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“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”, With Douglas Brown and Farrell Rodd

For starters, you need to have a growth mindset, a roll-up your sleeves attitude and be able to trust others. You’re dealing with a number of different aspects of the business on a daily basis, so you have to learn quickly and not be afraid to lean on subject-matter experts. Secondly, you need to be […]

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For starters, you need to have a growth mindset, a roll-up your sleeves attitude and be able to trust others. You’re dealing with a number of different aspects of the business on a daily basis, so you have to learn quickly and not be afraid to lean on subject-matter experts. Secondly, you need to be flexible and stay calm under pressure. As I mentioned earlier, every week will bring a new situation or challenge that you haven’t faced before and it’s critical to be able to make decisions, act quickly and be flexible in your approach. When I reflect back on situations that we’ve faced — unexpected stock-outs, manufacturing problems, etc. — I think of them with surprising fondness; despite being stressful in the moment, they brought out some truly innovative thinking and I’ve been proud of how quickly we were able to adapt to minimize the impact.


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Farrell Rodd, Brand Manager at Mars Incorporated and manages a supplement brand called CocoaVia™. She started her career in healthcare advertising, and then spent time working in Brand Management at a variety of food & beverage CPG companies, including Anheuser Busch and Campbell Soup Company. She is delighted to be working in the health & wellness category again, as part of Mars’ newest segment, Mars Edge, and is inspired by helping consumers take control of their health with scientifically-backed solutions to support optimal heart and brain health.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been passionate about marketing and health & wellness. My first job out of college was at a healthcare advertising agency in New York where I had the opportunity to learn about the latest solutions for a variety of health issues and how to communicate these to consumers in creative, thoughtful ways. Health & wellness is an area that people are personally committed to and are very enthusiastic about. We’d frequently hear from consumers about how products had changed their life. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone find a solution to a real pain point and knowing you’re making a difference.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began working at leading your company?

It feels like there’s an interesting story every week! But one of my favorite early memories was getting to speak with one of our customers, Bob, who has been taking CocoaVia for several years. He explained that he had been experiencing issues with his memory — forgetting words, where he parked his car, etc. — that had started to impact his independence and quality of life. After taking CocoaVia for a couple of months he stopped experiencing those problems and felt like he had control of his life back. The part that amazed me the most was that he began writing a paper when he first started taking the product to document his memory concerns and the positive experience he had with CocoaVia.

To this day, he still updates the paper regularly and shares it with us and his family and friends. Whenever I’m having a rough day, I’ll pull out the paper and spend time reading through the 8+ pages — it always brings a smile to my face and reminds me why I do what I do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Unfortunately, this story was only from a few years ago, but it’s one that still makes me blush. A couple of years back we sponsored the Women’s Day Red Dress Awards in New York. One of the honorees that year was Tom Colicchio, and I had made it my goal for the evening to introduce him to CocoaVia and deliver my best sales pitch on the product’s heart health benefits. I’ve always prided myself on being able to keep my cool in almost any situation, but I also happen to be a huge Top Chef fan, so when I finally got my chance to meet him, the best I could do was throw some product into his hands and shout something vague about how much he would love it. An event photographer snapped a picture, so I have a photo to commemorate my complete lack of eloquence.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of Brand Manager that most attracted you to it?

I love wearing multiple hats and looking at situations from different perspectives, which is precisely what you get in this role. A lot of people think of brand management as synonymous with advertising, but it’s much broader than that. Brand Management includes everything from marketing to strategy, financials, sales analytics, innovation and product development. No day is exactly the same and there is always a new challenge to take on. I’ve been on my current brand for over three years and I’m still finding new challenges and ways to expand my skillset. If you’re the kind of person who loves to flex both your creative and analytical muscles, it’s a great role to be in.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a Brand Manager does. But in just a few words can you explain what a Brand Manager does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Most managerial positions require you to balance a number of priorities, but I think each career path requires you to have a primary focus. In some roles, that may be the financials, or human resources, or shareholders. In Brand Management, we focus primarily on our consumer. If we’re making our consumers happy and adding value to their lives in a sustainable way, we’re doing our jobs right. In fact, Mars has a guiding principle that applies to the company as a whole, but which I particularly take to heart in my role: “The consumer is our boss, quality is our work and value for money is our goal. … We depend completely on our consumers to build our future, and we must tirelessly seek to understand their needs.”

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a brand manager? an executive?

Well there are two answers to that. First of all, I love the responsibility that comes with shaping a new brand or evolving an existing one. I take very seriously the fact that I am a temporary steward of a brand that (in many cases) has existed long before me and will hopefully exist long after me, so I need to be thinking not just about the next year but the next 10–50 years. I’ve worked on brands like Bud Light and Chunky Soup, which have long legacies and a lot of consumer passion behind them, and it was important to make sure I helped them evolve and stay relevant without losing the history behind them. For newer brands, like my current supplement brand, CocoaVia, there’s something wonderful about getting to shape the brand from its adolescence into a mature brand that becomes a household name.

