I think of myself as having the personality of an adventurer. I’m always on the lookout for new experiences and have never been afraid to try new things. So it’s no surprise that I was attracted to the Mars Leadership Experience Program. I loved the idea of a rotational program and having the opportunity to explore different departments and roles.
But even I was unprepared for the level of exposure you are given from the start of your Mars graduate career.
Learning By Doing
I joined the program straight after completing a master’s at the University of Virginia (I did my undergraduate degree at Sun Yat-sen University in China, where I majored in Finance). I guess I assumed the program would be in some way a continuation of my academic career, with lots of training modules and courses arranged by the company and formal guidance provided by my managers and peers.
In reality, this program is more about learning by doing. From day one, you’re working on real projects with real responsibilities, and if you get stuck, or if you lack some essential experience or knowledge, then you need to take the initiative and ask colleagues for guidance and advice. It’s less formal than I was expecting – and much freer as well.
Of course, it only works because Mars puts so much trust in its graduates. Even though I started with very little professional experience, apart from a handful of summer internships, my line manager assigned me some very important tasks and trusted me to deliver them.
Not long after beginning my first rotation, for example, I was asked to participate in a series of meetings for new channel salespeople from across the whole of China. In these meetings, I had to deliver a presentation about my channel to all the sales professionals who had assembled there, some of whom had more than 10 years’ experience. I won’t lie: the prospect of standing up in front of all those highly skilled salespeople after only a month in the job and explaining things to them about our channel tactics and strategy was pretty scary. Luckily, I didn’t have to do it all alone. I asked my colleagues for their suggestions and advice on how to approach the meeting, and they helped by giving me examples of presentations they had done before and by rehearsing with me so I knew what kind of questions to expect. As a result, the meeting went very successfully and I felt like I had really achieved something.
Another important project I had responsibility for was the development of our 2019 channel plan. Again, this was a slightly daunting experience for me, as I was only three months into my Mars career and had never been involved in developing a channel plan before. As I worked my way through it, with advice and support from my line manager and colleagues, I was amazed to discover what a detailed and complex job it is. Not only do you need to think about the plan in a holistic and strategic way, but you also have to communicate regularly with distributors and clients to ensure that what you are proposing can be put into practice.
The Benefits Of Going Outside Your Comfort Zone
When I applied for the Mars program, I hadn’t expected it would push me so far outside my comfort zone at such an early stage in the process. But I’m very glad it did. It’s given me a clearer understanding of my potential and shown me that I can achieve things I never imagined I could.
It has also taught me the value of seeking out advice from more experienced colleagues and managers. The stereotypical view of the FMCG industry is of a fast-paced, fiercely competitive world where everybody is focused on their own targets and results. The reality couldn’t be more different. Everybody I have encountered at Mars, no matter how senior, has been more than happy to answer my questions and listen to my ideas. It’s one of the things I have enjoyed most about my experience so far – and I’m sure it’s something I will continue to value throughout my career with Mars.