Voice ordering to change everything for online retailers predicts Mars analytics chief

3rd December 2018

Vidyotham Reddi, Director, Advanced Analytics & Measurement, Mars Global Services, Mars Inc. talks to Stuart Richards about his first internship, a revolutionary media measurement system he has recently launched and the next biggest innovation set to transform consumer purchasing.

Your entire career has centred on analysing consumer behaviour. But what first got you interested in data?

My background is in economics, and what drove me there was a deep curiosity of what drives consumption behaviour. In the process of learning my craft I was very intrigued about how most decisions are fundamentally driven by trade-offs, and human behaviour is best understood when one dives deeper into what optimises these trade-offs. Needless to say, behavioural data is the only way to get to this understanding.

Tell us about your educational journey – from Hyderabad to NYC – and your key career moves from New Jersey to Minnesota to Brussels.

I was born in Hyderabad, India, but grew up in East Africa (Kampala, Uganda). We relocated back to Hyderabad when I was in my 5th grade and remained there till I completed my bachelor’s degree (in commerce) where my interest in economics was whetted. I did my master’s degree at the University of Bombay (now University of Mumbai) and was particularly interested in international trade theory. I completed my PhD under Prof. Dominick Salvatore’s mentorship and that is what got me to NYC. While there I was looking for internships during the summer and happened to score one within the market research group at AT&T. I got hooked and decided to take up a full-time offer from AT&T and stayed in the New Jersey area for about 10 years. Eventually I switched my industry from telecommunications to CPG (FMCG) as I wanted to remain in market research/data analytics but broaden my ‘tool kit’ across multiple industries. Nielsen hired me and I stayed with them for a couple years before General Mills hired me from Nielsen and we relocated to Minneapolis. I worked for General Mills for about 13 years before Mars Inc. recruited me to head up their Global Advanced Analytics & Measurement practice and this role is what has brought my family and me to Brussels, Belgium.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in business during your career?

There are couple things that are stand-out learning over my 23 years in market research and consumer behaviour. This is fundamentally a ‘human’ business and knowing what the consumer wants and giving them what they want is key. Those who can crack this more accurately and sooner than others is what determines success. Often business leaders, with the best of intent, act with a ‘profit first’ mind-set while they should be motivated by a ‘consumer first’ approach and that is where breakout success lies. If one were to take this approach long-term growth and profit is all but assured.

How did you first get into analytics and who have been your key role models/mentors?

There have been many. When I joined AT&T I just tumbled into market research to be honest; I was just mail bombing local companies for a summer internship. They hired me just because I had SAS programming on my resume and they wanted me to come in and run SAS code to run reports that the consumer insights group was using. I had no clue what consumer insights was or what market research was. My first key role model was my first manager at AT&T who was managing my internship. Phil Jackimowitz, who was Consumer Insights Manager B2B, was the first one who mentored, provided me guidance, and got me to understand that the closer you get to the front and understand what people are looking for the more effective and efficient you become in the back room. I had two other influential mentors – both bosses at General Mills. When I got promoted to director, Vivian Millroy was my VP and one of the key things she taught me that I needed to know about business is it’s all about people. Never forget that fact. Whether it’s external from the consumer or internal with your network, it’s always about people and what motivates people. It’s about understanding your stakeholders, meeting your stakeholders halfway and always being open without judging; it’s what will make you the most effective. I continue to use this every day and it’s been the most valuable teaching I have received. The second was Gayle Fuguitt, who has been very influential on my career. She was Senior VP of the Consumer Insights function and promoted me to director. She would say to me that being savvy and understanding the organisation is paramount but also knowing that you are not operating your environment is important. Just know that when you influence and when you are seeking impact be aware that there’s politics around you. She was a visionary but would very quickly come down to execution plans; she would let you fly in the sky but very quickly focus you on ‘ok that’s all great; now tell me how you’re making it happen’. It was a good discipline.

What single achievement are you most proud of – in business or your personal life?

