Can you tell us a bit about your early career at Peugeot and then what led you to Bain?
Peugeot was very interesting for me in terms of international experience. I was learning about an entirely new continent, and there was a totally different level of economic development in Indonesia and Malaysia. I quickly realized, however, that I still needed the basic management skills and the fundamentals of how to do business in a more standard environment. Bain was already an option because I had done an internship there, and it was the whole combination of it being a great place to learn all the basics, a very dynamic culture, certainly prestigious and well paid, and the open exposure to different geographies and industries. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my life but knew that consulting would be a good training ground.
You worked out of Bain’s New York, LA, Paris, and London offices – how did this additional level of variety contribute to your growth, and did it hurt in any way?
Great question. It certainly hurts if you’re aiming for Partnership, because at a point — probably when you reach the Manager level — if you’re serious about making it to Partner you’ll want to capitalize on your network locally. But if you’re actually thinking of your career more broadly, I think it helps, because bringing geographic diversity to your curriculum is now a must-have for any kind of C-level executive position. There are more and more positions now, especially at the GM level, for which experience on at least two, if not three, continents, is required. And just Europe and the US are almost not good enough now. You need to have Europe, the US, and probably Asia or Africa to be relevant.
You left Bain to pursue your MBA full-time, then went back — how did your career objectives evolve throughout your consulting career, pre- and post-MBA?
Bain has fantastically structured their program so that you are indeed learning a new skill set each time you progress levels: from Analyst to Consultant, from Consultant to Case Team Leader, from Case Team Leader to Manager, and all the way up. You start with the basic analytics, then you go into collaboration, then team management, and you end up in commercial skills with your clients. You are always learning something new. So that was the evolution for me. Then, when I got to Senior Manager/Principal at Bain, I realized that I had reached a little bit of a plateau in terms of actual new learning. And frankly, I lost the passion. I felt like a project was a project was a project, and I really started wondering “OK, how can I actually get a little bit more excited about going to work every morning?”
And then the PepsiCo opportunity came along at a great time for you. What was your thought process in evaluating opportunities throughout your consulting career?
I only entered the recruiting process once or twice in those eight or nine years. Once was with Raines on PepsiCo when I was a Case Team Leader, but I quickly stopped that one, if I remember well because I realized that actually getting to Manager at Bain was quite a big deal. And then, I was invited to second round interviews at a top PE firm, but I politely declined because in the process I realized how crazy that lifestyle was. So, for eight years, the story was basically “you know what? Even though I have some bad days in consulting, it’s still a pretty good deal, and the grass is not going to be much greener elsewhere.” And then all of a sudden, I got into my ninth or so year, and things got a little boring at Bain. The pipeline to Partner was getting a little bit stuffed and it was going to take me longer than expected. I certainly got a little bit demotivated and demoralized by the idea of having to wait a little longer to be a Partner. That’s when PepsiCo came across again, and the opportunity to really get into an organization and report straight to the CEO at a $70B company. That sounded pretty challenging — definitely some learning to be had there.
Was it important to you to enter a large corporate strategy team at a top consumer company?
The more important thing was to enter a company that had a track record in taking their strategy people to operational jobs, and especially to General Manager jobs. That was my bias.
It sounds like you were pretty grounded in recognizing that the grass is not always greener, and really evaluating your current circumstances. How would you coach someone facing similar career decisions now?
I think it’s really crucial to take a big step back and consider whether you are truly designed to be a lifetime consultant. Do you really have that crazy analytical horsepower that’s going to make you smarter than many execs in a room? Do you really have a passion for analytics? Do you really have a passion for telling a story in a pithy, compelling way; for convincing CEOs, etc.? If you do, good for you! You’re probably one of the 10% of people who have been through consulting who should probably stay for a long time. But, if you don’t, don’t feel bad about it. It’s not a big deal that you’re not one of the few superstars at McKinsey, Bain, or wherever. You might be a thousand times happier in a different job. I noticed in my time in consulting that so many people desperately try to stay and get to the next level, despite the feedback that they’re not actually fit for the job. So I think you really need to take a step back.
What do you think really opened the PepsiCo doors for you and got you hired as Senior Director of Strategy out of Bain?
I think it was the specialization in CPG at Bain. Too many consultants have that really broad, generalist career path. And that’s where you need to walk the line carefully between massaging the data and being honest and truthful. If you’re applying to a really heavy industry job and you send a generalist consulting profile or a profile that is focused on banking, you’re never going to make it. You need to customize your resume to really bring out what’s relevant. Companies are crazily risk-averse, so people are always looking for a copycat. They want the guy who has already done it elsewhere and will do it at their company. So, the implication for a consultant is that if they really have no background in that industry or in that function, it’s not going to happen.
