Some people say Mary is scary. But I say there's a lot to love....
Mary Minnick is not a "pat-you-on-the-back-atta-boy" kind of leader. As much as I need that kind of "parental encouragement" every now and then, being the corporate "mom" isn't her style of leadership. And that's the "real thing" her brand needs.
Minnick is the president of marketing, strategy, and innovation at Coca-Cola Co. - .... an audacious title, for an amazing woman, in a career which almost wasn't.
She's a Coke lifer who, at times, acted more like a "short timer." She advocated "non-carb" beverages back when doing so was considered career suicide. Along the way she was told she "–pushed too hard, alienated everyone in North America" and "–nobody wants to work with you anymore."
Dejected, she took the LSAT and applied to law school. Luckily, Sergio Zyman, the head of marketing at Coke, saw in Mary what others didn't and convinced her to stay.
On another occasion, former Coke CEO Douglas N. Daft showed his support for Minnick by replying to requests to have her reassigned: "This woman will be there longer than you. She has my full support."
Here are four "somethings" I love about Mary and any leader who steps up to grow their brand.
Mary leverages her chronic discontentment for the good of the brand. She told investors last December, "I tend to be quite discontented in general." And "It will never be fast enough or soon enough or good enough."
Too many business leaders have lost their hunger. Not their hunger for more money, but the hunger for intellectual, emotional, and relational challenges of the marketplace. Brands stop growing when the hungry stop leading.
Mary embraces the pain of a changing marketplace. The evidence is abundant even for an American brand icon like Coke. Consumers are flocking to a new breed of coffees, juices, and teas -- all categories where Coke has been weak. According to BusinessWeek, PepsiCo Inc. has blown past Coke in stock performance, earnings growth, talent development and buzz. Pepsi now has a market value equal to Coke. Ten years ago, Coke was three times bigger. Brands stop growing when their leaders stop listening, observing, and growing with their customers.
Mary doesn't "work around" the problem. Minnick doesn't apologize for her direct approach: "Historically, we had a culture where putting the hard issues on the table made some people uncomfortable." Mild-mannered people, talking in soft mild-mannered tones about wicked problems, will not save the brand. Brands stop growing when leaders prefer unity over brutal facts and accountability.
Mary knows transformational innovation when she sees it. Coke has been unusually prolific by launching more than 1,000 new drinks or new variations of existing brands worldwide in the past 12 months. Some, like the brisk-selling coffee-flavored Coca-Cola Blak, have been hits. But Mary knows that, in the long run, new flavors and brand extensions won't be enough to make Coke a growth company again. She's pushing to transform Coke from a soda-centric organization offering "me-too" products, to an innovative organization creating categories while identifying consumer trends.
Transformation is easy to talk about -- hard to do. That's why many tweak their brands rather than transform their brands. Brands stop growing when leaders let their organization suffer from "hardening of the categories" rather embrace real change.
Who are the "Marys" in your organization? Hungry brand owners who aren't afraid to face the brutal facts and change with their customers are key to sustainable companies.
Listen to them, promote them, and don't let them leave for law school.
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