There is one solution we delivered recently at Mars I would single out. We needed to solve a media effectiveness measurement issue; Mars has a growing challenge that we are very good at evaluating what we spend on TV but we are moving from TV to other platforms so how do we create good and robust ways of measuring our efforts? One of the things I led and developed in China, and we are now beginning to partner with Amazon and Google on, is creating an ecosystem that allows us to do a lot of randomised control trials, or A/B testing. We have created a solution in China, working with Alibaba using their online video delivery system, where we can air content and follow sales behaviour. We can do this on demand and in a way we get the results back in two to three weeks. The reason this is revolutionary is that we can do a range of isolated tests before we air. So with this system you can do a lot of testing before spending advertising dollars.

What is the toughest problem you have had to solve in your career and how did you tackle/overcome it?

When I was promoted at General Mills one of my responsibilities was to centralise and scale a key metric tracking system. Everyone was creating metrics and tracking them on their own, so there were multiple versions of the truth. There were some very significant stakeholders who did not have any willingness to change or revisit things that were obviously not working. So I had significant barriers to navigate through and I was a new director and I didn’t have the network. That was my toughest problem. So how did I fast forward my credibility? For the first six months as director I started showing up to my key stakeholders at their desk and walked down to have a coffee with them. Those 30 minute very casual interactions started giving me a sense for what their priorities were, what kept them up at night. I decided that the best way to build credibility was to be transparent and be very upfront about what my purpose was. What started happening is that they slowly felt comfortable picking up the phone to call me and sound me off on thinking and ideas that they had. I was starting to make inroads in being able to influence them in terms of thinking I was bringing forward. That slowly started chipping away at their resistance. It didn’t happen overnight; it took me about two to three years before I really felt I was in the inner circle.

What are the key drivers for food and drink consumers and how has purchasing behaviour changed over the past 20 years?

In the past 20 years there have been significant shifts. There are two, which are not trends but which are embedded, systemic, here to stay with us for the foreseeable future. These are: i) People pay attention to what they are consuming with an increasing sense of purpose. It’s a very mindful thing that they are doing in terms of what they are buying, what is in it, who is making it, how are they making it, where are they sourcing it from? Companies, no matter what they are making or selling, need to understand this. ii) How consumers are sourcing products. It’s like night and day from when I started in this. When I needed something 20 years ago as a consumer I had to make a list, cut my coupons, go to the grocery store, buy my stuff probably one day a week, and I’d usually be the primary grocery shopper for the household. I’d get my stuff, pay by credit card or cheque and I’m done. Fast forward 20 years and it’s unbelievable. I’m not the only primary grocery shopper in the household. All members of the household are potentially doing it simultaneously with our mobile devices. We don’t pay with our cheque books any more, we are primarily using some online payment method, we are not buying just from the grocery store but from a bunch of channels and we are not just buying it one day a week. Some things are arriving directly to my refrigerator because of smart devices and services like Amazon Prime etc. That’s completely changed the dynamic of how we speak to, understand and influence consumers.

Given your unique insight are you a really tough customer? How do you choose goods and services when you are making purchases?

I do view myself as a tough customer. Like most consumers I try to maximise my “value equation”. That doesn’t necessarily only mean the price of a product. Everything I am purchasing, whether it be a low involvement item like groceries or a high involvement item like a car, I am trying to maximise my “value equation” which is a constant trade-off between the quality, price, convenience, taste, etc. If we took the time to understand this about every consumer I think we’d get to a better place in understanding what is motivating their purchasing behaviour.

What sparked your interest in human rights and decision to take on volunteer roles?

Someone close to me was a survivor of domestic violence and, when she came out of that relationship, as a family we tried to support her in any way possible. I experienced things I never could have imagined. When she passed away 12 years ago quite suddenly, I wanted to do something in her memory. That’s when I reached out to the Domestic Abuse Project (Minneapolis, MN) and served on their board and it was very satisfying to me personally. I was able to bring a very unique capability and perspective due to my background in business and market research and realised voluntary organisations needed that kind of support and continue to contribute in any way I can.

