This action-oriented, multi-tasking marketer has a flair for getting people on board with change, which explains how she has successfully led Unilever’s partnership with social publishing platform Percolate, which covers more than 30 global brands in 70 markets worldwide.
Sobey puts this ability down to her upbringing in Bolton: "It’s an interesting place and I had a wide range of experiences, meeting people from all walks of life. I’ve learned that everyone is my teacher.
Whether it be a homeless person or [Unilever CMO] Keith Weed, they know something I don’t. That’s why I love doing things like grabbing lunch with 16-year-old interns and asking their opinions on subjects like social media."
Through this approach to life, she’s developed the knack of always seeing the bigger picture and not getting bogged down in the detail. Her time at former employer Superdrug developed these skills, too, because, as a "big fish" in a smaller pond, she was trusted to make important strategic decisions.
This gave her the confidence to do the same now that she’s swimming in a much bigger pond at Unilever.
Sobey is ambitious and already making her mark, winning the Cannes Young Lions Marketers Competi-tion, in partnership with Unilever colleague Charlie Clinton, in June. She is most inspired by female leaders who are comfortable being themselves at work.
When you’re younger it’s harder to be authentic, but the older you get, the more you realise being yourself is enough. I would like to be a leader who uses my feminine qualities to better the work environment
"The advice I would give to my younger self, starting out in marketing, is to be yourself," she says. "When you’re younger it’s harder to be authentic, but the older you get, the more you realise being yourself is enough.
I would like to be a leader who uses my feminine qualities to better the work environment, like the ability to really listen, be quite emotive and nurture others’ strengths."
According to Sobey’s colleagues, these are strengths she is already honing, evident in her ability to orchestrate multiple agencies, often under pressure, in real-time, and get the best out of them.
For example, she has overseen the launches of Unilever’s biggest global online video campaigns for personal care and foods, including executions for Dove and Knorr.
So, how does she think marketers will need to adapt in the future? "Perhaps controversially, at the core, I don’t think the skills marketers need to succeed today have changed: the most important thing is to be able to get a consumer to fall in love with your brand, and that requires an interest in what makes people tick."
"Grace is a pioneer. Two years ago, when Unilever made an investment in Percolate, she was the one who embraced it; she saw an opportunity and drove it forward.
She created new ways of working and implemented them in less than a year. She brought people together through her collaborative and empathetic style.
One of her most valuable traits is that she can fly at different altitudes: she can see the big picture, but, at the same time, she’s very hands-on and can really get into the implementation, execution and detail. This is just the start of her journey."