Mars’ Andy Pharoah sits down with Brunswick’s Blake Sonnenshein to discuss the family-owned business’s recipe for an engaged workforce
Mars, one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, has long been known for two things: its chocolate – M&Ms, Mars bars, and Milky Way to name a few – and its privacy.
Mars wants to change both of those perceptions. It still makes chocolate, but now its pet care businesses contribute more than any other unit to Mars’ annual $35 billion in sales. Mars, which has been involved in the pet care industry for almost 80 years, recently completed its acquisition of VCA animal hospitals, making it now the largest employer of veterinarians in the US.
To tell that story – that Mars is much more than a chocolate company – the business is embracing a more public profile.
“Candidly, five years ago, I wouldn’t be doing this interview with you,” says Andy Pharoah, Mars’ Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Initiatives and one of 11 members on the firm’s global leadership team. Being under the radar was once an advantage, allowing Mars to keep its recipes and plans under wraps. “But today, we know it matters what people think about our company,” says Pharoah. “If you’re going to recruit and retain the best talent, and successfully partner with others and build businesses – you need to tell your story.
”And Mars has been. Among its most effective methods has been allowing its more than 100,000 associates around the world to help “demystify” the company. Between 2016 and 2017, Mars was listed on 30 different best-place-to-work rankings and lists – ranging from being voted the best place to start a career in Brazil to ranking No. 50 on Fortune’s top 100 places to work.
The rankings and recognition may be relatively new for Mars, but satisfied employees aren’t. Among a few of the anecdotes reported about the business over the last 70 years: Mars paid above-market salaries – at one point, the company was said to even offer a 10 percent bonus for employees who were never late for work – and it was egalitarian. John F. Mars, one of the owners of the company, punched in at Mars’ Virginia headquarters until he retired.
Pharoah has been with Mars for almost a decade, joining from Wrigley after it was acquired by Mars in 2008. In 2016 he took on the most senior communications role in the firm, and now describes his job as “helping Mars have the conversations it needs to have with the society in which it operates.”
One of those more recent conversations is Mars’ “Sustainable in a generation” plan, which CEO Grant Reid outlined in September 2017. The company will invest $1 billion over three years, even beyond its direct operations, to help tackle climate change, poverty in supply chains, and resource scarcity.
In a recent discussion, Pharoah spoke of how the century-old company is competing for new talent, how Mars handles being a maker of sweets in an increasingly health-conscious world, and how he became convinced his first manager at Mars was desperate to get rid of him.