Outside work what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love food! I love cooking, I love eating, I love baking. Every Saturday when we can, my daughter and I bake stuff, like cookies and cakes. We have so much fun. My wife Shivani and I also love cooking – Indian, Italian, Mediterranean, Thai, you name it. We also love travelling. We recently had a train trip across Spain – Barcelona, Madrid to Lisbon. We have also recently been to Switzerland and travelled quite a bit in India and the US. One of our favourite places we love being in is southern Spain.

What motivates you the most in your role at Mars in terms of challenges; what achievements give you the greatest satisfaction?

Being able to collaborate as partners to find solutions for entrenched problems, either things that are not easily solvable or that have not been solved for years. The ability to bring in fresh eyes to a well-entrenched problem is highly motivating to me.

What do you think is/are currently the biggest single challenge(s) for global FMCG leaders?

I think the biggest challenge for global FMCG leaders is to not think of the two big shifts in consumer behaviour (mindful purchasing and sources of purchasing) as passing fancies or fads or trends. They’re not; they’re things that are absolutely real. The fact is that they are here to stay and acknowledging that is the biggest challenge.

What do you expect the key advances in technology will be over the next decade that will have the biggest impact on consumer behaviour?

The ability to order things using just your voice. That’s the next biggest advance in technology and I think it will impact every single supplier and seller out there. No doubt about it because imagine, in the old days when you had to buy stuff all you had to do was make sure you were a brand that advertised enough so people would remember your brand when they were making their list. Fast forward that to today if your brand is not tagged well enough in the digital platforms so that it doesn’t appear in the first three search terms when you go on Google then your brand never gets picked. With voice it has to be the first one. How do you get yourself situated where your offering or product is the first thing that gets asked for? Today 80 to 90 per cent of all searches happen on your mobile device via typing. In a few years’ time my prediction is that 90 per cent of your searches are going to happen on a mobile device or some device via voice. I think it’s going to change everything and turn everything we know and understand on its head.

In terms of market research what do global FMCG leaders need to do now to keep ahead of the game?

The way we need to stay ahead of the game is being linked to three pieces: hindsight, insight and foresight. Twenty years ago if we had hindsight to business we were good. You sell stuff, run the numbers, measure the results and a week or two weeks later you find out ‘oh I had a market share of X%’ and that market share improved or dropped by half a point. That was good enough to know that. But then very quickly we needed to be in the world of insight, so take all that hindsight data and then understand from it why did my market share drop or increase half a point. Where we are being pushed now and where we absolutely need to be to be ahead of the game is we need to take the hindsight data, take the insight that comes from it, use them both and predict where the consumer is going next. That’s foresight.

What targets have you set yourself for 2019 – both personal and business?

For business I will continue my journey at Mars to expand my network. That is going to be a big one for me in 2019. And all the big business challenges I have already outlined. On the personal side, because we are living in Belgium now in 2019 my wife and I want to learn French. We feel that if we have not done that in the time we are here we will have wasted an opportunity.

Stuart Richards is a Principal Consultant in the Global Consumer Practice at HW Global Talent Partner. Contact him at stuartr@hwglobalpartner.com or +44 (0) 161 249 5170 or +44 (0) 7787 254 600.

Innovation in health and wellness the ingredients for success for Kellogg’s

22nd November 2018

Newly appointed UK Senior Sales Director at Kellogg’s Chris Silcock talks about his first job in a local supermarket aged 16, key role models, the big challenges facing global food and drink manufacturers and his favourite breakfast in an interview with HW’s Senior Consultant (Global Consumer Practice) Stuart Richards.

You have recently joined Kellogg’s as UK Senior Sales Director. Can you tell us about your new role?

I am leading the commercial agenda with our customers in the UK, driving the health and wellness strategy and rolling out our exciting NPD. We have some ambitious numbers to deliver and I will be driving the commercial capability with my team across commercial strategy, national account management and field sales.

What was your first job?

I had a paper round aged 13 but my first ‘proper’ job from the age of 16 was working at Asda’s Leeds Killingbeck store in the café and the petrol station during my A levels. I then went to university in Manchester and used to come back in the holidays and work in the same store. I had a fantastic time there and met some really good people.

