Philip Morris General manager encourages people to Build a  Better Future for Themselves


Natalya Mayorova | TEDxMoskovyanSt

Philip Morris General manager encourages people to Build a Better Future for Themselves

In her TedX speech Natalia Mayorova, General Manager of Philip Morris Armenia, refers to paradigms: she believes they are not fixed but shift with time as part of evolution. These shifts are driven mainly by 3 triggers:

1. Big ideas
2. Courageous personalities
3. Breakthrough technologies

So, it’s an unavoidable reality. It’s also a better way to not to stand by - reluctant to changes, but to recognize them instead and embrace and drive the change by disrupting ourselves and the reality. Thus, contributing to a better future both for us and society. During the 18 years in Philip Morris International Natalia has changed more than 10 positions starting from HR department to managing Reduced Risk Products projects in different countries. Starting her journey in Armenia 2.5 years ago, Natalia fell in love with the country and its people. She discovered her personal business success in Armenia. Natalia strongly believes that, no matter who you are - male or female in business, key to success is being open, honest and human, diving deep into the culture you are in, starting any negotiation with “I wish you happiness” internal message and always remembering about the “big Armenian heart”.

The full speech is available here:


We are pleased to share Natalia's inspirational speech below.


I would like to ask you to close your eyes for a moment and turn on your imagination.

Imagine the CEO of a very successful company: strong, powerful, open-minded, inspirational, driven by vision… Who is in your mind? And now imagine - this is a woman...

Imagine the runner from Johannesburg: 1st place winner, several golden medals, many years of traineeship, strive for results, best example of winning spirit! Who is on your mind? And now imagine - he has no legs, and he participated in Paralympic games, and won his medal …

Imagine a company, that created a Product which finally contributed to better life conditions for more than 1 billion people... now imagine that this is a tobacco company …

Who have seen or heard about the Green Book - a bumpy road trip movie with a message about race relations, which has got Oskar this year?

This comedy-drama is inspired by the true story of African American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and Italian American bouncer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga who served as Shirley's driver and bodyguard. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African-American travelers. Two men,  from polar opposite backgrounds and with wildly contrasting personalities, one white - and a racist, by the way, in the beginning - one black, get thrown together under unusual circumstances, driving across the American South during 1962.

At that time, American audiences did not want to see a "colored" pianist on the concert stage performing classical music. And that is why Shirley undertook this journey to the deep south to play at whites-only venues as he decided to inject “the black experience through music, with a sense of dignity,” having a belief that he is contributing to the change of perception of white people towards African Americans… He was discriminated and humiliated all the way, while his driver observed it the whole way…

Still they learned from each other within this trip, changed each other for the better and discovered that - guess what? -  they’re not so different after all. Further, Lip's son says that the trip significantly changed his father, and it changed the way he raised his children, cultivating in them the belief that everyone is equal. And even further, in 2009, an African American was elected as President of the United States of America.

What’s the story about? It is about the stereotypes and perceptions in our life… those that are accompanying us, those that force us to judge, or put us in situations where we are judged, those that have a great power on us and on the people around us, forcing sometimes to live the lives and feel the feelings / emotions we are not comfortable with. Stereotypes, which form a certain norm or – PARADIGMs - in other words, sets of standards, perspectives or ideas, or the way we look at things.

That’s the story of those who decided to change, to challenge the status quo, to stand out from the crowd and go bold to shift the paradigm changing the stereotype, taking the society's resistance upon themselves…


Actually, a paradigm shift is happening when the existing norm is becoming an issue, or the environment is providing us with an opportunity for it. And, usually, there are 3 main triggers: personality, idea and technology, or even a mix of it.


A perfect example of idea is the plastic war. There’s been no single, catalytic moment. Rather, the momentum seems largely self-generated, the result of a confluence of events and long-term trends, including growing concern over plastics in marine environments, especially oceans, and about its impacts on both sea life and land life. In combination with increased awareness of circular economy principles and public awareness of the problem, as well as the leadership of companies, many cities and institutions are setting goals and creating bold, innovative policies and business models.


An example of technology is Amazon – the biggest retailer without owned retail stores or Uber, a taxi service without owned taxi park, smartphones, google, drive-less cars, cryptocurrency and many others…

A mix example is Steve Jobs as personality & technology evolution.

