Life as a Consumer Goods Managing Director
I was very privileged to have been Managing Director in Portugal, Chile then Italy for Hasbro Inc., a world-leading toy & game company supplying the likes of Monopoly, Nerf and Twister to supermarkets globally. Someone once said that being Managing Director was the best job in the company and I can totally see why.
Be a Good Person Before a Great Leader
The first days and weeks can be daunting. All eyes are upon you and people listen intently to every word you say. First and foremost, employees want to know who you are inside.
I’ll never forget my first day on the job in Portugal, my first as leader of a country. I went to the loo, broke the key in the lock and got stuck inside. I kid you not, like something out of a movie. Key in hand, hot, sweating, no-one around and with the minutes ticking by I banged on the door as loud as I could and waited to be rescued. As I left the toilet block there was a gaggle of employees wondering what on earth was going on. Blushing and with adrenaline pumping, I had no option but to smile, even laugh, take the situation with humility and get off my pedestal.
It was my first very valuable lesson. People want leaders who are human, fallible, and to whom they can relate. Cast aside your airs and graces and be a good person first. Great leadership will follow.
Out of My Comfort Zone
In 2014 I moved to Chile with my family to become Managing Director of the company, based in Santiago. It’s fair to say we were all well out of our comfort zone. New country, new team, new home, new schools, no friends. Then, to top it off, having to run meetings and meet customers in Spanish.
In a situation where you are in your country, with your usual team, speaking your language, it is easy to coast along and become a highly confident and directive leader. If on the other hand, you land yourself in different waters and way out of your comfort zone, you are forced to listen more than talk, observe carefully and reflect some more before making your move. This was another valuable lesson – two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Supplying Global Supermarkets
Dealing with major global supermarkets brought different challenges and taught me some valuable business lessons. If a speciality shop on the street is a family business run on personal relationships and gut feel, then dealing with the grocers is the opposite. In their world, data-based, fact-driven decisions rule, with little room for sentimentality or intuition. They are not wrong, just different. Buyers switch every 2 years or so, thus, cutting any historical ties with the past. In hard times the grocers are quick and brutal to cut peripheral categories. They look to focus on their core – food and drink. Therefore, every pitch that I’ve ever had to make to grocers has been data-driven and insight led, extremely well researched and watertight.
In Chile, we embarked on a deep (yet top-to-top) business plan with Walmart (Lider) that measured us against a series of their KPI’s. We brought more analytical people onto the account (as opposed to typical salespeople). 12 months later were awarded ‘supplier of the year’ in our category. So again, learning to observe first, determine what is needed and then go back well prepared.
Every Day Is Different
One facet of being Managing Director that I find energising is the sheer diversity of challenges you face in any given week. One day a Finance P&L focus, the next injecting optimism into Marketing plans, followed by a debate on Leadership Development with HR and the Management Team. And then there is the Community work (Corporate Social Responsibility).
As a leader of the organisation, one has to set the tone, the culture, and live/ breathe the mission and values. A great way of doing so is to run community projects for all employees to get involved. In my case these varied from supporting orphanages, summer camps for disadvantaged children and my favourite of all – building the kids a state-of-the-art artificial grass pitch (AGP) for sports and events.
If you ever want to run a CSR programme I have only one piece of advice here – do something that endures. Ditch the in-and-out hospital visit over Xmas to hand over presents. Focus instead on building a long-term and mutually agreed programme. One that might involve a mixture of events, volunteering, fund-raising, business events, sponsorship and so on. Each with at least 2 visits per year. Keep the programme alive, relevant and drive it personally – don’t delegate this one. I often say that some of my proudest legacies as Managing Director around the world revolve around our enduring community programmes.
Your Values as Managing Director
In the end, being a Managing Director is everything about who you are and what you stand for. It’s about your values, authenticity, humility and ultimately whether your teams will want to follow you (for who you are). I find myself connecting with dozens of people around the office and trying to help them fulfil more. Bring pride and meaning to their jobs and find out what makes them tick. Go beyond the open-door policy (no-one comes to visit anyway). Leave your office, walk the floor, smile, connect, observe, adapt, enable.
You are in fact the ultimate business and life coach – and you have the best job in the company.
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