What did it teach you about business?

I enjoyed interacting with customers; when you are dealing with customers in store they tell you it as it is – they don’t hold back at all. You can get to the nub of what customers want pretty quickly if you spend time in stores. The other thing I learned was the importance of store standards – how things are presented, cleanliness, tidiness, attention to detail, and how frustrated customers get when a product is not there – good retail basics. It was a great place to get a grounding in retail.

What was it that attracted you to the groceries/food and drink sector?

I had always planned to go travelling after graduating and rather than working in store for a year to save up I badgered Asda House for a job for a year. They tried to put me on the graduate scheme but I didn’t want to do it, I just wanted to work for a year and get experience in the central side of retail. I was taken on by Andy Clarke who was running the produce division at the time; he went on to become the Chief Executive. I worked as a trading assistant in the buying department, firstly on produce and then on bakeries. I did that for a year as I said I would and then I left. I just saw a different side of retail, the commercial deals that were being done, some of the volumes that I saw when you are dealing with an organisation that size and you are supplying all stores, it was mind blowing. I loved the pace of it, the speed of the decisions, the urgency with which the business was operating. But it was all done with a fun, open culture. That was the hook. Then I went travelling for 15 months (US, Pacific, SE Asia) and was running low on cash on the way home in Thailand. I sent an email to Andy Clarke and said I’d love to come back and I landed a job in the supply chain. What I consider to be my “continuous” career started then.

After nearly 15 years at Asda what persuaded you to move from retail to manufacturing with Coca Cola?

The director who took me on at Coca Cola said ‘we like the way in which you collaborate with suppliers and we think you could do a great job for us at Coca Cola’. It all went from an initial conversation with him over a beer one evening about careers and what he was doing and what I was doing and I started thinking seriously about it. I had a fantastic time at Asda with a number of roles but I just developed itchy feet; I just wanted to do something else. Surprisingly, there still aren’t a lot of people who successfully switch between retail and manufacturing so I thought that would give me a unique selling point on the CV. I also thought it would be good to see both sides (retail and manufacturing).

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in business during your career?

That success is delivered through others in any leadership position. I did some coaching at Asda and learned the value of listening to people, letting them know you are listening to them properly so they have time to get across their thoughts and ideas, that you are not rushing them. That was huge for me, transformational, and I have used it ever since.

Who have been your key role models/mentors?

Definitely first on my list would be my dad, who taught me when I was growing up the value of money and that you have to work for what you want in life. He worked in the brewery industry, running pubs, and I first gained my interest in business and management from him. Barry Williams, a boss when I worked in the commercial department at Asda, was very straight talking, knew the numbers and the detail of the business inside out, but had a very natural way with people, and I learned a lot from him. He also showed me that you can take risks on people; I was unproven as a category director but he promoted me and took a risk on me, which I hope he would say paid off for him!  I also learned lots from my boss at Coca Cola, Leendert den Hollander; the energy and drive he has and the positive impact that has on the business, and the confidence it gives people and customers. He is a straight talker, very open, very optimistic, with a real urge and desire to get things done. He also demonstrated the importance of having a really strong network. I learned a lot from him, from that perspective.

What single achievement are you most proud of – in business or your personal life?

It’s got to be bringing up two lovely kids – I’ve got an eight year old lad and a six year old girl. That’s far and away the biggest achievement, the family that my wife and I are bringing up – two energetic, crazy kids.

What is the toughest problem you have had to solve in your career and how did you tackle/overcome it?

Getting the best out of the team is always your biggest and most rewarding challenge. There have been times in my career where I have given myself quite a hard time for how I was leading the team. The biggest change I have made to overcome any problems leading people is through good listening and being really clear and open with people.

Kellogg’s boasts brands and products we all know and love and have grown up with. Given this, what are the key drivers for new product development?

I think it is our responsibility as the market leader to innovate, and health and wellness are the biggest areas to do this. This is how Kellogg’s started life, and it’s our responsibility to lead in this area.  We are also looking at which occasions through the day can be satisfied by our products.  These are the key factors that will drive the expansion of our portfolio over the next few years. 

