We’re all leaders now, or so we’re told. But leadership involves more than just inspiring others and taking initiative. It also involves taking responsibility: the buck stops here, not everywhere.
Taking your first general management role will therefore always be a daunting moment in any up-and-coming executive’s career, albeit also an exciting one. It brings a different set of challenges from functional roles, even senior ones, not least the ability to manage functions in which you’ve never worked.
So what should first time managers do?
Case study: Marc Jove, MD Danone Early Life Nutrition (ELN), UK
Like many an 18-year-old, Marc Jove wanted to be a footballer. Unlike most, he was already getting paid to play in his native Barcelona. The life of professional sport didn’t work out though, and after stints in adult education, finance and confectionary sales, Jove took a marketing job at multinational giant Danone in 1997, progressing to the global chief marketing officer role for its ELN division, before becoming its MD in Greece, Italy and finally the UK.
Give us a flavour of life in infant nutrition.
Jove: Two days ago I was being shown around a nursery by a three year old. Then I spoke with a nutritionist, some parents and the owner of the nursery, who’s made nutrition part of her business model. A couple of weeks ago, I was with our reps, talking to doctors. You’ve got to get out and about - it’s the only way to experience reality and find the right questions, because my job is not to have all the answers, but the right questions.
What advice would you give to someone starting in general management for the first time?
Jove: Make fast decisions on your team, because these are the guys who will make you successful or not and you need to trust each other. You can read a CV, but I start from personal contact, asking them three questions – who are you, what do you want to do when you grow up and how can I help.
After that, define what impact you want to have. Get out there, listen and talk, but realise quickly what you’d like to leave as a legacy.
How can people in functional roles prepare for general management?
Jove: You make your job. In one of my initial conversations with my boss as CMO, I said I’m in charge of 400-plus marketers but marketing doesn’t live on its own, I need to be out in the market. So we reached an agreement where I’d spend 25-30% of my time doing sort of general management jobs, and being involved as a board member in strategic decisions across all functions. You learn big time that way.
You’ve been in the job six months. What are your plans?
Jove: We need to reinvent this category a bit. The discounters are launching their own labels, and competition’s also gearing up on a global level – last year Reckitt Benckiser acquired Mead Johnson [an ELN specialist, for $16.6bn]. In the UK, the birth rate had been relatively stable, but for the last 12 months we’ve seen it declining. Brexit creates pressure – according to our data, 28% of babies born in the UK are born to non-UK-born mums.
We’ve done well, but we’ll need to do even better, firstly by innovating – we have 90 clinical studies in the pipeline – and also by supporting parents in a beautiful but also very anxious and uncertain time in their lives.