Disruption Podcast: Esme Borgelt, ‘Dare to lead’

Superior Sales Consulting’s Disruption Podcast series shares the stories behind some of the biggest disruptors in FMCG. Retail World has compiled highlights from Episode 9, ‘Dare to Lead’, which interviews Managing Director of Kellogg’s Australia and New Zealand, Esme Borgelt.

[Let’s] kick things off the way we normally do – where did it all start for you? [Tell us] a bit about yourself.

Given my accent, you would have never guessed I was born and bred in South Africa – I come from Johannesburg, where I went to school, and I studied law at the University of Pretoria. [My husband and I moved] to Australia in 2000, and the advice that we got was, ‘You should move to St Ives because there’s a big South African community [there]. [But] we wanted to integrate into the Australian community so we picked the most direct opposite point to St Ives that we could find and ended up near Cronulla, in the Sutherland Shire and absolutely love it [here].

So, law, that [would have] taken you in a different direction. What brought you to FMCG – where did you start?

 When I was at uni I had a study bursary from Kimberly Clark, and every school or college holiday they would give me a job.  [When] I [eventually] graduated they invited me to join their graduate program, and my first job was, Customer Service Officer in logistics – I really enjoyed the banter in the sales team. [Then] when a vacancy came up, I put my hand up, got the job and was still there 10 years later.

You started in customer service, [so] what led you to sales?

[Yes], my first [position] was a [customer representative] role. I learnt a lot – it was a steep learning curve in the beginning. What attracted me to develop a career in sales is the power of collaboration and then [the notion of] ‘solution by selling’ really appealed to me. That’s something that stands salespeople in good stead – realising that selling is about solving problems for others and adding value. That’s how you set yourself apart and how you create a competitive advantage.

We often ask people who participate in our podcast [about their] purpose – [their] why. What’s yours?

 For me, it’s really important to make a difference everyday – at work, at home with my family – and to have a positive impact on the people around me. I’m passionate about developing people to their full potential, and I strongly believe in the power of diversity and gender equality. I also believe that sustained success for any organisation can only be achieved when companies break down silos and integrate across functions to unlock value for their stakeholders, including consumers, customers [and] employees.

You say that one of the big things that you’re looking at is how to break down silos within an organisation. [Talk us through] some examples of how that’s worked for you.

Employees are looking for breadth of experience as opposed to building their careers in a vertical way. We’ve identified three key business challenges that we face in the year, [and] we’ve put together very diverse teams in terms of functional expertise and experience, and put people up against some of these challenges. [We’ve] given them the freedom to work through what we need to do to address some of these issues [and] it’s been amazing how people have stepped up to the challenge and how much energy it [has] generated – stepping outside of your functional comfort zone, and looking at a business issue from so many different angles to come up with a holistic solution.

What you’re doing is important because the journey to become a Managing Director [of a company like Kellogg’s] isn’t about going straight up the ladder; the traditional paths are not there. [So] this cross-functional piece is very trending. You need to [know] all aspects of the business to get to the top [and] to understand all the functions that go with that.

You’re also passionate about sales and marketing alignment from a functional piece. As a Managing Director now, do you find that process easy to embed? Tell us [about your] experience with sales and marketing alignment.

In the past three years, we’ve worked hard to integrate sales and marketing. This is a natural evolution and taking it to the next step, which is truly integrating work streams across the organisation. There is a school of thought that says we [should be] moving people from technically functional experts to more knowledgeable workers. Exposing people to the broader business, in a meaningful way, plays strongly to that. Our job as leaders is [to get] people to think as opposed to getting people just to do a job – that drives engagement.

Part of the journey into the FMCG space is the people that cross our paths that make an impact. Who were some of the people that made an impact on you or that you look back on as mentors?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate. With the mentors I’ve had through my career, one of the most powerful experiences was when I was appointed to lead the consumer sales team at Kimberly Clark. At that point in my career, I didn’t feel ready to do a job that big, but my mentor said to me that if you wait until you are ready before you put your hand up for anything you won’t progress. You have to be courageous in driving your own development, which means [being] vulnerable [and] comfortably uncomfortable as you stretch yourself.

What do you think has helped you make the leap from Sales Director to Managing Director?

I’ve always had an interest in how the whole business works. As a result, I’ve put my hand up for different experiences. It’s about having the mindset of being a commercial leader and not just a sales leader, and evaluating business opportunities like that, that makes it a natural transition, as opposed to a quantum leap. It’s just a mindset.

Over the past 12 months moving from Sales Director to Managing Director, has there been anything about the new role that has surprised you or, were you totally prepared for the role?

 I don’t think you can be totally prepared for how all-consuming a role like this can be. I see my job as [enabling] the organisation – it’s not about controlling it. I read somewhere that CEOs should stand for Chief Enabling Officer – that really sums it up for me.

The above is an edited version of an interview conducted by Jamie Lobina and Mark Truelson from Superior Sales Disruption. To listen to the full interview, download the podcast from iTunes or www.superiorsales.com.au/podcast. New episodes are released weekly on Wednesday mornings.

Check Also

Bickford’s unveils new production line

Bickford’s Australia has unveiled its new world-class, high-speed production line housed at its facility at …