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Angela Mangiapane

With a long career at Mars, Angela Mangiapane has been focusing on the people agenda at the drinks and drinks vending arm of the business, as Global Vice-President People & Organisation of Mars Drinks. Jason Spiller interviews Angela at the firm’s UK headquarters in Basingstoke.

Angela, give us an idea of your early career and what it was about HR that made you think it was a good career.   

I’ve been with Mars for 22 years and with Mars Drinks the past four years. I’m originally from Canada and I started my career with the Mars Canadian unit in Finance. I have had the opportunity to work across three of the five major segments, Chocolate, Petcare and Food across the Americas. One of the great aspects of Mars is that it provides the opportunities for its associates to fully understand all aspects of the business, and explore other functions within the business. My interest in Human Resources probably began when we undertook a major business change initiative as part of the Y2K work. It was something of a personal discovery to find that it was the people implication and figuring out how to optimise ways of working that I enjoyed most. It gave me great satisfaction because you could actually see the fruits of your labour in terms of the people impact on the business, and the difference that change can make. When you see that link between people and improved business performance, it’s a definite light bulb moment.

It’s exciting to embark on this sort of opportunity, but there must have been some trepidation too.  

I suppose one of the reasons I went in to HR is that I found myself liking how you are able to make an impact on people. For sure, I’ve seen the disastrous effects when you put the wrong people in the wrong place in an organisation, but I’ve also seen the effects when you don’t have the correct ways of working or the right structures in place, which can cause a good person to fail.

Was it daunting going from the predictability of numbers to the volatility of people management?  

My take is, whether you’re in finance or HR, we’re all in service of the business, and at the end of the day, a business is here to make money. So no matter what the function, we’re not a charitable organisation. We need to be aware of the contribution one can have on creating value in the organisation and improving not only the earnings, but the quality of those earnings. Everyone should understand how the profit and loss statement works and what levers they can pull. The best contribution a corporation can have in its community is not only providing jobs for its associates, but the effect it has in creating jobs in many other sectors in the community. Many people have the notion that HR is the only function to be about people, when in fact, every function is about people. We get caught up with thinking, ‘you’re a people person you must be in HR,’ or, ‘if you’re a hard core numbers person, you must be in finance,’ ? I would always challenge that, because we need more people with people skills in all areas of business.

But at the end of the day, any FD would say, it’s about the bottom line, nothing else matters.  

Sure the bottom line matters, but what will keep a business going for the long term, will be how it is making that money. This is about capturing hearts and minds, which in so many ways is so important. What would be a great opportunity for what I call ‘the financial folks’ is, how you could capture the hearts and minds of people? That’s where HR is unquestionably crucial and that’s where, as I have already said, all functions have the responsibility. HR is the driver, but it is not the only function responsible. It is a joint responsibility to create the conditions for people to do the best they can.

With such a vast workforce, it must be tough to make sure this happen.  

I can’t go out and physically speak with every one of our associates, but I can make sure that our values are clearly understood and lived every day. We need to ensure a framework is in place to get the best line managers out there. The coaching, support and framework I provide to my peers and my direct reports is my accountability, and it all starts from the top. There’s that German saying – ‘it’s always the head of the fish that stinks first’.

What are the challenges of moving into emerging markets?  

The way that the regional structure worked consistency throughout the business. I went to Latin America because it’s considered an ‘emerging market’ ? I make this point because yes, Mars is emerging in Latin America in terms of percentage versus the other regions, and we still have lots of room to grow. But I always think that if I was in Brazil and I was called an emerging market how would I feel, given that Sao Paulo is such a vast city – I always say it’s we who need to emerge in those markets. When I went to Latin America, we needed to develop and build our talent. We had a set of predefined people processes, but I found that every country was interpreting them a bit differently. So we had to modify these in a way that was compatible with Latin America ? these included salary, foundations, benefit strategy and a commitment to develop the local talent.

It seems that you were given a huge amount of HR responsibility, with minimal experience.  

At the time, I felt that I had been given a great HR opportunity but didn’t necessarily have that deep experience yet. Under its portfolio, the role also included the management of Mars Drinks as the HR director for Drinks had just left the business, so I was in the situation where I had to fill that gap. So I spent half my time on HR for Global Mars Drinks and the other half across our Petcare and Chocolate segments within Latin America. Mars Drinks provided me with an opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of HR and to gain more understanding of the specifics of HR by country.

