Sharing their wisdom and career advice this week is a sales leader and FMCG expert who cut his teeth working for a commercial giant, before becoming General Manager of Commercial Operations for L’Oréal. We’re really excited to share this interview with Stijn Demeersseman and hope that his experience and advice inspires you in your sales career.
If you missed the last instalment of the Sales Leader of the Week Interview, click here to read more.
Q. How would you describe your role?
A. I'm the UK and Ireland General Manager of Commercial Operations for L'Oréal’s Consumer Product Division. I head up a team of 150 people across e-commerce, sales, demand and business planning, supply chain management, finance and analytics. My goal is to deliver a holistic and futureproof go-to-market strategy and action plan, through embedding a multifunctional structure that takes us away from a dysfunctional and siloed approach.
Q. How did you start your career?
A. I'm a Belgium national, and I started my career as a field sales representative for P&G in French-speaking Belgium, with about 60 supermarket stores in my portfolio. My brands at that time ranged from Pampers and Ariel to Pringles, Vicks and Duracell.
Q. What drives you? Where do you get your inspiration / motivation from?
A. I'm motivated by people. I try to maintain a broad network of colleagues, family, previous bosses, and friends who I draw inspiration and context from. They give me ideas and help me to focus on where I should spend my energy.
Q. What would you describe as your first “big break”?
A. I attribute my big breaks to being in the right place at the right time, having great managers who believe in me, and working hard myself. Very early on in my P&G career, I had the opportunity to take on one of the biggest account manager roles. At the time I only had 10 months experience, whereas my predecessor had been in the company much longer. Despite this, I delivered strong results, continued to progress and, as a result, went to a very exciting role at the head office in Geneva.
Q. What do you love about your job?
A. My passion lies in transforming organisations to deliver better business results. I love building solid and futureproof organisations that are based upon challenging employees intellectually and providing interesting job scopes for everyone in the team. My firm belief is that we need to stretch people if we want them to be at the cutting edge of our industry – and this in turn will allow us to attract the best talent. While I love the consumer goods industry, we need to continuously challenge ourselves to remain the “go to” industry for talent.
I take pride in helping organisations to reach a point of strength and stability; a position where they are much more likely to succeed in the future. Old colleagues from P&G and L’Oréal still call me for career or personal advice, which is always a great recognition for the trust and relationships I have built with them!
Q. Is there anything that frustrates you?
A. Too often there is a "them and us" attitude between manufactures and retailers. The relationship is far too transactional, and as such, there are missed opportunities. In the future, we will have more of an ecosystem where manufacturers and retailers will work in tandem to inspire consumers and give them the best experience and service. Only the suppliers and retailers who find a way of doing this will be able to tap into the huge business opportunities and be able to transform their services at the speed the consumer requires.
Q. What traits define a great business leader?
A. For me, the one trait that defines a business leader is optimism. “CEOs are paid to be optimistic!” There will always be opportunities and challenges in business, but in order to motivate your team the glass needs to be half full.
Q. Can you share the best career advice you have ever been given?
A. Build your network. Get out of the office, go to conferences, speak to people! Never stop learning.
Understand your preferred learning style. It might be reading books, watching television, or catching up in the pub over a beer, but no matter what it is, work with it!
The generation before us had one career. My generation, on the other hand, tends to have at least two careers, or industries, that we work in. The next generation will likely have three to four industries or career moves. So don't be afraid to surf the wave; be agile, be adaptable.
Q. What do you look for when you interview people?
A. Strategic long-term thinking and a willingness to roll up their sleeves. I'm always keen to understand how people have overcome tough challenges in their life. Those challenges don’t have to be work related. Perhaps someone in the family was sick, or perhaps they decided to make a difficult career change. How people overcome obstacles demonstrates their tenacity and problem-solving ability.
Q. What’s hot in your industry at the moment?
A. Artificial intelligence (AI), is the talk of the town these days; anything from how we can read the faces of people who are using our products, through to detecting different skin types in order to recommend the best products for the consumer. AI will allow us to provide personalised products and services to every consumer.
But not only will AI will help us to connect better with our consumers, but to also use data to improve our business processes and collaboration with our external partners. As it stands, there are many inefficiencies in our value chain, which – through the competent use of AI and data – we can start to reduce.
Q. If you didn’t work in business, what would you do?
A. I would probably have my own vineyard in Argentina, producing Malbec in the Mendoza region!
Q. Is there any advice you can offer for the next generation of business leaders?
A. The world is your playground, and there are so many opportunities out there. Find enjoyment and passion in what you do, and personalise your career path.