How to Get to World Class and Stay There

In order for an organisation to steer a deliberate and defined course, it needs to have a coherent strategy, with a well understood and resourced implementation plan. All this needs to be consistent with the way we do things round here – the corporate culture. The Mars organisation: built on and living by its culture.


Mars incorporated has been operating as a growing, profitable business for 100 years. It turns about $35BN per year and is one of the foremost employers in the world to work for. It does this through the ‘5 Principles’. These have been placed on video for all to see living examples: you can find it here –

It requires enormous effort to maintain a loyalty to such an approach. In the case of Mars, it has been possible because of the business being family owned and the passion for the cultural approach being passed on across generations. This is the secret of continued success. Having a core that is unshakeable combined with everyone buying into the approach and recruiting the best who are happy to sign up to the culture. The recruitment process emphasises this throughout.

Organisations have to alter strategy from time to time. They certainly have to alter implementation but they need to do these things aligned to the culture. If culture is ignored, not understood, or strategy cuts across the grain of that culture, things go wrong.

The diagram below shows the ramifications for what happens if things go ‘off piste’.

Grant Reid, Mars Inc. President gave an interview to Dan Schawbel, published in Forbes magazine at the end of 2017, where he highlighted why the organisation had thrived for the last 100 years. His comments are instructive.

On the company:

“Many people are unaware of Mars’ history and just how diverse a business we are today. It started humbly in 1911 in a kitchen in Tacoma, Washington with Frank Mars, selling hand-dipped chocolates. Today, while we are a global leader in confectionery, we also have a tremendous pet-care business that’s committed to making a better world for pets, a food business that is bringing families together over the dinner table, a drinks business that provides great-tasting coffee and teas to offices, and a new organisation that is exploring opportunities beyond our existing portfolio with targeted nutrition solutions. I doubt that Frank Mars had any inkling that more than 100 years later, Mars would be one of the world’s largest family businesses – touching billions of consumers with our iconic brands and veterinary services.

I think the secret to our longevity is that we have remained true to the principles the founding Mars Family members instilled – while embracing constant evolution.

Our Five Principles – Quality, Efficiency, Responsibility, Mutuality and Freedom– have guided ‘how’ we operate for more than 100 years, and they will continue to do so for the next 100 years. But, while they remain constants, technology, consumer and retail trends are changing at an extraordinary rate. Mars Associates embrace these changes by diversifying, expanding and evolving. Forrest Mars, Jr. used to say that we have a ‘healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo’ – we’re always trying to be better, to find the ‘big idea’, to take risks, and be bold. That’s a lot of fun! We’re energised by building, exploring and innovating to make sure that our business thrives for generations to come.”

On being asked to comment about young associate development (all employees at Mars are called associates):

“I think Mars Associates of all generations appreciate the global nature of our business and the opportunity that presents to travel, live in new places, and work with people from all over the world. When Associates join us, they are becoming part of a global business where movement between business segments, functions, and geographies is open to them. On a personal level, in my 30 years with Mars, I’ve held country, regional and global roles. I’ve also worked in multiple functions including purchasing, sales, marketing and manufacturing. A career at Mars offers tremendous opportunities to test yourself, to learn and to grow.

Whether a Mars Associate has a career path that leads to global mobility or not, we’re a global team – so the opportunity to learn from others is ever present. The Mars Ambassador Program (MAP) is one example. This program, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, offered Associates from more than 50 countries a chance to visit 32 different countries in which we operate to learn more about how our business functions and work in our communities. For example a trip might visit the farms where we source cocoa, rice, mint or tea to teach sustainable farming techniques. Equally, a team might spend a week fixing up a pet shelter, or providing veterinary expertise to an under-served community. Our MAP program is about giving others the benefit of your skills and sweat, while also learning and growing as an Associate and a person.”

When asked about employee engagement and building a strong culture:

“I am constantly learning from my fellow Mars Associates. Wherever I travel in the world, the lens of the Five Principles provides a chance to have a real conversation at all levels about whether we are living up to our expectations of ourselves – what’s working well, and what’s not working. Our culture encourages each of us to bring our points of view and our best ideas forward. Some fabulous product and business ideas have come from unexpected places!

One of the hallmarks of Mars as a work place is the concept that we are all Associates – not just employees. Every job is important. Everyone should feel like their opinion counts. That drives engagement and makes us a better company.”

Responding to being asked how he can show people that they do worthwhile work make a difference to others:

“We firmly believe business has a role to play in making the world a better place. In 1947, Forrest Mars, Sr. (second generation of Mars Family) defined our objective as “creating mutual benefits for all of our stakeholders through the manufacturing and distribution of our products.” We measure our success based on financial metrics as well as other indicators that we are making a positive impact on the world. We report on our impacts on the environment and society annually through our Principles in Action Summary. We recognise Associates that go above and beyond in bringing our Five Principles to life through our Make the Difference recognition program. And on a one on one level – our annual development conversations between managers and their teams are as much about the ‘how’ we are getting things done as it is about results.

Just this year, we set some new and very ambitious targets for ourselves with our Sustainability in a Generation Plan – that plan is focused on three key areas: Healthy Planet, Thriving People and Nourishing Well-being. We’re investing $1 billion over the next few years tackling opportunities like reducing our greenhouse gasses by 67% to combat the critical climate challenge; improving the working lives of one million people in our supply chain; and advancing science, innovation and marketing in ways that help billions of people and their pets lead healthier, happier lives. If that isn’t enough to make you eager to go to work every day, I don’t know what will.”

Being asked for his 3 top career advice tips, his response was:

  1. “Work for a business that reflects your personal values”
  2. “Embrace self-development and demonstrate curiosity”
  3. “Work with authentic people that you respect and that respect you

These seem completely consistent with why he has worked in the group for 30 years. My own experience is that without these elements in place, internal stresses build up over time which affect work, drive and health. Given life is not a rehearsal, why put yourself in a bad place for you?


Leave a comment


Email(will not be published)*


Your comment*

Submit Comment


© Copyright 2016 The 3 Graces Co. Ltd                                                                Legal Disclaimer      Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Policy Statement