The FMCG industry’s dynamics have inspired this award-winning executive’s progress from supermarket shelf stacking to ensuring cashflow stacks up at a multinational giant.
By Mondelēz International Head of Category Revenue & Pricing, Steven Bean
Where did your career in FMCG begin?
It started close to 20 years ago stacking shelves for the now non-existent BI-LO supermarket chain.
Take us through the journey that has led you to your current role.
I spent my first few years in FMCG working through various in-store positions and eventually worked up to caretaking my own store for a period (still the hardest job I’ve had). I then secured a role in Coles head office, working in space management, which to my surprise involved a lot more than pretty pictures. I was lucky enough to work in several roles during my time there, including a number of business transformation project roles that gave me my first taste of wider industry topics and opportunities.
My next move was to Coca-Cola Amatil, as I had the urge to explore the manufacturing side of the industry. In 10 fantastic years at Coke I was able to explore multiple functions, channels and sectors of FMCG as I worked in various roles across accounts, field sales and category management.
In 2017 I had the opportunity to move to Mondelēz in a role that suited both my passion for category management/planning and my need to be based closer to my family in Melbourne. After some time looking after category strategy and customer engagement, I’ve moved to my current role leading revenue management and strategic pricing for the Australian business.
What has inspired you to be where you are today?
From my first job in the very first supermarket, I quickly found that I was naturally inspired and motivated by the dynamics of this industry. There’s a new customer or product or competitor to deal with every day and the way to win (or lose) is in a constant state of change. As a person who is motivated by challenge and growth, I’ve found that this industry has endless opportunity for both.
The majority of my career progression and personal development over the years has simply come from tackling whatever lies in front of me. Before you know it, 20 years have passed and you have a wealth of experience behind you but still feel like there are plenty of learnings to come.
Is there any advice that has stuck with you as your career progresses?
To paraphrase one of my earlier managers… ‘the only reason to spend your time looking back is to figure out how to move forward’. Given we work in an industry that has an endless number of data points and numbers to look at on any given day, it’s important to remember that our job is to influence future outcomes rather than endlessly analyse the past. The best way to do that is to understand the lessons that past gives us, then apply them to future plans.
What have been some of the major challenges along the way?
The greatest challenge for me has always been in dealing with the vast complexity of this industry. We’re constantly trying to answer one question: how do we ensure we have the right product for the right price for the right person in the right place at the right time? It’s a question we’ve all been working on for a very long time, and every time we think we’re getting close to the answer, the world shifts and we find ourselves tackling the next issue or opportunity. It means that we can often get it wrong or suffer difficult results despite doing all the right things. The upside is that when we tackle that same challenge and get it right, the outcome is even more rewarding.
What are some of your greatest career highlights/achievements so far?
I had very strong mentors in the Coca-Cola system (people like the great Peter ‘Poopy’ Foreman) and they encouraged me as a young executive to enter into multiple industry programs. As a result of that encouragement and support, I was lucky enough to win both the 2009 Peter Jowett Award (AACS) and the 2011 Joe Berry Award (ASMCA). At the time, these awards played an incredible role in my career development and progression, as well as bringing a personal sense of pride and achievement. Over time, I’ve come to realise that the greater reward has come from staying involved in the programs and offering guidance and support to those participating each year. If I could in some way replicate what was given to me early in my career, that would feel like a far bigger achievement over time.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I find this question difficult to answer as my preference is to be open to opportunities rather than attached to a specific outcome. All I’ll say is my goal is to learn everything I can and achieve everything I can within my current situation, then I’ll turn my attention to the next opportunity and repeat the process. I hope that takes me somewhere exciting.
What advice would you give to others establishing a career in the FMCG sector?
Get yourself out of your comfort zone early and often within your career. The broader the foundation you can build in the early days, the more possibilities you’ll have to build a long and enjoyable career in what’s a very big, broad and diverse industry.