Xavier Unkovic on Rethinking The ‘Executive Suite’
Author: Jane Von Bergen, Inquirer Staff Writer
Date: October 25, 2015
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Lots of offices these days are adopting the open-floor plan, with no cubicles, little tables and comfy chairs scattered about for impromptu conferring and, usually, a well-stocked employee kitchen.
The Mars Drinks global headquarters in West Chester is that on steroids, particularly the "executive suite" where global president Xavier Unkovic, 50, has his desk.
His desk, the desks of the company chairman, CFO and a half-dozen other top brass face inward, arranged in a circle, their sides touching, and each no larger than those double desks common in elementary schools.
No file cabinets. No credenzas. No bookshelves.
Not only that, but there's also a three-item-per-desk rule, making the whole office look startlingly spare.
"I love it," said Unkovic, speaking in a charming French accent. "I cannot go back."
Really? Why do you like it? There's no space for anything.
Human beings, you know what? You give them space, and stuff to put and they put. Here, you can talk with the people working with you. You don't need an appointment. You get used to yelling, "Hey what do you think of this?"
Mars Drinks sells the Flavia individual brewing coffee and tea machines found in many offices, plus the beverages. Is the trend of collaborative workspaces helping sales?
Of course. Think about the environment you need to create to have those collaborations you are talking about. The coffee is the new watercooler of the new workplace. If I invite you for a cup of coffee, am I inviting you for coffee or am I inviting you for a conversation? If someone says, "let's have coffee," he wants to get in a conversation with you.
Does that apply to being a leader or manager, as well?
If you are intentional as a leader, you prefer to have [a meeting] with the person around a cup of coffee because it relaxes you and it brings a sense of closeness or relationship without saying it.
You drink a lot of coffee.
It's part of my personal development plan, because I like to talk, but I need to listen and therefore, when I drink, I'm listening.
Wouldn't beer also work?
You'd get thrown in jail. Well, maybe not in France.
You grew up in Normandy and started your career in France. How do the French and American corporate cultures differ?
I think it is more formal in France than in North America. I feel comfortable reacting with someone at every level in the organization. It is fine for me, compared to France, [where if] you are the boss, you are almost untouchable.
Mars Inc. is global, with divisions selling candy, chewing gum and pet food. Why West Chester for Mars Drink's global headquarters?
This business [took over the space] of another business, Mars Electronics. We ended up selling that. Mars Drinks is a start-up within the company.
Your facilities here include the corporate offices, a coffee roasting plant, and a distribution warehouse.
Most of the time we have factories and offices together, because we believe that the business is very linked to the products we make.
Do you have any advice on how to deal with suppliers?
We have a concept of mutuality. We don't perceive that we will be a long-lasting business if our suppliers aren't healthy. In business, my goal is to have a long-lasting relationship with you, so we make money, you make money.
Many Mars products are well-known. You have a low profile in this region.
We were very private and, being a family-owned company, we didn't want too much advertising. That's changing.
We are realizing that today's consumers are looking for who's behind the brand. You buy Flavia coffee and you find out it is part of a big corporation. That's a fact. How does the public perceive big corporations? Bad, right? Now, come to Mars, you realize that it's a family-owned company. It's a principled business company. It's a family that cares about its products.
Does that impact hiring?
Young generations - they value more the values of the business than just the brand. It's becoming very important to talk about who we are.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.