When Eunice Ganyawu-Magwali became Managing Director for Nestlé in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in 2019, she knew she would be taking on more responsibility than ever before in her 15 years of working in the corporate world.
In fact, she welcomed the new challenges she was sure to face. For Eunice, taking the top job in her region for the world’s largest food company was a recognition of years of preparation and hard work in the food and beverage sector in Southern Africa .
What she did not anticipate, however, was the near-total breakdown of supply chains and the operational rigour that was required to keep the business running every day as an essential service provider. Less than a year into the job of her dreams, Eunice fell headfirst into a quagmire that remains confounding even to the greatest business minds.
“Becoming a Managing Director for me was a seminal moment – the culmination of years of advancement,” Eunice says. “At the same time, I admit that there are certain parts of the role that have proven to be more challenging and isolating than anticipated, as I led the evolution of new business models focused on securing balanced growth and sustainable value for all stakeholders.”
Eunice goes on to explain that this evolution is anchored on import substitution, portfolio innovation and renovation, in order to deliver accessible and affordable nutrition, develop a solid partner ecosystem and build an “empowered and diverse team that works daily to create a positive impact”.
“For instance, the pandemic is exerting additional pressure on already fragile business models and strategies, exacerbating the pre-existing challenges in our sector coming from the rising costs of raw materials, packaging and labour, prioritising all employees’ safety and health, declining margins and responding to abrupt changes in consumer needs.”
Fortunately, many of the measures Eunice put in place to protect the business from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could be drawn from previous learning logs and proactive scenario analysis.
This allowed for the development of robust business continuity plans, which had the effect of softening the blow when associated lockdowns and restrictions were implemented. When global trade faltered as a result of COVID-19, Nestlé was able to rely on these and continue delighting its consumers.
These measures and the experience gleaned will ensure Nestlé Zimbabwe is in a better position to deal with any future eventualities. “This pandemic is forcing companies to reimagine the future,” Eunice shares.
“It offers opportunities for companies to deeply interrogate and accelerate digital transformation strategies, and adopt influential aspects of emerging trends like blockchain, artificial intelligence, internet of things and many more technologies that are not immediately associated with the food and beverage industry.”
Eunice’s boldness in the face of a potentially devastating crisis is rooted in lessons she learned earlier in her career about the interconnectedness between success and failure.
She recalls a previous job where, in a marketing role, she passionately pushed for a slew of premium products across the company’s portfolio in an effort to tap into a lucrative niche market as a growth strategy.
Armed with information generated from research insights, she developed a compelling business case which was approved by the Board. The projects were delivered within set timelines and supported by colourful product launches.
But six months into the campaign, what was intended to be a breakthrough innovation became a pattern of slow sales that no amount of fanfare could reverse.
“The biggest takeaway from this experience, which was an epic failure for me, was that the key to success is to analyse the reasons for failure, find the wisdom, share the lessons and move on to the next challenge,” she says.
“It turned out that it was a case of mismatched positioning and hefty pricing that brought down the well-intentioned products. The quick lesson was that some products are not bought for sophistication, but for convenience and trust.
“Part of this convenience and trust is knowing exactly what to expect and that, while it is a good idea to expand business, steering clear of product paths that deviate from your corporate brand’s core message is critical. I drew a lot of strength from John Wooden, who said: ‘Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.’”
The key to success is to analyse the reasons for failure, find the wisdom, share the lessons and move on to the next challenge.
Eunice believes her honesty about professional failure has allowed her to enter the most creative period of her life. She seeks to foster experimentation among her team and celebrate successes as well as intelligent failures in order to encourage learning from mistakes and to prepare the company to deal with complexity and adversity.
“Learning from one’s mistakes is the most important ingredient in finding success,” she says. “In my leadership role, I will always endeavour to create an atmosphere that allows mistakes rather than instils the fear of making them.”
Throughout her career in the food and beverage industry, Eunice has witnessed shifts in trends dictating how, when and what consumers choose to eat, and she strives to place Nestlé ahead of those trends and embrace the ones that contribute to a healthy society.
“For decades, consumers picked their food based on characteristics such as look, taste or aroma. Increasingly, the trend has shifted toward shoppers choosing what they buy and consume depending on the role it plays in reducing the risk of disease and promoting good health,” she reveals.
Equipped with greater access to information than ever before, consumers view their purchasing decisions as a form of activism, and value is shifting to product, experiences and brand purpose.
“There is no doubt that the industry has moved into an era of more diverse consumer needs where consumption is becoming increasingly personal,” Eunice says.
“At Nestlé, we not only expect this trend to continue but also to accelerate. We are positioning our business to tap into the health and wellness trend as articulated in our purpose: ‘We unlock the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.’ That’s something of which I’m immensely proud to be a part.”
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