources for a woman to build a better life for herself and her family. Her first experience with empowerment work at the corporate level came at Visa where she started the company’s microfinance platform to give women entrepreneurs in developing countries access to credit. With a reputation for understanding the alignment between cause work and brand value, she also worked with Nike’s Girl Effect, an initiative to keep young girls in school longer and Coca-Cola’s 5by20 Project, committed to enabling economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs through access to business skills training courses, financial services and mentorship.

Before joining the Macy’s family, Cheryl was most recently at Avon where, in addition to her corporate work, she was president of the Avon Foundation for Women, a public 501c3 charity dedicated to women’s issues with a focus on breast cancer and domestic violence. She continues to serve on the Foundation Board of Directors. Through her work at the Foundation, Cheryl has partnered with many organizations who also work with Macy’s, including the Breast Cancer Research Fund and God’s Love We Deliver.

As a business leader and champion of women’s issues, Coast to Coast is thrilled to spotlight Cheryl in honor of Women’s History Month.

The unique experiences and individual perspectives of our people make Macy’s the company that it is. Tell us a little bit about what makes you who you are.

I grew up in Oregon and lived in San Francisco for 20 years, so I call the West Coast home. I’ve been bi-coastal between New York and San Francisco for my entire career but four years ago, my family and I made the move to New York. With four children, two in college, two at home, I consider myself to have a very rich but hectic life.

I enjoy hiking and generally any outdoor activity. For fun, my family loves to travel, including an annual road trip.

As a professional, I have always worked with consumer brands and had the opportunity to work with some really great ones. I’m not one for the status quo; I love change. I have worked with companies through all different types of changes and I’m always focused on helping employees get through the process with as much ease and clarity as possible.

What excites you most about being a part of Macy’s?

It’s an honor to be part of Macy’s team at a time when the industry is looking to us for leadership. From day one, I’ve been impressed by the people in our company. I admire their depth of knowledge and the way we look at the challenges of our business and face them head-on.

Macy’s also has a very caring and empathetic culture. The level of support we give to our employees on a personal level to create a safe place to come to work every day is amazing. I’m proud to be a part of it and looking forward to doing my part to foster that culture.

You have been in communication roles for most of your career. How do you plan to use your knowledge and experience to approach communications at Macy’s?

In my experience, an organization’s ability to understand the strategy, the plan, and the great things going on within that company makes the difference between success and failure. A portion of that is the responsibility of the communications function, and a portion of that is the responsibility of our leaders and their commitment to keeping the lines of communication open and honest with their teams.

It’s also important to remember that at least half of any successful communication program is listening, more so than ever in a time of change. Whether it’s our employees, our stakeholders, our investors, or the media, listening is a key component to communicating.

What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you in your career?

Early in my communications career, my manager (who was a bit of a legend) told me, “there’s no crying in PR.” It seemed a bit harsh at the time, but in my role with the media, it’s turned out to be very practical advice. When faced with a tough situation, we need to put forward a strong and calm face for the company.

The piece of advice I turn to most often was from a mentor who said to ‘give yourself a break’. There are so many pressures coming from different sources – your work, your family, the world around you. You occasionally need to take a minute to stop, give yourself a break, and remember that on any given day, you won’t be perfect at everything, and that’s ok.

Who inspires you?

My mother was my biggest role model and the original source of my optimism about life generally and about what I could achieve.

You can have dinner with one woman in history. Who is it and why?

I could never pick just one! First, I’d have a cup of tea with my grandmother. I’ve been thinking of her a lot lately. She immigrated to the United States as a teenager and I wish I knew more about what that experience was like for her.

Then, I’d have dinner with Margaret Sanger who not only was a pioneer in women’s health issues, but also had a very colorful personal story.

And I’d finish the evening by having a nightcap with Billie Holiday, since I’m sure she could teach me more about life in 10 minutes than I’ll ever figure out myself.

 

 

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