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Since 2014, Julia Goldin, ’93, has served as global chief product and marketing officer of the LEGO Group, the iconic toy production company based in Billund, Denmark, that inspires kids around the world. Before she joined the LEGO Group, Goldin spent three years as the global CMO of Revlon, and had a 13-year career with the Coca-Cola Company. In March 2021 Goldin spoke with Madhav Rajan, dean and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting, in a virtual event for Chicago Booth’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Dean Rajan: What were the most important career experiences that led you to the LEGO brand?

Julia Goldin: I’ve been consistent with my choices, even though they’ve been in very different industries. Coca-Cola was an amazing brand. The brand is so much bigger than the product experience, but the product experience is very special—probably the best marketing academy you could have. Revlon was an opportunity to learn more about product development, because it’s an intensely innovation-driven industry, an industry of creating dreams. All those roles came together with the LEGO Group, because we have amazing innovation and unbelievably exciting brands with tremendous opportunities.

Rajan: What were some big bets that you made that at the time you thought may or may not have had a high payoff, but ended up being good?

Goldin: My first move that was really challenging was a move to Japan [where she was deputy CMO of Japan for Coca-Cola]. The Japanese market and the Japanese culture operate very differently from anything I have experienced in the past. And it’s really challenging to succeed there, especially as a woman and as a foreigner. I learned a ton about leadership, about leading in a different culture, about finding a way to understand a different consumer base. To succeed in that culture was a seminal experience.

Rajan: How do you think about innovation in the time of COVID-19?

Goldin: COVID-19 requires every day to be innovative. I decided that we needed to respond to the fact that kids were off school, and that so many families were dealing with very difficult situations. The idea was to do a social campaign to give people some ideas about what they could do with the LEGO bricks they had at home. It wasn’t commercially focused—it was focused on giving people an opportunity to leverage what they had at home to have some enjoyable moments for themselves and their kids, and also find ways to celebrate, for example, the frontline workers, and deal with the issues the whole of society was dealing with.

Audience question: What are the challenges and opportunities of managing about 1,800 people?

Goldin: I like to say that if you can lead five people, you can lead 1,800 people. Because at the end of the day, it’s about your ability to lead. One of the key things is proximity to people, because people need to understand where you are coming from. I was very open about my life. I have two kids. I had one that was homeschooling—I was going nuts and pulling my hair out. For people to see that I was living exactly the same life as everybody else and dealing with the same issues really enabled people to relate better to me.

Rajan: Things are opening up in the next month or two: Do you anticipate going back to what the company used to be, or are you thinking about incorporating what you’ve learned during this time?

Goldin: We don’t believe that the world will go back to what it was before, nor that we should go back to what we were before. We believe the world will evolve. We’re definitely readier for the unpredictability of the world, and we have taken a lot of learnings and are continuing to incorporate them—how we go to market, how we develop our campaigns, and how we stay more agile.

Watch the full conversation on Chicago Booth’s YouTube channel, and register for upcoming Distinguished Speaker Series events.