Michele Oliver, Mars UK

Michele “Mitch” Oliver is Vice President of Marketing for Mars Chocolate UK. In this role, Mitch is responsible for bringing the business’ much-loved chocolate brands to life.

With over 20 years’ experience in the consumer-goods industry, Mitch joined Mars UK, a private and family-owned company, on the graduate programme in 1995. Since then she has held a variety of roles across the business including Sales and Manufacturing, before moving into marketing positions at a local, regional and global level.

With a passion for marketing, Mitch moved from Galaxy Brand Manager to European Brand Portfolio Manager and Global Brand Director, and prior to her existing role served as UK Strategy Director, until eventually landing her dream job as VP of UK Marketing with a team of 70 Associates – what Mars call their employees. Whilst not physically possible to have regular contact with all 70 of the team, Mitch discovered the power of having a trusted network.

You need to build a core team of direct reports that you enjoy working with, can trust and who clearly understand your message and will communicate down to your wider team.

Mitch not only manages the Mars portfolio of chocolate brands, but also sits on the UK Management Team where she makes key decisions that shape the business as a whole. She also sits on the Global Marketing Leadership team.

Mitch’s proudest moment at Mars has come as part of her current role. Last year, Mitch worked closely with her team to champion inclusivity across all brand communications; with Mars’ latest series of MALTESERS® adverts focused around disability and championing diversity in advertising communications, as well as her recent work with SNICKERS® partnering with Gay Star News to support the LGBTI community. Mitch strongly believes that as one of the biggest advertisers in the UK, Mars has a responsibility to create content that celebrates modern Britain in all its diverse glory. Mitch, along with the UK Marketing team, has pioneered the work on Mars UK’s advertising campaigns and through this work has demonstrated that it’s not just about representing diversity, but that looking through a different creative lens, makes good business sense.

 A lot of people say their number one priority is to grow the business, number two to get great talent, and [wait to] point five or six to get diversity in there. We need to flip that on its head. Through diversity you will get great creative and better talent, which in turn will grow your business.

Mitch is a passionate supporter of all diversity in business. She has been an active champion of women in business and has mentored a number of women at various points in their careers over a number of years.

If you have a bunch of diverse people in a meeting room, the idea will instantly become inclusive and happen naturally. The people in the business, at agencies and behind and in front of the camera need to be representative of the population.

Through various people management roles, Michele has learnt a lot about herself, but feels her life experiences have shaped her leadership style; the friends she has made, exposure to different situations as well as interacting with people from different backgrounds and values to her own.

Job experience has been great for functional development but it’s been my personal experiences that make me the leader I am today.

In addition, Michele’s decision to work part-time after the birth of her son was a key influence on her personally and professionally as this flexibility gave Michele time with her son and partner, and also time to be around other mums who also happen to be Mars’ consumers – a great focus group for a marketer!

So why did Michele stay? Initially, it was Mars’ reputation as a good place to work and development opportunities. Now she realises, it is because she was supported throughout her changing lifestyle, from good maternity benefits to a culture that values and encourages work-life balance. Michele feels incredibly loyal to a business that has given her great challenges and opportunities over the years.  Her advice for any aspiring leader revolves around knowing yourself.

You need to focus on your strengths as a leader and walk away from what you are not good at, find people who can support you with these weaknesses, as no one is perfect.

Mitch is also a true believer in authenticity:

You will succeed if you are the same person both in and out of work and in a role that feels right for you. I was lucky to find that many times over in Mars.

Mitch was also named one of “100 Women to Watch” in the Female FTSE Report in 2015 and in 2017 she was been named as The Drum’s Marketer of the Year, as well one of the 2017 Ad Age Women to Watch in Europe. Alongside these recognitions, Mitch was also nominated for the 2017 Marketing Society Leader of the Year as well as Marketing Week’s Visionary Marketer of the Year. She is sits on the Disability Confident Business Leaders Group working with the government to tackle issues around disability unemployment. She also sits on the Gay Star News advisory Board.