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Alrosa US president Rebecca Foerster shares best leadership advice

Since January, Rebecca Foerster has been the president of Alrosa North America, putting her in charge of the world’s biggest diamond market, the US, for the world’s biggest diamond miner by volume.

She’s tasked with raising the profile of the Russia-based miner in the US, developing it into a trusted brand name. The job comes after 10 years in the diamond industry, and many years before that in advertising.

Through it all, “There’s been one guiding principle that’s followed me from the beginning of my career,” she told Business Insider.

It’s an old saying, but one she’s internalized as her approach to leadership: “Lose battles, win wars.”

An early mentor, Alvin Chereskin of the AC&R advertising firm, would remind her of it.

“He would see I would get frustrated or upset when I couldn’t convince people that this might be a better solution, or when I would get frustrated when somebody was pushing for us to do something as an agency but we knew it was wrong,” she said.

He’d tell her the saying and explain, “Let it go. Let it go. We’ll be OK in the end,” she remembers. “Patience,” he’d say. “Let’s ride this out, and it’ll all come back again.”

“You have to know when to pick the important thing that’s really going to make a difference, and just because you think that it’s right, you have to really evaluate it,” Foerster told us. “How much impact is it going to have? How much damage is it going to do? Is it really worth it in the end, or do you save it for a time when you’re really going to need to push your agenda or push your conviction about something because you know that without that, it’s really going to make a difference?”

She said there was a time at one of her previous diamond industry jobs where the company’s leadership did not recognize the importance of marketing through social media. “And for the longest time I was presenting and pushing it forward and really becoming very aggressive about it, and they just weren’t getting it,” she said. She decided to try a different approach.

Over the course of about a year, she would find ways of working it into analyses of their competition’s strategies, noting how those companies were using social media and also beating them in terms of market share. This more patient, subtle approach eventually resulted in a dramatic shift to building out a robust social strategy. The experience was a reminder about the power of patience and persistence, Foerster said.

“It is hard, because as human beings, intuitively, we always want to be right,” she said. “We always want to voice our opinion. We tend to like having it our way, whether it’s in business or in personal relationships, and so it’s that compromise, and understanding when is it really that important that you’re going to try to turn everybody around and bring them in line with your way of thinking? Or are you just going to let somebody else have an opportunity and see how it goes? Because at the end of today, maybe it’ll be a good learning experience.”

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