Lizzie Ward (BA 2009 in Studio Art)
President at Sunshine Beverages, in Winston-Salem, NC
Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?
I lead a start-up beverage company based in Winston-Salem called Sunshine Beverages, which manufactures and sells better-for-you energy drinks. Sunshine took on investment in 2017, which is about the time that I joined, and I was promoted to President in early 2018.
My focus over the past nine months has really been around building the foundation and infrastructure to support growth, which involved hiring a team (there was only one full-time employee when I started), expanding Sunshine’s distribution network and bringing on new retail accounts.
What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
I moved to New York City about two years after college, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made personally and professionally. I was out of my comfort zone in every way, and I believe that is when you learn and grow the most.
During my time in New York, I worked in sports and was fortunate enough to have an amazing female boss that became a great friend and role model. She believed in my ability, trusted my leadership and always challenged me to grow. I developed a great deal of confidence in those years, and I don’t believe I would be where I am today without that experience and responsibility at such a young age.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?
It depends on the day that you ask!
Right now, I think being the “little guy” is the greatest challenge Sunshine is facing. We offer excellent products that deliver on an unmet need for consumers, but we are competing with companies that have long-established brand awareness, significantly larger budgets and numerous SKUs. Retail shelf space is finite, and we are in a highly competitive category where new brands, like Sunshine, must prove themselves faster than ever before to maintain placement.
We’ve built a team that deeply believes in our products and mission, and, ultimately, I believe that will be most important to building a successful brand and company. We are all avid consumers of Sunshine, and we are our brand’s greatest ambassadors. Our vision resonates with consumers, distributors and retailers, and we are seeing it come to life every day.
From strictly a marketing standpoint, Sunshine wins on taste. We lean heavily into samplings, and that will always be a critical part of our promotional strategy for growth. Sunshine is a “better-for-you” product, and we believe consumers shouldn’t have to sacrifice taste for function.
What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?
I could say a lot here, but there is one area that matters most… Prioritize your health.
Eat well. Exercise. Find outlets or activities that help you to relieve stress.
You will improve at almost EVERYTHING (work, relationships, decision making, balance) when you commit to your health.
We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?
Building relationships is one of my favorite parts of any “job” – it never feels like work. I love getting to know people, and I probably ask too many questions! I also love to help and connect others, which naturally helps maintain a network.
Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?
Mentors have had everything to do with my career, and I’ve deeply valued those relationships at every stage in life. At Wake, Professor Bob Fly helped me find and create my path. I was fascinated by his experience in marketing and determined to follow in his footsteps – I was a frequent visitor to his office and even called him to tell him about my first job offer before I accepted!
Since college, I’ve had a number of individuals that I would consider mentors and a few that have remained a very significant part of my life over the years. I talk to them about everything from work to house renovations to relationships, and I couldn’t be more thankful for their guidance and engagement in my development.
I also love mentoring, especially other women. I learn so much from the time I spend with my younger female colleagues, and I have a lot of heart for helping them grow and develop – it’s a significant motivator in my life and career.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?
I’d say this goes for all industries … be curious, be eager to learn and don’t be afraid to try.
Graduating from Wake, you definitely know how to work hard and you’ve developed a diversified foundation of knowledge. That said, there is still a lot to learn, so be clear about why you are interested in the industry and don’t pretend to know it all. I am proud to say that I am still learning something new every day!
What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?
My heart is in Sunshine, and I am committed to building this company into the next big beverage brand. We have aggressive growth plans over the next few years, and I couldn’t be more excited for where this team is headed.
Story published in December 2018. For current updates about Lizzie, visit her LinkedIn profile.