Michele Oliver joined Mars UK on the graduate programme, with a plan to gain hands-on experience before beginning a career in consultancy. Two decades later, she has built a career at Mars, sitting on the UK Management Team as the Strategy Director.
With a passion for marketing, Michele climbed the ladder at Mars, moving from Galaxy Brand Manager to European Brand Portfolio Manager, until eventually landing her dream job as UK Marketing Director. With a team of 50 employees, she was not only managing Mars’ portfolio of chocolate brands, but also making key decisions that would affect the business as a whole, by being on the UK business’ Management Team. It was in this position that Michele learnt the most; when it was not physically possible to have regular contact with all 50 of the team, Michele discovered the power of having a trusted network.
“You need to build a core team of direct reports that you enjoy working with, can trust and who clearly understand your message and will communicate down to your wider team.”
The result was a team that were not only engaged, but also had an aligned vision.
More recently, Michele’s proudest moment comes from her current role earlier this year, during an event held for all UK Chocolate employees at Wembley Stadium. She ensured that all messages surrounding Mars’ strategy were universal, clear and communicated by the entire UK Board. Michele got a huge sense of pride when she and the Board united and delivered just as she had planned and received excellent feedback from over 1,000 employees that attended.
Through various people management roles, Michele has learnt a lot about herself, but feels her life experiences have shaped her leadership style; the friends she has made, exposure to different situations as well as interacting with people from different backgrounds and values to her own.
“Job experience has been great for functional development but it’s been my personal experiences that make me the leader I am today,” she says.
In addition, Michele’s decision to work part-time after the birth of her son was a key influence on her personally and professionally as this flexibility gave Michele time with her son and also time to be around other mums who also happen to be Mars’ consumers – a great focus group for a marketer!
So why did Michele stay? Initially, it was Mars’ reputation as a good place to work and development opportunities. Now she realises, it is because she was supported throughout her changing lifestyle, from good maternity benefits to a culture that values and encourages work-life balance. Michele feels incredibly loyal to a business that has given her great challenges and opportunities over the years. Her advice for any aspiring leader revolves around knowing yourself.
“You need to focus on your strengths as a leader and walk away from what you are not good at, find people who can support you with these weaknesses, as no one is perfect.”
Michele is also a true believer in authenticity: “You will succeed if you are the same person both in and out of work and in a role that feels right for you. I was lucky to find that many times over in Mars.”