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Walkers crisps has achieved iconic status in British life. It is one of the best-loved and most successful brands in the UK. Six out of ten households buy Walkers crisps, at a rate of 12 million packs every day.
Martin Glenn is the man who led the team behind Walkers’ success.
As marketing director of Walkers, then CEO and eventually CEO of the combined Pepsico group, Martin led Walkers from a strong regional brand to the number one fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand in Britain. By 2005, Walkers crisps had a 45 per cent share of the £2 billion UK salty snacks market and had become the UK’s most successful high performance FMCG business that, along the way, also managed to double its profitability in just five years.
In July 2004, Marketing Magazine voted Martin Glenn the UK’s most influential marketer. He was Marketing Week’s Chief Executive of the Year in 2003 and has been named as a Prince of Wales Ambassador for Education.
Quality of product, sales, distribution and brand marketing are the themes of the Walkers story. Yet, as Martin’s account of the company’s journey to greatness unfolds, a number of significant lessons in leadership emerge.
What follows, then, is the story of a remarkable and dedicated approach to business leadership as told by one of the UK’s top business managers.
Many years ago, there was a commercial on British TV in which a young schoolboy boasted to his friends that when he grew up he would have the best job in the world. What did he mean? they wondered. Would he be a brain surgeon? The Prime Minister? The Archbishop of Canterbury?
No. It turned out that his dream was to be the Chief Taster for Walkers crisps.
In a sense, I grew up to achieve that schoolboy’s ambition – even if my job title became slightly different.
A Platform for success
In the 1950’s, Walkers was a humble butcher’s shop in the English Midlands city of Leicester. Today, it’s the UK’s biggest supermarket brand, with a 45 per cent share of the £2 billion salty snacks market. It’s estimated that 60 per cent of British households buy Walkers crisps, at a rate of 12 million packets every day.
Of course, Brits are famous for their love of the potato crisp (or ‘potato chip’ to our American cousins). A packet of Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar is as much a part of British life as a cup of tea or a plate of fish and chips. Certainly, no British lunchbox, school packed lunch or visit to the pub is complete without a pack. But it’s also worth noting that making crisps is an industry with almost no barriers to entry – you’ll find the technology to manufacture potato crisps in just about any domestic kitchen.
So why do more than half of British households choose to buy their crisps from Walkers?
The easy answer to that question is because Walkers make a damn good crisp. However, I also think we earned our place in Britain’s lunchbox by valuing simplicity. We managed to brand a commodity through the thorough application of imaginative principles. We were consistent in our aims and values over a long period and were consistently ruthless in the detailed and pragmatic way we applied them to the business.
Over recent years, Walkers has enjoyed striking growth by food industry standards, but when you look back over the company’s history, it’s been a pretty slow burner. Walkers crisps have long been a source of fierce local pride in Leicestershire, but we took our time to spread ourselves across the rest of the UK. Even as recently as the mid-eighties you’d have been lucky to find a packet in the London area and if you were Scottish or Irish you’d have had to wait a good ten years or more to get your hands on a pack in the local corner shop. In fact, when PepsiCo bought the business at the end of the 1980s, the Walkers brand nearly lost out to its archrival Smiths, which was acquired at roughly the same time. Certainly, on paper, Smiths appeared stronger in terms of consumer measures such as top-of-mind awareness and saliency. But it couldn’t match Walkers for quality, volume or profit. Nor could it command the same price in the market – which was probably why we got the nod and went on to become the badge of the megabrand that PepsiCo was looking to create.
The takeover came at the right time for Walkers. PepsiCo had plentiful resources, as well as a profound understanding of numerous markets around the world and they were prepared to give Walkers the benefit of both. They also brought us a new sense of professionalism and a fresh burst of energy. But, as in any business, luck has had a role to play in the Walkers story, too.
When Walkers became the UK’s brand leader in the mid-eighties, it was far more by default than design. To be honest, it only happened because one of our main competitor’s factories burnt down. Had it not been for that, PepsiCo might well have been looking to invest in our competitor, Golden Wonder, rather than Walkers when they made that foray into the UK market.
Fortunately for me, my team, Walkers’ investors and its 5,000 staff, this situation – brought about by a mixture of strength and a little luck – set the scene for what has become one of the great business and marketing success stories of the last 20 years.
In this eBook , I want to share some of the lessons of leadership I have learned along the way – to get the best out of the people who contribute to the success of a business. That’s not just staff but everyone, like, partners, agencies, advisors, distributors etc., who also participate in building great companies.
As you read, you’ll find a strong marketing slant to many of the points I make. The reason for this is simple – I’m a marketer at heart. I joined Walkers and became marketing director before I ran the company. I believe it’s the responsibility of any business leader to view marketing as the key driver for business growth and to remain actively involved in that. Shelley Lazerus, CEO and chairperson of Ogilvy, once gave a great insight to this philosophy: ‘In the best-ranked companies I know the CEO owns the brand because there’s very little in his enterprise that’s more important’.
I have highlighted 10 key areas of business that I believe can be greatly improved by a pragmatic and personal approach to management. I have tried to keep things simple and honest (in the same open manner that worked so well for the Walkers business) and supported each area, where appropriate with examples from the Walkers story, with important lessons highlighted as key take-outs.
Some of them will perhaps strike you as being plain common sense. But in business, common sense is rarely common practice. At a theoretical level, business is really not that hard to understand, but at a practical level there is no doubt it is very hard to do well. For example, plenty of businesspeople will tell you they care about quality, but far fewer businesses deliver it in a sustained and committed way.
I hope that finding your own natural style of leadership is one of the many things that you will get from this eBook . Whatever your reasons for reading, I hope that you will find something here to help drive your own business or career forward.