Lessons learned: Zoe Stevens, Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats

March 4, 2016, 8:37 am

We spoke to Zoe Stevens, Research and Development Head and a Mars ‘lifer’, about her 16-year Mars career and the benefits of committing to one company.

Working in a number of different roles gives insight and builds skills

I started at Mars in 1999. In my 16 years here I’ve worked across a range of roles. I started in R&D, but I have also worked in the procurement side of the business, auditing and approving suppliers as well as doing a bit of buying, before jumping back into R&D to work on quality and food safety. I was appointed to my current role of R&D Head at our Drinks and Treats business in March 2014. I love the variety of the career options I’ve had at Mars; it has been incredibly valuable to see the business from these different angles and to have the opportunity to pick up a wide range of skills and experiences.

Research and Development encompasses more than you might think
I work within a small business unit within Mars, so it’s like having the entrepreneurial spirit of a small business with the knowledge, infrastructure and brands of a big business. We have quite a small team, so we get involved in everything. Our work can range from designing and launching a new product, to managing any quality control and redeveloping and relaunching established products.

It’s nice to be able to see the bigger picture
In 1999, when I started in R&D, I worked on a long-term research project on cocoa. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to the Ivory Coast to speak to the farmers and see first hand the difference Mars makes to their lives and to those of their families. Sixteen years down the line and this work is more relevant than ever with Mars Bars that source Fairtrade-certified cocoa hitting the shelves at the end of 2014

My golden rule is to do what I feel I’m best at
I studied Food Technology at university so I’m a technical person by training. Earlier in my career, I moved away from R&D and into Procurement which I enjoyed and it gave me the opportunity to develop some valuable skills, but I always knew I was a very technically-minded person and my strength was fixing problems.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a big career plan, I’ve just focused on my strengths which is how I’ve found my way back to R&D. And, of course, being in the right place at the right time helps as well.

I enjoy the challenge of leadership
One of the main reasons I took this role was because it involved working closely with a team. At Mars, we talk about ‘people leaders’ and ‘technical leaders’ – if you’re in a research function, you can go for a technical leadership job, but you can also go for a people leadership role, which is what I was looking for. It’s not necessarily the easiest job, but leading others is what gives me the most energy and what ultimately gets me out of bed in the morning.

It’s important that people who work in R&D see the impact they have on the business

We can design a product that tastes great and has the right amount of calories, but if the financials don’t work and it can’t be done at the right speed, we haven’t got a successful business model. With a tough economic and retail environment, keeping up with changing consumer and market demands is one of our biggest challenges.

The broader our Associate’s knowledge of the business, the better

Typically, Mars Associates – what we call our employees – look to move roles every 3-4 years, depending on the person and the role. That change can be a great asset – bringing a new person into your team always brings different skills and ideas and, at Mars, that’s often magnified as we encourage Associates to move upwards, sideways, across businesses functions, sites and countries. We’re a global business, so the opportunities are considerable. Once you think you’ve found an opportunity you like, you really have an opportunity to make it happen.

The best teams work together and collaborate.
They need to support each other through difficult times just as much as good times. The teams that I’ve really enjoyed working in or having around me were those I could phone at 4 o’clock on a Friday with a problem, knowing they would help me out. Trust and respect are fundamental qualities for a strong team.

Building a web of contacts can be an invaluable asset.
Staying somewhere a long time means you have time to build a vast network. Having chats and coffees and getting to know other Mars Associates personally is just as important as the business stuff. You’ll develop contacts who you trust and whose view you value and that doesn’t just have to be your boss, it’s your boss’ boss and senior leaders as well.

People skills are just as important as number skills.
It’s not just about being technically very good, but also understanding the importance of cultural fit. At Mars, we talk a lot about people, and if someone is presenting a business plan to me, I’d want to know all the numbers and ensure it makes commercial sense, but it’s equally important to know how you’re going to engage and collaborate with people. It’s about the way we do things, just as much as what we do and I think a lot of this comes from the fact that we’re still a privately-owned, family business. Our strongly held values or Principles are what makes Mars different.

The reason I’ve stayed with Mars is because I can balance what I consider to be a great and interesting job with my family.

I’ve got two little girls, which has meant two maternity leaves. I came back from maternity leave and both times I chose to work full-time in what I would call a fairly full-on job. The biggest personal challenge has been managing a demanding career, alongside home and motherhood. For me it’s a really positive choice to come to work – I love working and my career is really important to me. Mars has been incredibly supportive to me and other working mums I know in terms of helping me find the balance. Now, as a working mum, I leave the office at 5pm every day to collect the kids, and I might do calls on the way home, but I’m not here in the office at 7pm every night.

I wanted to be a forensic scientist when I was younger.

When I think about it, there is an element of crime-solving when we investigate problems at Mars (but fortunately there’s no blood involved!)

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About Mars, Incorporated

In 1911, Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen and established Mars’ first roots as a confectionery company.  In the 1920s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. joined his father in business and together they launched the MILKY WAY® bar. In 1932, Forrest, Sr. moved to the United Kingdom with a dream of building a business based on the objective of creating a “mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders” – this objective serves as the foundation of Mars, Incorporated today. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has net sales of more than $33 billion, six business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, Wrigley, Food, Drinks, Symbioscience, and more than 72,000 Associates worldwide that are putting its Principles into action to make a difference for people and the planet through its performance.

Mars brands include: Pedigree, Whiskas, Kitekat, M&M’S, Snickers Galaxy, Mars, Milky Way, Orbit, Skittles, Starburst, Uncle Ben’s, Dolmio, Alterra Coffee Roasters, The Bright Tea Company

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