What are the big issues facing the cereal market at present?

I see things more as opportunities than issues; I’m very optimistic. Changing customer habits, food on the go – that gives us an opportunity to innovate in single serve, to look at expanding into new channels. The focus on health and wellness means as part of a leading cereal manufacturer globally we’ll have the opportunity to innovate with our customers on a whole host of exciting initiatives. We are also currently scenario planning for Brexit as you would expect. 

How has food and drink consumer purchasing behaviour changed over the past 20 years and how have global producers and retailers responded?

The consumer landscape is changing rapidly. Consumers are shopping more frequently, with smaller baskets. Where breakfast is bought and consumed is evolving all of the time, and “snacking” as a concept has seen huge growth and still has a lot of untapped potential.  The convenience sector is growing, as are sectors like coffee and food on the go.  We are seeing a lot of acquisition and consolidation across both retail and manufacturing. In order to flourish as a business in these rapidly changing times, we have to be at the leading edge of consumer and shopper led insight and this involves having world class data and analytics capability. 

What do you expect the key advances in technology will be over the next decade that will have the biggest impact on consumer behaviour?

The rise and rise of the mobile phone from a shopping perspective will probably be the biggest continual shift; pricing transparency across different retailers, and the ability to order and have products delivered when it suits you. So the move away from the big shopping mission will continue. Different fitness applications, the way in which technology can monitor your health and wellbeing, means people will ultimately have personalised, tailored nutrition and wellness plans based on what you need on that particular day or at that particular stage of your life. Your phone will be able to tell you what you should be eating, how much of it you should be eating and why, and then you will be able to shop and consume by the same phone. It’s mind blowing when you think about it. Personalised health and wellness will be huge.

What do you think is/are currently the biggest single challenge(s) for global food and drink leaders? What do they need to do now to keep ahead of the game?

I would say it’s using analytics and insight to create products and to provide packaging solutions which will resonate with tomorrow’s consumer, and to build sales strategies to maximise the opportunities in the changing environments in which the product is bought. In order to do this successfully, global players need to invest in technological capabilities as well as traditional category and commercial capabilities. Investing in the right technology will become more and more important.

What is your favourite breakfast?

This is an easy one.  Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with whole milk.

Outside work what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Holidays is number one, spending time with the family. Our favourite destinations are the south of France and the south of Spain. Plenty to do for the kids, hot weather, and nice and easy going; nothing too ‘posh’, just down to earth. I enjoy a bit of cycling and running as well.

What targets have you set yourself for 2019 – both personal and business?

To hit and exceed the plan we have at Kellogg’s is number one, and get the team working together in the right way. To become our customers’ preferred supplier is a big target of mine. From a personal perspective, getting back to racing regularly on my bike.

Stuart Richards is a Principal Consultant in the Global Consumer Practice at HW Global Talent Partner. Contact him at stuartr@hwglobalpartner.com or +44 (0) 161 249 5170 or +44 (0) 7787 254 600.

Is it possible to combine an executive and non-executive director (NED) role?

15th October 2018

By Pascale Gara

This was one of a number of questions which sparked debate among financial services executives at an industry dinner hosted by HW Global Talent Partner recently in London.

The informal networking event was held last month to offer advice to financial services executives looking to launch and develop their NED careers.

Guest speaker David Stewart told delegates how he has built a non-conflicting NED portfolio, predominantly in financial services. The former Chief Executive of Coventry Building Society is now Chairman of Enra Group, Chair of the Audit and Risk Committees of M&S Bank and HSBC Private Bank (UK), and Audit Chair at LSL Property Services PLC.

For executives considering taking on their first non-executive directorship, one of the key considerations is whether they can continue in their full time executive position and still fulfil both roles effectively, or retire from executive life before concentrating on developing their NED portfolio.

One argument put forward round the table at the Mayfair dinner was that some CEOs would rather have their executive team fully committed to their business. But others felt companies would benefit from their executives gaining NED experience, bringing an external perspective and additional insight into boardroom dynamics. This is especially true if the NED role is in a complementary or affiliated sector.

