An interview with Andrew Loader, General Manager, Mars Wrigley Confectionery Australia.
Creating a strong sense of belonging, giving people the power to lead change and taking time out to celebrate success. A smiling Andrew Loader feels like he’s done “three or four MBAs in one year” as General Manager of Mars Wrigley Confectionery Australia.
On reflection, these have been key leadership lessons over the last twelve months while he and his team have worked through the local integration of Mars Chocolate and The Wrigley Company. Part of a worldwide program by parent company, Mars, Incorporated to bring two of its confectionery powerhouses together, it’s been a mammoth task.
Two businesses; each with long histories in Australia, mega-brands like M&M’S® and EXTRA® to manage, complicated supply networks and different headquarter locations all to consider. While M&A activity has grown 18 per cent in Australia in 2017, it’s still a decision most organisations don’t take lightly.
A 2010 McKinsey study corroborates this, reporting that executives found maintaining employee engagement the most challenging aspect of any organisational redesign. The fact that in the midst of the merger, Mars Australia won best large company to work for in the Great Place to Work rankings, makes for a rare case. Loader describes this as a seminal career moment, but nothing to be complacent over.
Leadership has been complex over the past eighteen months, with two key challenges facing the team.
Firstly, how to manage the integration of the two units and continue to run the existing businesses. “Perform as we transform,” Loader, an eighteen-year Mars veteran explains. “In spite of what is happening, we still need to make sure our consumers can take a break and enjoy a moment for a treat.” Secondly, how to find the right pace of change. “It was hard to know the right speed and what the business was ready to do. We could have overwhelmed our people if we went too far, too fast. And ultimately, it’s all about the people, so you have to slow down and make sure you take everyone with you,” he says.
The two Australian units effectively became one from the beginning of 2018, bringing together over 800 staff. Now the second largest confectionery business in the country, Mars Wrigley has been growing ahead of the confectionery category, known to be worth over $2.8 billion.
At an earlier stage of his career, Loader says he could have raced past the milestone of the merger, eager to get on with the jobs still to be done. “I’ve got a great coach,” he concedes. “She’s helped me slow down and look at all the things that have happened, and how through it all we have stayed true to our values.”
The privately-owned US$35 billion Mars, Incorporated is famously emphatic about its corporate values, ‘The Five Principles’. Focused on Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom, they are widely cited by staff and appear in every office and factory in the world.
It’s no surprise that with such cult status, Loader says he leaned on them during the merger and that with so much change the company needed to “magnify mutuality”. “You have to treat people with dignity. Of course, people left the organisation, but we wanted them to be able to leave with the utmost respect,” he says. “And in many cases, we helped them train for or identify other roles.” For employees staying on, managing ambiguity was a major factor.
People had a job to do, but many were concerned about what roles they would be offered after the restructure. Mars Wrigley headquarters has now moved to Melbourne’s CBD, supported by a Technical Hub and factory in Ballarat, and a further factory in Sydney’s northern suburbs.
For some employees this has brought “significant change, but great career opportunities”. Critical in supporting the business on this change journey was the dedicated Integration and Transformation Office team. Focused on business priorities, including placement, location, processes and systems, and communications, it was made up by staff from both businesses. This was an important component to get right, emphasises Loader. The team was asked to guide both units through integration and find the best way to do things, not just directly lift from one business.
It also ensured good governance, a factor Loader really values given his background as a chartered accountant. Loader credits his upbringing as one of six kids on a farm in regional Victoria, for informing many of his personal core values, and these extend to his approach to business. “Life on a farm demands that you work together as a team.
You have to trust that people will pull their weight as you all work towards one goal. This has become even clearer to me over the last year.” His philosophy of holding people “large” – meaning to look at people being the best that they can be – creates a good environment for people to be themselves. “I can’t be successful on my own – I will only get success through other people succeeding, not by over-managing them.”
“ULTIMATELY, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE, SO YOU HAVE TO SLOW DOWN AND MAKE SURE YOU TAKE EVERYONE WITH YOU”
Looking back at the last year, and thinking about business leaders who find themselves in a similar situation, he says it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to a merger. “I took on a start-up mindset at the beginning because it was a new business,” he says. “Now my motto is ‘finding new ways to succeed’ because the market has shifted even in 18 months.”
However clearly succeeding in the merger, have been female leaders across the business, with Loader’s direct reports now 70% female. A trend he hopes will continue. “Whoever is best at the job, does the job in my opinion. I am happy we can offer the flexibility to really open up the candidate pool.
My experience is that people who have flexibility pay it back in spades.” With the change in dynamics and over 80 new hires joining the organisation, he believes this will help the new business reset. The 2018 plan is focused on finalising the integration, but after that it’s all about how to establish the next 50 years.
Loader says he told staff at their business conference earlier this year, “we need to honour our incredible past, own the present, but never forget we have this amazing opportunity to create our future. Let’s reimagine the business we want to be.” Nothing brings that home more than his recent tour around the Australian manufacturing sites with John Mars, whose grandfather Frank founded the candy company in Tacoma, Washington in 1911.
“He’s a down-to-earth guy who treats everyone with respect and keeps the approach to business simple,” he says. “We make and sell confectionery. If everything we do is in the spirit of making great products that make people smile, we can’t go wrong.”