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Trust - it's what you do that counts, not what you say

Mondelēz International

Organisations with strong reputations are more successful in the long term. It’s that simple. They are trusted, even loved, and they enjoy greater commercial success. 

Research from the Reputation Institute, found around 40% of a company’s market performance can be attributed to non-financial factors associated with its corporate reputation. And the cost of getting it wrong is significant in many ways for all stakeholders – not only the impact on consumer brand trust and business results but also critically employee satisfaction; pride; attraction and retention. 

A study by Harvard Business Review looked at the relationship between reputation and employee hiring and retention. The study showed a company with 10,000 employees could be spending as much as $7.6 million in additional wages to make up for a poor reputation. Or put another way, companies with poor reputations spent an average of $4,723 more per hire convincing candidates to join their organisation. The price of a poor reputation is a cost no company wants to pay.

When I began my role as President of Northern Europe for Mondelez, it was clear that the story being told about our organisation didn’t fully reflect the reality of who we were or what we stood for. 

That’s not to say we were intentionally mispresented, but rather we weren’t doing enough to show people the real “truths” of our business; our values and investments in community; product quality and beyond. It was particularly true when it came to our products. 

For too long, there was speculation about recipe changes that were simply wrong. We weren’t doing enough to show people the impact of the £100m we invested in product research, development and quality, in new plants and machinery, ingredient sourcing and consumer testing. 

And until recently we failed to tell people about the fantastic chocolate tasters (arguably the best job in the world?) we employ to make sure our products continue to be the taste the nation loves.

But helping everyone see the truth behind our products, the people and the community impact that defines Mondelez meant adopting a new approach. 

We had to invite people in and share our truth. We had to be more transparent. And we had to take some risks. 

Working with Channel 5 this year on a Cadbury documentary is one of the bravest examples of how we lived that new approach in the UK. 

The production team were welcomed into every corner of our business, from our world famous Bournville factory, to our archives and even our innovation department. 

They interviewed colleagues across the business to learn more about our £200 million investment into UK manufacturing, research and innovation and heard about how we increased productivity in Bournville, securing jobs and safeguarding the next generation of manufacturing at the site. Most importantly, they were able to meet some of the brilliant people behind the brand.

When the documentary aired, we knew our approach was paying off. 

The programme was one of Channel 5’s most popular programmes and I believe had an incredibly positive impact on our reputation. 

And crucially, seeing the real Mondelez faithfully represented on television was a fantastic moment for all our employees; we knew we were helping to shift perceptions of who we were by telling a more accurate, human and confident story about our business, with the support of our employees who in turn shared their own story of pride. And this momentum is building – we’re inspiring and enabling colleagues to share their own proud moment either internally or externally with messages that come from the heart.   

Fundamentally a company can’t talk its way into a good reputation. It’s about what you do; not what you say. It may sound obvious, but it is often forgotten. 

This is true today, more than ever, with access to previously confidential or hard to access information available to everyone and shared in seconds. This radical transparency can only be a good thing. 

Because it holds everyone to account - if companies aren’t behaving responsibly, investing in ingredient quality and quality manufacturing; building truly sustainable supply chains from farmer to consumer, contributing positively to society, creating rewarding, diverse and inclusive environments to work in - then they will not thrive or even survive in the long term.  

As Steve Covey said so well: “You can't talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!”

Over recent years, we’ve been committed to building the right reputation by first growing as a responsible business. 

For example, we are investing $400m in our Cocoa Life programme to support sustainable cocoa farming and to help secure a positive future for our farmers. We’ve already reached over 120,000 farmers in over 1,000 communities to date. 

And by inviting journalists to join us in Ghana, we were able to show the real truths of the programme, demonstrating what it means for local families and communities. We were delighted that Cocoa Life was recently recognized by the UK Food and Drink Federation winning the Environmental Leadership Award.

Closer to home, the Cadbury Foundation has been supporting local communities in the UK and Ireland since 1935 and donated £600K to charities in 2017. We’re incredibly proud of the impact its making and to show the outside world the importance of its work. 

Acting responsibly towards our employees is just as important as making a positive impact in the outside world.

Mondelez has been, and will always remain, committed to taking care of its people. In 2017, we boosted Cadbury factory workers’ pay to bring gains more closely into line with inflation, a move that Unite recognized widely

This was about doing the right thing for those who work for our business every day. By being transparent and prepared to talk about how and why we’d taken this step, we told our story our way.

We were proud that the combination of these actions, and more, helped us earn a place in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for a sixth consecutive year. The DJSI is a globally recognized independent benchmark that conducts comprehensive assessments of a company's economic, environmental and social performance with a strong focus on long-term value creation for shareholders.

As I begin a new role in Asia, I feel incredibly proud of the people across Northern Europe and beyond who work tirelessly to invent and make some of the world’s tastiest snacks, strive to deliver outstanding customer service every day, who volunteer countless hours (+7,000 hours last year alone) to community projects, and who hold all our leaders to account – challenging each and every one to do the right thing, the right way – for the benefit of our business and those communities on whom we rely on for our very existence. 

It’s their collective effort and impact that help strengthen our reputation. I’m not sure many people believed they would see a Financial Times headline of ‘Cadbury flourishes under Mondelez ownership’ five years ago. I know I couldn’t. But it was well deserved, hard earned and a testament to the passion and effort of our people across the company. 

Of course, we have not got everything right; and there is always more we can and must do. That’s why I’m personally very excited by Mondelez’ renewed sense of purpose and consumer inspired growth strategy recently unveiled by our CEO Dirk Van de Put “Snacking made right” promises to offer consumers the right snack, for the right moment, made the right way. 

I’m confident if we stay focused on building our company reputation based on doing the right thing, the right way the best is still ahead of us.