For the executive, combining their full-time position with a first NED role will also help the transition from day to day management of a business to life as a non-executive director, meaning they are well prepared for the next phase of their careers and are not stepping into the unknown.

Andrew Merrick, CFO & Regional Managing Partner at Irwin Mitchell LLP in Leeds and a non-executive director at Market Harborough Building Society, who attended the dinner, said: “Whilst I have found the time commitment of an NED role alongside a full on day job challenging, I do think it brings benefits to the day job if you are prepared to put the extra (weekend and evening) time in.

“Taking the time out of the day job to think about things from a non-executive perspective across a broad range of issues can cause you to think a little differently about your executive role. I also think the conscious recognition of the need to switch out of executive mode is useful in easing your way into a non-executive position.”

Bryce Glover, Executive Director at Echo Financial Services Ltd and also a non-executive director at Newcastle Building Society and Cygnet Properties & Leisure PLC, also believes the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

He said: “I have been fortunate in that one of my NED roles and my executive responsibilities are both in the financial services sector and I have found these two roles complementary. They provide a wider perspective on industry issues and, hopefully, allow me to make a tangible contribution for both employers.

“Of course, there are times when some flexibility is required but juggling priorities is something we all live with day to day and, for me, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. I am always learning and being allowed to run both roles in parallel is fulfilling and enjoyable. I wished I had taken the opportunity earlier in my career.”

Adrian Coles, former Director-General of the Building Societies Association, also attended the dinner. Now a non-executive director on the boards of the Financial Services Commission (of Gibraltar), Housing Securities Ltd, Progressive Building Society, Reclaim Fund Ltd and BSA Pension Trustees Ltd, and Chair of the Consumer Advisory Board at Fairer Finance, he said: “I was lucky enough to have a number of NED roles while a chief executive.

“There were two main benefits – it helped hugely in understanding how the NEDs in my own organisation saw their role, and what issues they faced as an NED. Secondly, the way I was given management information as an NED at other organisations gave me ideas on how I could improve the information flow to my own NEDs.

“Transparency is important; I required the explicit permission of my Chair to take any external appointment, and all appointments, and any fees earned, were fully itemised in my firm’s annual report.”

Other topics discussed at the dinner included the pros and cons of having a diverse NED portfolio and what makes a good headhunter.

Non-executive roles can range from sitting on a PLC board where board packs are refined and provide a quick dashboard view, to being an NED on a private equity backed or growth business where you need to ask more questions because all the required information isn’t always supplied.

Another consideration is that a non-executive position at a PLC can be remote, with a heavy governance focus, whereas NEDs may feel they can have a more open discussion and are making a greater contribution in a smaller business.

Adrian added: “I’ve served on the boards of a building society, co-operative societies, a housing association, charities, trade associations, regulators and ombudsmen, schools in both the private and public sectors, and private limited companies.

“I’ve come to realise that there is no perfect form of corporate governance; each has their advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, there are some common issues and cross pollination of ideas can be very helpful.”

Getting that first NED role can be difficult; this is where your relationship with a trusted executive search firm specialising in non-executive director recruitment will pay dividends.

Adrian outlined what he thought made a good headhunter: “Someone who has taken the trouble to meet you outside of the process of recruitment for a particular role, and therefore knows your strengths and weaknesses before putting you forward.

“Someone who is able to advise you on those strengths and weaknesses, and knows – better than you perhaps – what you might be suited to. Someone who stays in touch after you’ve been rejected for a role, and gives honest feedback. And someone from whom you can take broader advice on your executive and NED career development, rather than just piecemeal advice as particular roles come up.”

HW Global Talent Partner recruits Chair and NED positions for a number of leading financial services providers, as well as firms in the consumer, retail, technology, pharmaceuticals and renewable energy industries.

If you would like to discuss NED opportunities please contact Pascale Gara, who heads our Chair/NED Practice, at pascaleg@hwglobalpartner.com or +44 (0) 113 2432004.