Janet Santana of Altria International Sales explains how solid values and innovative ideas have led to a successful career in marketing
Janet Santana, a brand manager for Altria International Sales, is something you don’t see much these days: someone who’s worked for the same company her entire career.
Santana was the first member of her family to attend college, which she says broke a paradigm—especially being a female—and what helped her was having a strong work ethic. “From a young age, my parents instilled in me that there isn’t any such thing as entitlement,” she says. “‘This is the land of opportunity,’ they said. If you want something, you have to work hard. So, I always had the feeling I could do anything, and that helped me get where I am.”
Thinking Out Loud
Trading Words With
Balance. I’m a single mom, and want to be great at what I do at work and at home.
Integrity. A leader has to be trusted to succeed.
Relationships. You have to identify and capitalize opportunities early on.
Perception. You have to understand how others see you.
Pride. If I put my name on something, I want it to be the best.
My essence. It’s what makes me tick.
Her parents, Dominican Republic natives who came to New York as teenagers, instilled Santana’s strong work ethic and values. “My parents didn’t have an education themselves, but valued it, and really wanted us to achieve it,” says Santana, whose mother worked as a seamstress, often taking on two jobs at once, because it was important to her that Santana attend private school.
With the help of a high school guidance counselor, Santana applied to state universities, and received a scholarship to study accounting at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. While there, however, Santana made a decision that would change her life: “I realized accounting wasn’t right for me, so I switched my major to marketing,” she says.
During an introduction to marketing class, one of her first assignments was to watch all of the commercials during the Super Bowl. “I was really struck by the relationship a brand can develop with its consumers, what a brand represents to consumers—it was all about that for me,” Santana says. That’s when she knew she was meant to be in marketing.
Upon graduating from Le Moyne College in 1994, Santana joined Philip Morris USA, a subsidiary of Altria, a Fortune 500 Company. “I was excited about working for a large organization with big brands, which I thought would give me the opportunity to be challenged and grow,” she says.
Santana began in sales, and was promoted five times within that organization. “Character and values are important,” she says. “The company has been a good fit for me in that it rewards performance, but it’s about more than performance; it’s about how you achieve performance. And that’s a good fit for my values.
“The reason I haven’t had to job hop is that I made a good decision from the beginning.”
Santana says learning to lead others has been her greatest challenge. “Not everyone approaches things the way I do,” she says. “But, everyone wants to do well, and understanding that can help you learn to motivate people in a way that’s appealing to them, and that allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment. Learning to do that early in my career has made me successful as I’ve taken on more responsibilities.”
Every time she takes on a new responsibility, she embraces the different challenges. Santana, who in her current position with Altria oversees all marketing for the company’s duty-free business and the Puerto Rican market, “It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also an honor.”
In 2007, Santana earned her master’s degree in business administration from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York. “I wanted to further challenge myself.” She was recognized among the Young Hispanic Corporate Achievers by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility in 2008 and enjoys mentoring other Latinos at Altria.
For those seeking to follow in her footsteps, she recommends—in keeping with her values-based upbringing—maintaining a good moral compass. Santana advises that it is important to seek out
mentors, learn to take calculated risks and be a leader. “From the beginning, I thought differently. I have always wanted to achieve and succeed beyond what was expected of me.”