“I like learning about different cultures”

Johanna Honeyfield

Valuing every moment


Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photo by Kageaki Smith


Just before moving to Japan from Singapore in 2013 to take up the position of Representative Director for Diageo Japan, Johanna Honeyfield was asked to go in for a routine medical check-up. When one of the tests came back with a slight anomaly, she was advised to have further tests done.

“Long story short, the doctor tells me — just as all of our stuff is being packed into a container to move to Japan — ‘You have colon cancer’,” she recalls.

At first, Honeyfield was told she would be back at work within six weeks. But after undergoing a painful operation to remove the cancer, a biopsy revealed that it had spread further than the doctors had initially thought. Now she would need to have chemotherapy and take an additional six months off work.

“So we put our Japan plans on hold and moved to the US — where my husband is from — to do the chemotherapy there,” she says. “And Diageo — who is an amazing employer — said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll hold the job for you’.”

Honeyfield remembers how she felt at the time: “The first thing I wanted was just to get back to a normal life.”

But it would be a while before her life could return to normal; her treatments were very draining. “Chemo really knocks you out. You feel frail and old,” she reflects.

Now after more than two years of being cancer-free, she admits that her experience is never far from her thoughts. “You think you can put it behind you, but you can’t,” she says. “I have a doctor’s appointment every single month, and every single month he draws blood and I think, is this going to be OK?”

Not surprisingly, having had cancer has changed her outlook on life, work and family.

“I’m more conscious of making every moment count” she notes. “I’m less tolerant of things that waste my time because I think, what if I don’t have too much of it left?”

Honeyfield grew up in a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, called Mission Bay. But her work has allowed her to live all over the world, including San Francisco, Dublin, Singapore, and now Tokyo. This has been ideal for her, since she is passionate about travelling; she has been to over 50 countries.

“I like learning about different cultures,” she says. “Getting on a plane and going somewhere new for a few days is great — but living in a place and really being part of the culture is a special experience.”

Diageo is the largest alcoholic beverages company in the world. It has an extensive portfolio of spirits and beers, including global best-sellers Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Guinness. In Japan, Diageo has two joint ventures — one with Kirin and the other with Moët Hennessy.

“Drinking and eating are an important part of Japanese culture,” she observes. “It’s a similar attitude to the French … there’s a lot of value placed on high quality drinking and eating experiences.”

And it is the food in Japan that Honeyfield is drawn to the most.

“One of the things I love to do is eat out,” she says. “And Tokyo is a city full of amazing food — it’s hard to find a bad restaurant … On weekends, my family and I like to search out places we haven’t tried before. We’ve challenged ourselves to find the best kaiten zushi restaurant in Tokyo.”

Through her battle with cancer, Honeyfield has clearly learned to put a priority on what really matters — valuing every moment of her life, treasuring time with her family, and giving her best at work.

“I think that if you’re not stretching yourself, you’re not growing,” she says. “For me, part of what makes a career satisfying is continuing to try new things and scale new heights.” •

“I like learning about different cultures,” she says. “Getting on a plane and going somewhere new for a few days is great — but living in a place and really being part of the culture is a special experience.”
logo

nlhead2

We will never share your email address with anyone else