Human on the Inside with Mars’ Brad Cole

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5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Brad, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight!

You’re the Senior Director – Brands & Content for Mars (Europe), a role you’ve held for the last 10 months following an incredible 12 year tenure with the global ‘gum, mints & chocolate’ giant in various marketing & brand roles. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your current role entail?

I’m responsible for the brand experience and content for the Mars Wrigley portfolio across the EU. Which pretty much means ensuring that all aspects of content and conversion are connected in a relevant and cohesive way. That’s my intent – easier said than done!

Your impressive career started in Melbourne with liquor leader Diageo, after which you joined Mars – a company you’ve been with since 2006. Over the last 17+ years, you’ve held varied executive brand & marketing roles for Mars (& Wrigley), based out of China (HK), the USA (Chicago) and now Europe (London). Now that’s what we call a truly global career, and some serious loyalty! How does all this work, and your life as an expat, speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

I feel fortunate to have been able to work for two amazing businesses that prioritise development, both professional and personal. Australia will always be home, but I’ve long had ambitions to work overseas. Working for a global organisation gives you exposure to people and things that are unfamiliar and poke your curiosity. I’ve always been supported by Mars, and fortunate to have had bosses who have been real advocates of my career and development. All of this support has allowed me to scratch the itch to work, learn and grow as an expat. Admittedly, I haven’t always known what was going to come from each experience, or where it was going to take me, but I was sure it was going to be good for me – as a marketer, leader and a human.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

I would say that they have been closely aligned. I studied Business at Swinburne University, with intentions of working for a creative agency – consuming plenty of US TV & movies told me that was where all the fun was! My first ‘real’ job was at Diageo, and like many aspiring brand folks of my generation, sales was a feeder function. It was difficult to get a marketing gig in consumer goods straight out of Uni, so you had to earn your stripes in sales. After a few years in various sales roles, I had the opportunity to join the brand team as ABM where I felt I could build on many of the technical foundations I learnt at Uni. At the time, Diageo had some amazing marketing training that really connected this theory with practice. After a few more years and various roles, I came back to Melbourne and joined Mars Chocolate, and have since worked across different parts of the business – each with their own dynamics and challenges. Despite the 7-8 roles that I’ve held across different regions, it’s always felt like the same business.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Have patience. Your career is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Earlier in my career, it was really hard for me to look beyond the next role or my next pay jump. This kind of mindset can lead to some poor decisions and behaviours that aren’t becoming! Find a business with a proven track record for developing people, that promotes heavily internally, and has people you’d like having a beer with.

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

There hasn’t been a playbook for what has happened over the last 18 months. We have talked a lot about the VUCA world, but who knew just how personal it has become. Everyone is dealing with these challenges differently. None better or worse, just different. At Mars, it has been pleasing that all people have been encouraged to open up, show some vulnerability and not be expected to have all the answers. It will sound cliche, but Mars truly puts its people first. It’s one of the many benefits of being a large privately held business. They think generationally, and not just about this year’s numbers. Despite a lot of the UK opening up, we’re still supporting flexible working solutions based on people and team needs. There are also a bunch of tools and services people can use to support their wellbeing during these times.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

I certainly don’t have any superpowers. I have taken a lot of pride in being able to make myself as accessible as I can. When I was starting out, I can clearly remember those people that were always so accommodating, and made time for me to pick their brain, offer some advice or just make the moment more comfortable by having a laugh. I always valued that, and try to offer the same to those I work with.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career

The irony of my role is that communicating is something I need to continue to develop and improve. As an introvert, I often find myself being most productive when I’m on my own, with the space to reflect and plan. I really enjoy this, and get a bunch of energy from it. The bit that I’m not as good at, is bringing others along with me. Often I’ve lived with my own thinking for so long, I just want to ‘get on with things’ … often not realising that others around me haven’t been on the journey, or may want to debate it further! Thankfully, most of the people around me tell it to me straight, and I can course-correct. I am clearly still a work in progress!

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent Uni graduates or candidates keen to work at a company like Mars, what would it be?

Mars has been built on strong principles and has a strong culture. Not everyone will succeed there. Go and find five people that work (or have worked) in the organisation you want to join, and ask them about their experience to see if it fits what you’re looking for.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

It’s a really tough question as I don’t expect there to be a perfect candidate. I’m sure if you asked Mars, I was far from perfect! Finding someone that is going to complement, and bring the best out of an existing team, is really important to me. This is one area I think we need to spend more time on when recruiting – thinking about the combination of people versus only the individual. The constant I would say is a learning mindset, but also a recognition of the candidate’s ability to share/coach others with their own knowledge and experience.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a learning agenda, but I’m trying to practice doing less. What I mean by that is being a lot more choiceful over what I’m spending my available time on. Prioritising the things that make a meaningful difference, or give me genuine satisfaction. My to-do list will never be finished, and there will always be another meeting to join, so I’m giving a lot more thought to what I should be adding to ensure the ROI(!) is worth it. For the last 18 months, I’ve been scheduling reading time and being in bed by 9:30pm (still haven’t cracked this). I’m choosing these things as they make me feel good, it’s a great distraction from work, and requires very little effort which is perfect for me after a long day of Zooms.