And they are, I would say, successful examples... there are others as well – Nokia, Sony, Kodak… which lost the train, weakened and became increasingly vulnerable to competitive forces.


What’s its outcome? Paradigm shift is not a one-shot exercise, it is a journey. And it doesn’t matter if it is being driven by 1 of the 3 components or a mix, it always requires courage and effort to get out of one’s comfort zone, be bold, stand out of the crowd; you may either succeed or not, and it’s up to  us to decide whether to stay aside or be a shifter!


When I joined my company 18 years ago, the staff was mostly male due to the job done.

As we advanced, job roles were changing but the stereotype remained the same. HR and Accounting positions were mostly the ones offered and considered for females. As to the real business, it was a No, as “you - women - are emotional, may get pregnant, are not competitive with men” etc. I joined the company as office administrator, then I grew to HR specialist. And it was OK in terms of my perception.

While in HR, I noticed that only males were applying for business positions and that seemed to me a bit strange… I decided to clarify the issue with the recruitment agency first to find out what was wrong, as I had thought the gap was on the agency side. I called them, asked a couple of questions; and, imagine the answer! – “This is your company’s request – actually, those who seek candidates generally request the same – to provide only male CVs”.

Wow, interesting, I thought… And, using the recruiter power I asked to provide CVs equally – both male and female, as long as the candidate fitted the requested profile. Thus, we got balanced panel for recruitment and I exactly remember the moment that became the trigger for my decision to change the situation completely. There were 3 of us at the interview: my boss, my peer from sales and myself. Out of 200 candidates 6 were shortlisted and we were to choose between the 2 finalists, who ironically happened to be a male and a female...

We were outweighing the advantages of each candidate to make our decision on hiring, when the sales specialist said, “You know what, the female candidate is great and fits the profile... but in 1 year she may get pregnant and may go on a 3-year maternity leave, while I will need to start the recruitment process again and train the new hire investing my time…so, I’d go for the male candidate…”

That was it! The trigger was when I decided to be not an observer but a shifter starting to work with recruitment agencies first - at least to “open doors” for female CV’s, and assisted in hiring and adaptation, worked as internal advocate, and it helped: female ratio in work force raised from 10 to 25%. Further, newcomers started to become female advocates, plus new generations of males who joined the company later were freer from this perception. Now, in ARMENIA, we have a very balanced team - 50/50% male-female ratio.


When I was offered the position of the General Manager in ARMENIA, I also faced some perceptions being told, “how are you going to lead the office there? This is Caucasus, it’s a men’s world...” And though I started to realize that despite the fact that “this is a men’s world, it would be nothing without a woman or a girl” I was still hesitant and honestly, I had come here being biased by this stereotype... but now I can say that I have another example: all - my team, my partners, interns, others with whom I interact, Armenian nation itself - especially taking into account the revolution of 2018 – all are breaking MY stereotypes! It’s being done by your positive attitude and entrepreneurial spirit, your intellectual horsepower, your hospitality, your principles for kids’ upbringing, your attitude to mothers, your strong family connections and the way you support each other wherever you are, your ability to stand bold and your big “Armenian” heart…


Still, not everything is so rosy as it may seem.

Being already here as the General manager of a tobacco company affiliate, I face some other “perceptions” in my daily work – something like “tobacco business is ruled by “rich, fat guys” who only earn money and do not care about society…” Actually, I don’t think I look fat and ugly and I am not guy at all.

Besides, our company is in the list of top 10 taxpayers in Armenia, and seems like not only earns income, but also gives back some big piece as well.

But still I feel that sometimes we as people are being perceived and even judged through the prism of the biases related to business which we are doing. Sometimes society forgets that we are also humans and an important part of society doing a lot of positive things for that same society.


I am a representative of generation X. The generation which is called “grown with the key around the neck”. Why? We were raised alone in the streets with our parents working all day long, staying in queues to buy only 200 grams of chocolate butter, eating it with bread instead of candies… as there were actually no candies. I still cannot forget those eternal queues for everything…  with high demand and nothing to offer...

When I graduated from the university in the early 2000s, I decided to find a job - no matter what - which would allow me to get the remuneration that would satisfy my material needs. The choice was not big: either half-destroyed post-soviet enterprises where I had somehow to apply holding 2 education diplomas – one in philology and the other in economics, or big transnationals that were emerging at that time.

