Career profile: Andrew Leakey, GM, Wrigley Pacific

For Andrew Leakey, there’s nothing more therapeutic than jumping on his motorbike at the end of a hard day and leaving the cares of work behind. “It’s complete down time, it’s getting away from the thinking to then come back to it when you’re in a better space,” Leakey says.

It’s a rare thing among executives of his level, but Leakey believes time apart is the secret to a healthy work-life relationship. It’s not just his love of the open road, but also his self-professed sports fanaticism and family man lifestyle, that give Leakey the air of a man who practices what he preaches.

Fittingly, Leakey’s marketing career began on the road, as a mobile van salesman for New Zealand wholesale distributor Gilmore’s. It was his first role in the sales and marketing arena, after starting his professional life as a construction engineer. Leakey comments wryly on the peculiarity of someone who started off in such a practical field, moving into the creative and unscientific world of marketing. “It was an odd twist of fate,” Leakey says. “I saw people doing things in the sales arena and thought I wouldn’t mind having a go at that.”

Following his stint at Gilmore’s, he took a role with what was to become Arnott’s, where he was part of the team that launched the Tim Tam, Salada and Shapes brands into the New Zealand market. Mars came next where he ran the pet care business in New Zealand. Carving out quite a niche in the FMCG sector, Leakey then transitioned into GlaxoSmithKline, to look after a number of consumer healthcare brands, as well as Ribena, Lucozade, Zovirax, Panadol and Macleans toothpaste.

Now in the top job for Wrigley in the Pacific region, it’s fair to say his path has not been the conventional one. The role entails overseeing New Zealand, Australia and the export markets that the confectionary brand services in the Pacific Islands. Leakey attributes his career in marketing as responsible for many of the skills he draws on as general manager, chief among them being staying on message and not sweating the small stuff.

Leakey also believes that his time spent at the coalface in a sales role was instrumental in his career to date, and is crucial to success in an FMCG environment.

Marketing: You’ve spent much of your career in marketing roles for FMCG companies. Do you have any insights around what it takes to be a successful marketer in the FMCG sector or are there any peculiarities to marketing in the sector that you can point out?

Leakey: FMCG is a highly competitive environment; our number one goal is to grow the categories in which we operate. Competing with other brands for share is a short term game: by expanding the category as a whole, everyone wins. This is particularly important when your brands are the leaders in their respective categories, as is the case for Extra and Eclipse. The phrase ‘FMCG’ tells you the most important thing to focus on when marketing in this sector – keep the consumer at the heart of everything you do, listen to them and leverage strong insights. Truly successful advertising shifts the sales dial, it doesn’t just win awards, although peer recognition is nice and we’ve had our share of awards over the years.

Andrew Leakey 600w

I’d like to hear a little bit about launching Arnott’s into New Zealand. That’s got to have been a very tough job?

It was a very tight team… when you have one marketer, one sales director, the GM and everybody is front and centre when it comes to going into the aisles in a supermarket, and you have to cart three or four bays of product in, there were some very interesting times. When you have conversations with your competitors and also with your customers around the benefits of what that’s going to bring to them… Strong competition, brands that consumers like and love, that was the sort of genesis of the brand performance: ‘How do we strategically take these brands into market, put them on shelf, but also bring them into the consumer psyche in a completely different country?’. We didn’t have to ‘Kiwify it’, we didn’t have to talk locally; we just had to talk around what the product benefit was, and how it had a part to play in their purchase behaviour. We had some interesting customers, and we had some customers who were intensely loyal to their own brands. For us, it was a great opportunity, proof in the sales I suppose, and delivery on investing in brands.

You now work as the general manager of Wrigley in the Pacific. How did your career in marketing prepare you for this role?

As a marketer, I learned that clear messaging is important. This is just as true when speaking to associates, customers or suppliers as it is when you’re planning a consumer brand campaign. Building a sustainable business is like growing a brand; you invest in your trust bank, build strong relationships with key stakeholders and keep an eye on the end game. If you don’t believe in your product, and have a clear idea of where you’re taking it, then how will you know what success looks like?

A key lesson for me as a marketer was not to sweat the small stuff: that goes double for life as a general manager. I focus on delivering what I say I will, and I can’t do that on my own – I have to give the people around me the freedom to help decide how we will achieve our goals.

Have you had any influential mentors that have been instrumental in your development?

