One of the biggest consumer package goods companies in the world didn’t have to think too hard when it went looking for an expert to build and run its new e-commerce team. Same goes for where that team needed to be located. Both answers have links back to Amazon.
Mondelez International, the $30 billion,100-year-old snack foods company that is home to the biggest sellers in cookies (Oreo), gum (Trident) and chocolate (Cadbury), among others, has built a small home in Bellevue, Wash. And Neil Ackerman, a former Amazon star, got that home off the ground a year ago and is making strides as global director for the integrated supply chain, e-commerce and tech innovation leadership team he heads up.
Ackerman said that Mondelez, which operates in 164 countries with more than 100,000 employees, is “kind of reinventing not only how they sell, but where they sell.”
Despite being headquartered in Illinois, having a presence in Amazon’s backyard made perfect sense for the company. Ackerman had been at Amazon for almost four years when Mondelez came calling.
“They called up and they said, ‘Hey, where do you think we should put this office?'” Ackerman said. “And I said, ‘Where do you think the capital of e-commerce is?’ And they said, ‘Well, probably Seattle.’ And I said, ‘Sounds like a good place to put an office.’ Remember, they’re in 164 countries, what’s another small office? This isn’t like a big stretch.”
Ackerman had made a significant impact at Amazon, where he was in charge of operation planning for Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) and was the inventor and general manager for the Small and Light Program, which involved the shipping of items valued at less than $10 for free to customers around the world.
He was awarded 13 patents — eight in 2013 and five in 2014-15 — for invention and innovation at Amazon and won the “Just Do It” award, a prize handed out by Jeff Bezos himself to the employee “who displays a strong bias for action and significantly contributes to the company.”
“I was was recruited by Mondelez to come start their e-commerce business for food and grocery and snacks and such,” Ackerman said. “As you know, Amazon is focused on growing fashion and food and I wanted to have the opportunity, if I could grow the food in the biggest food company in the world, that would give me a tremendous amount of education. And I’d be able to start growing a multi-billion-dollar e-commerce business.”
The Mondelez office, now located in downtown Bellevue’s Key Center, started with Ackerman by himself and has grown to 15 people. That staff is complemented by other staff in North and South America, Europe and Asia, and Ackerman said they do “a whole bunch of different things,” but are mostly focused on six key areas:
- Global supply chain engagement
- Worldwide shopper insights
- All content and search engine optimization
- Business planning and analytics
- Digital solutions
- Data management
Ackerman said Mondelez’s previous efforts in the e-commerce arena were “small” and “didn’t really have a focus.” Mondelez is still a huge business, he said, but it was necessary to adjust some tactics.
“The consumer preferences have changed. Consumers are looking to buy online, and that’s obvious,” Ackerman said. “We want to be where the consumers are and we want to create fabulous moments for them, whether it’s in-store or online. That’s what we do. In the U.S. alone we sell on multiple websites — it’s Walmart, it’s Amazon, it’s Kroger, it’s Boxed — it’s a wide variety.”
And coming from Amazon and understanding the inner workings of the company obviously played a big part in preparing Ackerman for what he would be focused on and how he would go about tackling it.
“Working for Amazon, especially in Fulfillment by Amazon, you become extremely educated on fixed costs, variable costs, trans costs,” Ackerman said. “You become fixated on consumer and customer expectations, so it really prepared me very well to a run a very large, global e-commerce business. I knew immediately that we had to have an e-commerce flywheel and I knew immediately that it was going to be based on price and selection and content and search, as well as assortment and traffic. So we adopted a flywheel and we’ve been launching countries and accounts ever since.”
Ackerman said the work is paying off and that Mondelez is growing at double the rate of its competitors online. For the run-of-the-mill consumer who loves Triscuits, for instance, noticeable measures as well as hidden tricks work to maximize the reach of a brand: all of the selection and assortment is provided online; the product is provided with a good price; premium content, such as recipes, are surfaced to add to brand engagement; SEO is optimized; and more.
While his Bellevue office has provided the jumping-off point for all of this work, that doesn’t necessarily translate to more people working from that physical location.
“We need people on the ground in different countries,” Ackerman said. “I don’t expect the office to be the place for growth. I expect the office to have 15 people, maybe 20, but then I expect to scale out fast all around the world. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”
Since the presence of Amazon inspired Mondelez to situate its e-commerce team in the tech giant’s backyard, Ackerman said he believes that’s absolutely the case why other CPG companies are putting people in Seattle and Bellevue.
“Whether it’s Unilever, P&G, Rubbermaid, Hershey — they’re opening up little offices,” Ackerman said. “They’re not as robust as ours, because this is sort of a global hub.”
And that global hub — a small entity with big ambitions — is just the latest wrinkle for a company that has been adapting for 100 years.
“It’s just a new channel, they’ve still got their old channels,” Ackerman said. “It’s a new way of thinking — that’s expected. When you have a company that’s 100 years old, it’s not like this company hasn’t been through new ways of thinking before. They’ve gone through change many times. It’s not something where they’re saying, ‘Oh no, what do we do?’ It’s change, we’ve done this before and it’s going to happen again. I think they’re pretty excited by it and they’re investing money in it and they’re getting a good return.
“Seems like a win-win for the Amazons and Walmarts of the world, and for Mondelez,” Ackerman added. “And for the employees, frankly.”