No brainer – transnationals! That time they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The choice was not big but the wish – paramount! 300 young persons per 1 basic position. The most desirable companies were PMI and Procter. So, to cut the long story short, as you can see, I got my work at PMI, kind of got the ticket to my better life. Words cannot describe what I felt! Excitement! I was very proud of myself! But already being in the company and growing there I started to realize that despite everything - workplace, salary, safe environment... I had just one concern - our product. And this was the reason why I had adopted this hesitating/defensive attitude for years and had mostly concentrated on just doing my job right - as in any other business. 

For a very long time I felt myself like Don Shirley in the Green book movie - I felt that someone wrote this Green book for me indicating that I can stay only inside these frames, and not more.


Years ago, the situation transformed significantly: technology changed! And the new product that the company developed within 10 years of research, allowed me to experience other feelings. Pride! And excitement! – Even stronger than what I had felt in the beginning of my career... Excitement, when you finally realize that you can address this one big fundamental problem related to your product and come up with something that’s really better for both society and consumers. I am talking now about smoke-free products.

The new products are surely not risk-free, but those that are backed by science have the potential to reduce the harm from smoking compared to cigarettes.

We as a company decided to disrupt ourselves embracing the paradigm shift instead of thinking that someone should come and do it for us. And our messages are pretty simple: if you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you smoke, quit; if you don’t quit, change to alternatives!

Doesn’t it make sense? Is it wrong logic?

Just imagine: In Japan, where smokers have had access to smoke-free products and information about them for already around 4 years, more than 6 million smokers have stopped smoking and switched to smoke-free products. That’s 22 % of the smokers in the country!
Here in Armenia there are already 5% of former smokers who quit smoking and switched to Alternatives! Within 1 year! Can you imagine any activities or smoking ban policies that could be so effective in quitting smoking and saying good-bye to combustion and smoke which is the main reason of smoking-related diseases?

And if we jumped for a second to the future, i.e. 10 years later, when society might realize, that we as a company had had a better product compared to the cigarettes to dedicate to 1 billion of smokers who would have otherwise continued to smoke... but we have just left this product in laboratories? What would the society say to us?


Are there any other signs that the paradigm change related to the perception of us as a tobacco company is happening right now? I would say YES. Our business changes and the perception of us changes. It changes so fast that I believe some day in the near future we will need to remind  society that we used to sell cigarettes in the past…


Let me bring you a couple of examples:

3 years ago I couldn’t even believe if someone had told me that I would be leading the R&D center creation in Armenia, recruiting & dealing with big data scientists, data system engineers, IP intelligence systems analysts, professionals of mathematics, physics and biology; enlarge my common lexicon with such definitions like “biomarkers”, “ferromagnetic nanoparticles”, “plasmonic research”, “biomedical studies”, “fast prototyping”…and I could not imagine that Armenian R&D would be the 3rd one on the PMI global MAP after those two in Switzerland and Singapore..
Another example: It’s almost two years now that our smoke-free product is available in Armenia. And it’s already 5 years in a raw we do the internship programs called “Aspire” for young professionals and graduates. 3-4 years ago, we could hardly have 20-30 applicants. We used to put a lot of efforts to find out at least a couple of talented young people who wanted to join us…

Last year we got 280 applications. This year – more than 300. And the key answer to the question - why do you want to join us? -sounds like this: before coming to the interview I did a lot of research, especially on PMI science, and the key trigger for me was your new smoke-free vision and the alternative products you offer. That is the hook for me as I want to be a part of this movement”

In other words, young talents that are coming to us are those who BELIEVE in the better future they can bring to the society; and not I but THEY will be the shifters, THEY will be changing the paradigm of tobacco business perception by Belief and by bold actions HERE AND NOW which for sure will create the new paradigm of tomorrow.


To sum up - paradigm shifts are unavoidable: they are part of evolution and are now happening faster than earlier: each cycle/norm changes faster and faster. This is inevitable.

And it’s up to you to decide whether you want to wait until someone changes something for you while you feel  ambiguity, fear, resistance and lack of ownership…

OR be the shifter, be the part of the change embracing it and thus feeling acceptance, drive, openness to new reality, empowerment and more importantly – ownership. It’s YOUR choice! 


We have made our choice, now it’s your turn!

And, remember - even small steps matter.