The other thing that I love about my current role is knowing that I’m helping people lead healthier lives — we have consumers, like Bob, who have written to us about how CocoaVia has changed their lives, noting that they feel the best that they have in years. There is nothing more rewarding and motivating than that.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

There can be tough decisions and a lot of prioritization. I tend to get passionate about a lot of different projects and at the end of the day there are only so many resources and so much time, so I have to place bets and do my best to make the most with what we have. You also have to own up to your mistakes — sometimes decisions don’t pan out the way you had hoped — I do my best to take ownership, learn from mistakes, and stay optimistic to ensure that the next decision is a win.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Brand Manager CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

One of the misconceptions I mentioned earlier is that Brand Management is often considered synonymous with advertising — having previously worked in advertising I can attest to these being very different career paths! The other is that people often think the role is more glamorous than it is. There is (at least in pre-Covid-19 times) a decent amount of travel — often to trade shows, campaign shoots, partner meetings — but most of those trips are spent working pretty hard and often not getting to enjoy your location. For instance, last year we flew out to Colorado for a campaign shoot and, despite being in a beautiful mountainous area, we sat inside all day shooting against a green screen. Driving to and from the airport was the most scenic part of the trip!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I’ve honestly been very fortunate at the companies that I’ve worked at — I’ve had great managers and leadership teams that are incredibly supportive, so I haven’t experienced most of the typical workplace challenges associated with gender.

However, one situation that I recently had to adjust for was having kids. I had my son, James, at the end of 2018 and was surprised by some of the challenges of working through pregnancy and re-adjusting after maternity leave, even with full support and amenities at my job. You quickly realize that work life and home life are a more delicate balancing act than they used to be, and one which requires planning ahead and carving out a schedule that allows you to be your best self for both work and family. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m fortunate to have the flexibility to make it all work.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I had thought that the data-driven world we live in would make a lot of decisions easier, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we suffer from too much data, too little data, or have to weed through conflicting data. Despite all of the tools and resources at your disposal, there are times when you have to take a step back, evaluate the situation at a higher level, and then go with your gut instinct.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

For starters, you need to have a growth mindset, a roll-up your sleeves attitude and be able to trust others. You’re dealing with a number of different aspects of the business on a daily basis, so you have to learn quickly and not be afraid to lean on subject-matter experts. Secondly, you need to be flexible and stay calm under pressure. As I mentioned earlier, every week will bring a new situation or challenge that you haven’t faced before and it’s critical to be able to make decisions, act quickly and be flexible in your approach. When I reflect back on situations that we’ve faced — unexpected stock-outs, manufacturing problems, etc. — I think of them with surprising fondness; despite being stressful in the moment, they brought out some truly innovative thinking and I’ve been proud of how quickly we were able to adapt to minimize the impact.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Build a team with diverse perspectives and skill sets and then lean into what you’re good at. I think we often struggle with feeling that we have to be good at everything, which isn’t realistic. It’s important to acknowledge your opportunity areas and work on them, but you’ll generally get the most out of yourself and your team if you each make the most of your unique strengths.

The other thing is finding your voice and enabling your team members to do the same — Mars describes this skill as the ability to “stand alone,” which means having the strength to voice your opinion even if it’s not the prevailing one in the room. This can take some courage, but nothing will guarantee failure faster than an atmosphere where people don’t share their opinions. Some companies are less welcoming of this than others, but the kinds of teams and organizations that I prefer to work for will always value a good debate.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s hard to pick just one — I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great managers and mentors that have helped me throughout my career. However, I can think of one VP I had at a previous company who gave me a great piece of advice, which is probably where my earlier comment about finding your voice comes from: she advised me to always voice my opinion — repeatedly when necessary — and especially when it was not the popular one in the room. I think she used a phrase like “politeness is the enemy of great work — disagreement is where the magic happens.” Luckily, I love a productive argument! I always work to build a team environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up, disagreeing, and pressuretesting any decision.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m lucky to work at a company that values giving back to the communities it serves. For Mars, that includes people, pets, and the environment. Every year we take part in number of volunteer events, from making meals for local food pantries, to planting trees and cleaning trails, to building dog parks.

Personally, I try to pay it forward by mentoring new marketers and helping forge connections that can drive people’s careers forward. I’ve benefited from a number of terrific mentors in my life, so it means a lot to me to be able to do that for others.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There are two things that come to mind: the first is that you can never under-estimate the power of perseverance — it’s probably the one trait that has served me best throughout my career

The second is that all challenges can be turned into opportunities: roll up your sleeves, bring together a task force, and approach a problem from different angles.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m really excited by the potential for personalized nutrition and healthcare — there has been enormous growth in this area but there is still so much we can do to help people understand their unique health & wellness needs and deliver customized solutions that are accessible and affordable. Advancements in diagnostics, production capabilities and digital platforms are helping make this more of a reality every day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorites is a quote from Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. I have a bias for action and my favorite way to learn is to dive in and start experimenting, testing and learning as I go. You can spend months planning and organizing, but I tend to go farther, faster, by doing.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

There are so many people I look up to, but one leader that comes to mind is Shazi Visram, who founded Happy Baby (Now Happy Family Organics). I had the opportunity to hear her speak about her experience building her business from the ground up, and what inspired me most was how doggedly she followed her mission to change children’s lives through good nutrition. Her story had some ups and downs along the way, but it was her persistence and optimism in the face of adversity, and her ability to change her approach when necessary that ultimately allowed her to achieve her mission and solve a critical unmet need in the space of childhood nutrition.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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