Looking at her career, you might think she’s an iron manager who knows how to set a course in a market shaken by M&A and handovers of historic brands, as well as by quick changes in consumer habits. Silvia Bagliani, General Manager Italy - Snacks at Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods), has actually been able to do that with global brands such as “Philadelphia” or traditional Italian ones as “Oro Saiwa”. And when you hear her talking with the students of the Full-time MBA in one of the Leadership Series meetings, you feel that she did it without tears or bloodshed, but with intelligence and “naturalness”. She embodies a very successful female leadership model, achieving double-digit growth for her brands, but at the same time she likes to introduce herself to the audience underlining that “the most important challenge” is raising her two children.
Her strategy is based on clear ideas that are somewhat “revolutionary” in the world of food giants, which have to compete for shares of crowded markets trying to safeguard margins. “If managers’ incentives are based only on profits, everybody ends up focusing on cutting costs, which is the quickest and safest way to achieve them,” Bagliani says, “and no one looks at the market and trends; you no longer work for the long term. In a word, you don’t think about growing anymore.” In her mind the key word is “organic growth”, even in hardest times, when survival seems to be at stake. Especially in hard times, as a matter of fact.
But how can companies grow in mature markets? By identifying the brand’s core value and trying to stay true to it, while still working on the quality of the product. “Take ‘Oro classico’: it was a quite old-style brand, well known in Italy but facing strong competitive pressure in the breakfast segment. We have improved its recipe and ingredients, we have strengthened its image as a traditional product that is made according to the best nutritional principles. For example, we have removed palm oil to make Oro classico a healthy product for the consumer and the environment. In short, we have added value. And the market got the point”.
Needless to say that marketing as well as commercial and distribution policies matter.. “But because of their structure, large corporations are slower in reacting to change. In terms of adaptability, market responsiveness and agile organization, we have a lot to learn from innovative start-ups.” And coming from an executive of a big multinational, this is not a conclusion to take for granted.
SDA Bocconi School of Management