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What I learned brought me here

Javier E. Cantú Gómez

Vice President of Sales

HEINEKEN MÉXICO

“Curiosity and the desire to learn will make life a more exciting journey.”

I had graduated from Georgia State University with a Master of Science degree in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship, and I was ready and eager to start my professional life with a great company. Since I had my first summer job as a sales assistant supervisor at Sabritas, I was infected with the passion that goes into consumer products companies and it was in this industry that I focused my search.

I was fortunate to have job interviews on the same day at two major corporations, Nestlé and Sabritas; in those interviews I spoke with business leaders who would become, a few years later, the Presidents of the Americas for their respective companies.

I arrived in the morning at the Nestlé offices. At the reception desk I asked for Carlos Eduardo Represas, CEO at that time. I was taken to the elevator exclusively for directors, I was accompanied by a guard until I reached the floor where my interview would take place, it was a direct ascent, no steps. When the door opened, an assistant was already waiting for me, I don’t remember seeing any movement or people walking as we made our way to the boardroom. I waited a few minutes in a solemn room with dark wood and a very formal atmosphere.

I had the great opportunity to talk with Carlos Eduardo for a little over an hour. Today I still thank him for his time and for giving me the best job interview I have ever had in my life.

We talked a bit about what I had studied and what my extracurricular activities had been. Then he asked me: How do you see yourself when you are your father’s age? what do you want to be doing in 25 years?

In short, I replied that I wanted to be CEO of a large company in Mexico, but that I would also be evaluating the possibility of becoming independent if I could find the right opportunity. After explaining my alternatives and my reasons, he took the word and told me something that would mark my whole life and my professional career; paraphrasing his words, he advised me: “The only really important thing is how you want to see yourself in 25 or 30 years. That is the single most important thing. Having that goal clear; then yes, all your decisions must be made with that goal in mind. Yes, all decisions; what you study, who you get together with, who you marry, where you work, what positions you decide to take and which ones you decide to pass up. Otherwise you will go through life stumbling around, changing course and without much direction”.

I left the Nestlé offices in a philosophical emotional state, visualizing myself in the long term, taking the time to think carefully about what I wanted to do in life and how I could make short-term decisions that would help me in the long term. That recommendation has accompanied me in all the important decisions of my life.

In the afternoon of that same day, I entered the Sabritas offices, in the lobby I just told them which floor I was going to and who I was looking for. I went up the elevator with many other people, the elevator stopped several times and every time people were going up and down with a sense of urgency, there was a lot of energy and you could see that many things were happening at the same time, some were quiet others were commenting details of a project or a meeting they were going to or had just left.

I was interviewed by Rogelio Rebolledo, who was the CEO of Sabritas. We sat at a small table in his office and he began with a series of quick questions, one after the other, seeking to get to know me and understand which areas of the business interested me the most. No more than 30 minutes passed when he called a person from Human Resources, sat him at the same table and asked him that at that moment I was being interviewed by several Directors, there must have been five or six. He told me that if he could not see everyone that day, he would finish the interviews the next day.

The sense of urgency and activity that I could sense made me feel comfortable and excited to belong to an organization with that pace of work. That high level of energy matched very well with my style, with my personality, with the sense of urgency that I also had to learn, to do.

In less than 15 days and thanks to Salvador Alva Gómez, whom I consider a mentor and an extraordinary transformational leader, I was already working for Sabritas in Marketing in the Confectionery Division called Alegro, with the same urgency with which I lived my first day of interviews. My decision was influenced by the corporate culture I felt in my interviews, at that time I may not have had the clarity of the impact that corporate cultures have on people’s lives. In those moments, I simply felt that my personality and energy matched Sabritas very well.

Now, over the years I have realized the importance of being and creating a corporate culture that allows people to shine, to learn, to grow, to develop, in other words, that allows them to be happy. I am also aware that we are not all the same, we do not all have the same needs and we will not all feel the same in the same environment, but each person must seek and create the environment that is ideal for each one.

The continuous sense of urgency with which we lived and the discipline of the sales force were impressive. I soon realized that being close to customers and consumers could help me understand much faster the opportunities we could have with our products and our brands. Without telling anyone, I called the manager of one of the sales agencies and asked him to invite me to visit his market, to allow me to accompany one of his salespeople. I was interested in getting to know the sales and distribution system, to be able to talk to the sales people, customers and consumers and to know what they thought of our products and our brands. I wanted to learn.

So, I started going out at least one Saturday a month to visit the Mexico City market. I would arrive at the sales branch in Ciudad Neza before 7:00 am to go out with a salesperson; we visited around 25 changarros selling candy, chewing gum and chocolates, we marketed the display, looked for the first position, placed communication material, collected money and in the afternoon we returned to the branch. First thing Monday morning I would prepare and circulate a report with feedback from the sales force, customers and sometimes consumer comments about our products and promotions.

On one occasion, the Marketing Director asked me: “Who do you know? who gives you this information? why do you know this? some marketing colleagues told me that marketing people do not go out on the sales routes, that this was not our job, much less on Saturdays. On the other hand, the sales people were surprised, and maybe even amused, that a “young guy” recently graduated working in the Marketing area would take the time to go out to the market on Saturdays and in Neza!

Being close to the customer, on the street, understanding the efforts of the sales force has been fundamental in my career ever since. It has been key to understand any business, to understand the customer, the consumer and of course, also the competitor.

Information is undoubtedly vital for decision making, and I have learned that it is faster and more accurate when you can complement it with what the street tells you. When you visit clients and observe consumers, all the data makes much more sense, it’s easier to connect the dots and anticipate when you observe what’s happening in the market, at the moment of truth.

When I started, I was fortunate to meet extraordinary people who gave me some of their time and the opportunity to work. I think the most important thing is to want and seek to learn, to have the curiosity to know how and why things work. We often have the opportunity to meet young talents who have the desire to learn and to create a better way of doing things, and now it is up to us to offer them those opportunities.


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