So what did the Mars Drinks side of the business require from a HR capacity?  

The past four years have been a major transformation, again really defining what the business is. We’ve been looking at whether we have the right capabilities in place. It’s also been about restructuring what was a very UK-centric model, to a more global one.

How does HR get to grips with such a vast network of people?  

Decisions need to be made at a local level and the people who are most suitable to make those decisions are the ones in close contact with our customers, so we have a very horizontal structure. We do have a clearly defined governance structure in place; however, what guides our decisions and gives us the trust and confidence that they will be taken is The Five Principles at Mars – Quality, Efficiency, Responsibility, Mutuality, Freedom. We don’t have large audit departments. We fundamentally believe our associates operate using The Five Principles at the core of every decision. These principles are adhered to both internally with our associates, and externally with our suppliers, customers and consumers. For HR, what is critical is ensuring we hire people with those same values and they continue to see the rest of the associates ‘living’ them every day as they continue to learn and grow.

From someone who comes from an analytical background, what have been your key surprises?  

I’ve learned that truth is stranger than fiction! You hear all kinds of things when you’re in HR, but I would say that from the people side, you really discover the greatness that exists in people. I think all too often, we forget that our business is made up of us, and it’s all about our contribution. It really irritates me when people don’t take responsibility for that. There is that old HR adage, ‘the best investment you can make is in your people’. Sorry if it sounds corny, but it actually happens to be true. Then there is the wonderful truth that everybody is different, and we appreciate these differences to obtain broader perspective. And finally, for HR, it is the ability not only to explain about the ‘how’, but more importantly the ‘why’. For the launch of the two new premium hot drink brands, people were working around the clock because in nine months we had to change the packaging and get ready to launch these new products. We discovered that people were highly motivated and said they were prepared to work hard because they knew why they were being asked to put in the effort, and were completely behind the brands. That, for me, summarises what HR is all about.

And in a business that uses vast quantities of raw materials from around the world I’m guessing CSR is not a nice to have it’s an absolute essential?  

Without a doubt! Behind the brand it is all about that connection between, say, the people coming up with the marketing plan and the people harvesting coffee beans. We have taken people that work in Basingstoke to Costa Rica to meet the farmers, and that gave them an invaluable connection, insight and empathy with them. In contrast, our associates in Germany at that time hadn’t been given that opportunity and whilst there was a clear loyalty to the customer base, it was by no means as complete a picture.

By making these connections across the business, it promotes an understanding of what is expected of us and gives each and everyone one of us a clear understanding of where the business is trying to go and understanding the impact of each individual’s influence and impact. When I talk to our staff, what’s great is they give you a dose of reality and honesty. It reminds you that at the end of the day, we make hot drinks and sell it in the workplace – and sometimes we as senior leaders overcomplicate it. Again, my big insight is to talk to people, have a conversation, be curious, ask questions, and have a cup of coffee. And remember; don’t use fancy language because I don’t think it gets you anywhere.

Would you say people’s motivations are different today?  

We’ve done a study on how to cope with essentially four generations under one roof. I’m not sure if motivations have actually changed. I know we like to think it’s changed. We read articles about the new generation, and it is all about entitlement. If you’re not a company practising corporate social responsibility, that looks like it’s giving back to the community, then they’re not interested. I certainly do believe the Generation Y does take CSR issues very seriously and they ask some very insightful questions. I say thank God! We hear bad things about this new generation but I would say, it has to cope with a lot more complexity, information overloads and having to detect what is real and what is not.

Do they expect instant gratification?  

Yes, that is for sure. They’re ambitious to make a positive contribution in the world, so as a business, you need to respond to that. But are they fundamentally different? When I think back, my early aspirations were pretty similar, but what I do think has changed is the landscape. When I graduated from business school, you were expected to work in banking, retail or manufacturing, and the rules of the game were defined. Now, you have the likes of Google, Microsoft or Facebook that have changed those rules. Those are the new aspirations, but I still think that when I have conversations with them, I hear the echo of the past. I do think we have to embrace the fact that as an employer, if you’re not providing the opportunity for your staff to grow and develop, they won’t stick around, and if you want people to still be productive and engaged then you need to create the right work environment.