I’ve always been very fortunate. I’ve worked in some pretty well known businesses with some great brands, and as I went into my marketing career, I was fortunate to have some sensational mentors in the marketing environment. I worked for a guy in the Arnott’s business, Peter Maher, and Peter was one of the top rated marketers. He was eventually poached into the Campbell’s business, and then headed up Westpac over here as marketing GM, and now works for Macquarie Bank. Peter was a real go-getter marketing guru, who, as we launched the complete Arnott’s business into the marketplace, had some great ideas around how to integrate your brand into the consumer space and get the consumer to trust an Australian brand in the New Zealand marketplace against the locally owned brand.

So, some of our marketing learnings were fantastic, and Peter’s attention to detail, while not sweating the small stuff is something that I still carry with me to this day. It sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but he was saying the detail is important, but on the right things.

You’ve come to marketing through some pretty tough sales roles. Is that the kind of experience you look for in anyone you’re hiring into your team?

I think it’s important. It’s not absolutely critical that they have been out there at the coalface a lot, but they absolutely need to know where the sale is generated, and at the end of the day, for our business, one of our first and foremost principles is availability.

I know everybody talks to it, but certainly in an impulse environment and an FMCG environment, if you don’t understand the coalface, you’re going to have a problem marketing because consumers are shoppers and shoppers are consumers. You’ve got to deal with the third party, which is the middle man, in our case, to get our products on show and at arm’s reach, and you have to understand the pressures that those people are under.

What approach does Wrigley take to innovation, and how important is it for the business?

It’s critical. It’s not innovation for innovation’s sake. Some companies will do NPD [new product development] innovation, and most NPD is content to be more SKUs in the market place. We have a different approach. The Pacific has always been an innovation hub, so we’ve launched a number of world firsts.

We launched Eclipse mints in the tin in this market some six years ago, and it’s now market leader in that segment. We launched ‘5′, which was an innovation that grew the category. So, our criteria is around innovation that grows the category.

Can you comment on how much you spend on digital channels, and what is the priority in that area for your key brands?

I can’t give you absolute numbers, but I can certainly tell you that our focus has shifted over the last five years from purely mainstream to working more in the social space, depending on brand. Five years ago it would have been one percent, now it’s probably 10 percent of our total expenditure. But for our business, equally, we’ve grown our expenditure and brand support over that same time.

So, it’s about maintaining broad reach, but then if you’ve got specific consumers or specific activities that you want to be more targeted with, then you use the right channel and social is, particularly on the ‘5′ brand for us, very strong, but equally, conversely, for the Extra brand, as we’ve gone into messaging which is talking more and more about the benefits of chewing gum for oral hygiene, that’s more of a mass message, so we still have a very strong television based campaign.

What tips do you have for young marketers getting started in the profession these days?

It’s an interesting one, and if I talk about what success looks like to me, it’s about doing what you say you will, about understanding how you fit with the cultural part of the business, not just the brands; you’ve got to take ownership of the brands and treat them as if they’re your own personal property. Having passion and pride in brands is paramount and that’s one of the things, there is a good synergy between the Mars business and the Wrigley business.

Over the last 100 years, we’ve both grown some very, very well known brands around the world, but also in our marketplace. And that’s come through passionate marketers who live and breathe the brand.

Career highlight?

One of the single most powerful moments of my career as a marketeer was the filming of our Starburst TVC with Camp Quality. Starburst funded Camp Quality’s ‘Teenage Anarchist’ program, supporting teens returning to school after receiving treatment for cancer. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the Camp Quality kids and their families that helped us shoot our TVC really brought home what a powerful force for good companies and brands can be.

Career lowlight?

I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I really don’t have a career lowlight. There have certainly been tough times, but every single one of those experiences has taught me a useful lesson, be it how to avoid a potential issue for next time, how to seize an opportunity with both hands and maximise the possibilities, or simply how to effectively engage with people from different industries, functional backgrounds or cultures.

On managing the Ribena vitamin C content crisis:

I had the dubious pleasure of having been in charge of Ribena when we had the vitamin C issue. We spent three years doubling the brand, and halved it overnight because of a consumer issue that actually started off by there being too much Vitamin C in the product. Managing that was both probably one of my darkest hours, but also one of the ones I learnt the most about, brand resilience – having trust in brands, but also having trust in the organisation behind the brands. It was a long weekend, I can tell you.

Andrew’s key learnings from working through the Ribena issue:

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Explain the facts of the issue, tell people what you plan to do to address the problem, give them regular updates while you’re doing it, and then tell then how you fixed it – this is not a time to go underground.

Put the right people on the right things (expertise counts). You find out who you can count on during times like this!

Plan for the future. Have a plan for ‘what’s next’ after the immediate crisis has been resolved. If you have enough trust in the bank, consumers want to know what’s next, once they’ve been satisfied the problem has been resolved.