20 November 2017 | By Cem Karakaş Community

It's time for a new type of CEO

Only those who are nimble enough and act with a start-up mentality will be around for the future

The concept of a ‘typical CEO’ doesn’t exist. Like the companies they lead, no two are the same. But with the challenges of globalisation, digital and technological change, all CEOs – no matter the size of the company – must engage their teams, act like entrepreneurs and champion new disruptive thinking.

PwC recently looked into the mind of the CEO. 1,400 of us in fact. Its annual study revealed that it’s not enough to focus on business growth and cost reductions; we need to prioritise and invest in innovation, talent and digital capabilities to stay competitive.

From my perspective as CEO of global snacking company pladis, there has never been a more challenging time for a CEO in the retail industry, in FMCG especially, and in food specifically. Consumer tastes and preferences are changing and the pace is nearly faster than companies can keep up with.

Regardless, we must break new ground to reach our consumers, to understand their world and to make products that fit their lifestyles in 2017 and beyond. We need to find the right balance, making products relevant for today while preserving and celebrating much-loved brands, such as McVitie’s Digestives and Jaffa Cakes.

Reacting to the competition

We’re navigating a rapidly changing retail industry, disrupted by discount supermarkets and online platforms. The rise of Aldi, Lidl and Amazon reflect a change in consumer shopping habits; people now shop around to find the best deal and it’s easier than ever to find that best deal. Consumers engage with and buy our brands differently; particularly millennials who have grown up with convenience and demand more from large corporations than their parents did.

The days of dominating the sector simply because of a big geographic footprint and a generous advertising budget are over.

A complete new mindset of agility, flexibility and efficiency is needed. Innovation in our sector has traditionally been slow. Increased global competition from industry heavyweights and smaller start-ups means we need to be quicker to respond to trends and faster to market with products, while always trying to predict what shoppers want next.

Believing in change

By recruiting talent from outside our sector, we welcome fresh, new thinking that challenges older ways of working. PwC’s 20th CEO Survey found that those in the retail and consumer goods sectors: ‘rate innovation and leadership as the two hardest skills to find, followed by emotional intelligence and problem solving’. I couldn’t agree more, but I’d also emphasise the importance of a purpose-led company culture.

Our people and our company can achieve our goals must faster if we have something powerful to believe in. The way we communicate, with everyone, whether they’re consumers or suppliers, has fundamentally changed.

At pladis, we are always striving to become more digital to help us collaborate across geographies and around skills to become even more consumer focused. If we are going to continue making the delicious biscuits and chocolate people expect, with new products and more choice, we need collaboration across everything we do: across research and development, our businesses, markets and categories.

Fast thinking

We’re a global business which prides itself on local insights. This helps us to succeed in many different markets.

We know that in many UK households where biscuits are a staple, people famously like to dunk them into a cup of tea – but the same sized biscuits don’t generally fit into tea cups in Asia or the Middle East so they need a different tea-time treat. Some cultures like on-the-go packs, others more traditionally will select sharing packs.

Whatever the preference, our new product development teams are typically ready with the next launch before the dust has settled on the last one. And yet we need to move quicker. We envision a future where new product launches take weeks not months.

CEOs will always have to respond to economic and geopolitical uncertainties, but the ability of leaders to adapt to disruption and rapidly changing consumer behaviours, matters more now than ever before. Only those who are nimble enough and act with a start-up mentality will be around for the future.

Join the discussion