The other big change for the better is the whole ‘life stage’ rather than ‘work life balance’. Work is one part of life, and thank goodness there is a greater acknowledgement of life stages in the workplace. For example, women give birth, that is a fact of life. Fathers today also acknowledge that they want to be part of their children’s lives. They will have their family years and may have different aspirations, and want to pursue different career paths. We understand that, and we cater for it.

Do you think, in 2012, HR is in a good place?  

Now is the best time to be in HR. It is dealing with a much more complex and challenging set of issues, and the key is recognising what you’re trying to solve because it can get crazy. I think fundamentally the role of the HR function is to align itself to the business and also stop apologising for itself. If HR cannot create a workplace environment that is flexible, fair and inclusive, then you will lose your young talent and you won’t attract new talent. There is absolutely no room for complacency. Getting it right needs constant adjustment.

What is your view on the constant stream of employment law changes and reviews?  

If you are a business that is operating ethically and is essentially ‘good’, there is nothing to fear. I go back to The Mars Five Principles of Quality, Efficiency, Responsibility, Mutuality, and Freedom. I don’t believe that we have ever felt we have had to change what we do in light of employment law changes. Mars was founded almost 100 years ago, and its principles as an employer still hold water today. It’s about quality, not just about the products and brands. It is deeply embedded. I also believe there is a sense of responsibility throughout the business, and a mutuality principle ensuring we treat everyone equally and with justice – such a shared benefit is long lasting and an enduring benefit. Equally important is that we are a business that takes its responsibility to environment seriously, not just as a media sound bite ? if you look at the history of Mars and Mars Drinks, we’ve been doing that a long time.

CSR can be a banana skin for businesses.  

Yes and that’s why, for example, we don’t go out and say ‘look at Mars, we’re really green!’ We keep to what we have done. We can’t get in to some customers’ offices unless we show what our sustainability platform is. We have zero waste-to-landfill and we’ve just launched our 100 percent recyclable fresh packs. But to your point, I don’t think Mars Drinks will go green because of what others are doing. It does it, because it addresses The Five Principles mentioned above. We stand by our great products.

We have committed that by 2013, all our coffee beans will be purchased through certified sources, partnering with Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified. All our packaging is not yet completely recyclable, but we’re getting there. It’s about being very honest about what we can do, and what we cannot do, and not coming out and making excuses for it. I think it’s unrealistic.

If we go back to the role of HR, my main aim is to hire people that already believe in The Five Principles – and then everything else will naturally come into play. We want suppliers that are very reputable, not someone who will show up in the media having poor working conditions. We do go out and see suppliers to make sure they are a suitable fit. In some instances we’ve turned them away because we’ve felt that they’re not how we want to see ourselves in terms of relationships.

So what's next for Mars Drinks?  

As I said, the last four years have been about transformation and building the brand. The next step is building the business and doubling it in size, identifying what will impede our growth, and building the skills capabilities. Managing a business today to one double the size requires different ways of working, skills and so on. When you were talking to me earlier about what I have learned in HR, I would say what I’ve learned about myself is in the world of HR you need two attributes. One is resiliency ? things keep changing and if you’re not resilient then this can drain you. You also need judgement when you talk about the art. I think the HR world is very much to the point. There are more tools than you need to have. We are not lacking in tools, but we need to know which tool to use and also being humble enough to say, I don’t think this is right and correct it. The worst thing to do is nothing. That’s what learning is all about ? being able to be okay with pulling that Andon cord, as they have at Toyota. HR needs to ensure that it’s okay to make mistakes and that learning and progressing are what it’s all about. I know hardly anyone who gets it right first time, but most don’t want to tell people the pain they went through. HR can create an environment of not having all the answers and learning from each other through positive inquiry.

At Mars we believe in the idea that if you’ve got a seat at the table, then this means you need to speak up. We are all crafting this business and helping to steer where this organisation is going, therefore I think that more than ever, HR people need to have great perspective so they can either energise the team or keep them focussed, which is great fun.

Do you ever think back to that call you got to take up the HR post?  

I feel very blessed that Mars and Mars Drinks have given me a tremendous life experience. It’s given me the opportunity to see the world and meet great people. I don’t see myself as the HR or finance person, I see myself as a contributor with a skills set that seems to be working for me, and it has turned out that I’m adding value to Mars and Mars Drinks. It’s been a great partnership.

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