And then, when it comes to interviewing, the tips are really quite simple and straightforward, but obviously, you need to show a passion for the company. For that, my background in CPG certainly helped, but you also have to talk to people. You can’t just read the website or the annual report — you need to show a certain level of understanding of the company from within, that only personal discussions with people who work there or have worked there will do. That is a super important thing.
When transitioning into industry after many years of consulting, what are the challenges and the differences encountered?
As a consultant, you may be tricked into believing that you know how to make things happen and that you understand an organization. It’s not true. You’re still an outsider. You still don’t understand the weight and importance of the people aspects, of the organizational aspects, versus analytics.
I must say, for at least a year, I really wasn’t sure that I had made the right choice. Transitioning into corporate strategy in a big group like that is very, very tough. All of a sudden you really run into all the politics which you never fully understood as a consultant. And you don’t necessarily have the same kind of resources, same large teams, to really do all the analyses etc. Beyond that, you often don’t have the same clarity in what you need to deliver, because you’re actually juggling with a few bosses who obviously have different agendas. For a year or so, for me, there was some doubt.
But then, things got much more exciting. I really started working in Digital at PepsiCo. I started having a bit of a vision into the next job, and I realized that I was really going to transition into something like a General Management role. So eventually it made sense and I was reassured that I didn’t do all this for nothing.
What strengths did you come in with and immediately utilize?
Consulting is a fantastic school for communication. Everything you learn from a top consulting firm, like pyramid principle and storytelling; clear and structured communication; the ability to really deal with complex analytics and frame a complex issue; those are key.
Many consultants have unrealistic or misguided expectations regarding what their first-year responsibilities in industry will look like, as well as their path to their ultimate goal. What was your career progression at PepsiCo like, and how did it align with what you had envisioned or planned when you exited consulting?
When you enter an organization in industry, you have to make a lot of slides and edit a lot of typos and you become a little bit of a monkey for the CEO. You were used to having a great team doing all of the tough work for you and now you’re doing a lot of it yourself. That’s what happened to me when I moved to corporate strategy and I think it happens to many people. It’s similar to the shock felt when you get out of a prestigious MBA and then go to a top consulting firm, and you’re actually cranking out data on Excel when you thought you were going to be a CEO or something. The kind of Harvard cliché. When you transition, you must be ready to roll up your sleeves and prove yourself.
After corporate strategy, why did you choose to go into digital, and did you make any sacrifices by doing so?
I didn’t really make any sacrifices. Digital was definitely a personal passion first. I’ve always been interested in the new geeky kind of stuff and tech innovation. That kind of stuff has always been a passion and a curiosity of mine. Then, where the lightbulb went on for me, was when I realized the kind of tailwind that digital came with. It’s so important to find a topic that really has a tailwind. To me, that should be one of the top criteria in screening for a job.
You were in great standing with PepsiCo when you left, you presumably could have progressed well there, and multiple other companies were actively pursuing you and extended you offers for significant leadership positions. Why did you choose Groupe SEB?
With Groupe SEB it was really the breadth of the role. It was a global role, and for me, it was absolutely key to keep that international perspective. And it was digital in the broad sense — not just e-commerce, but actually bringing together all of digital and really transforming the company along those lines. And then the second factor was the total, absolute, genuine conviction that the executive committee had, that digital was a top priority. That really is a key decision factor. At a certain point, you’ve got to check and double check — both in the interviews and ideally through connections — what it is a true priority for the executive committee and the board that you’re going to be leading. External sources are always better on those kinds of pressure-testing, but still, when you interview, you can check that you’re hearing the same messages; that everyone says things like “yes, digital is one of the three priorities for our company today” and “yes, the level of resourcing is going to be X,” that kind of stuff. You need to ask very specific questions and be satisfied with the answers.
Are there any key moments or decisions throughout your career, which, in retrospect, you would identify as having had a very heavy impact in getting you where you are today?
Yes, of course. Right now, I’m having so much fun in the job. I never dreamed I would be so happy in my job. I work a whole lot more than in consulting, by the way, but I don’t care because frankly, I get up every morning without an alarm clock because I just can’t wait to see what’s in my inbox.
Declaring digital as a passion of mine when I came to PepsiCo was huge. I mentioned it to the CEO when I started and that led to a couple of things. I never realized that three or four years down the road, it would have gotten me to where I am now. That’s one moment. Then the other moment is just leaving consulting to take that leap of faith that I could actually be a GM one day.