7 Questions with Beliot
Current title: Executive VP in charge of strategy, growth levers and markets
Current organisation: bel company
Executive VP Strategy & Growth Bel Group
Since March 2018, Cécile Beliot has taken on the post of Executive VP of Strategy, Growth and Markets. She is responsible for all the strategic levers of growth of the BEL Group including Global Marketing, Global Sales, R&D and Digital. And she is also accountable for the execution of this strategy into each market, as all the General managers of bel mature markets and of new geos also report to her. The BEL group has a turnover of 3,3 Bn Euros, and employs more than 12 700 employees in the world, in around thirty countries. At the heart of her job is the transformation of the BEL Group, which set a goal of aggressive top line growth while maintaining a healthy profitability by becoming the most responsible and the most innovative player in the healthier snacks and meal solutions.
Before joining Bel, Cecile has spent 17 years at Danone in multiple divisions, geographies, in marketing or general management positions.
Between 2015 and 2018, Cécile Beliot was the General Manager of Danone Waters France and Benelux. She was also promoted to the General Manager position of One Danone France, in addition to her General Manager assignment. So she was in charge of piloting all the shared services for Danone in France.
Graduating from the Essec Business School (MBA), Cécile Beliot started her career at Kraft Foods (Mondelez) where she had been working in several marketing positions in the coffee and confectionary division. She joined Danone in 2000, working at LU France, where she had been in charge of the marketing strategy for many iconic brands in the division (LU®, Prince®, Petit Ecolier® …). In 2006, she was promoted to Global Brand Director of Mikado.
In 2008, she joined the Waters Division to become the Global Brand Director of Bonafont, a business mostly based in Latam.
In the end of 2010, she joined the Dairy Division to be the Marketing Director of Danone Dairy in Belgium. Then, in 2013, she was promoted to VP of Marketing for Danone in Russia (a business of 2 Billion euro net sales). In 2015, she joined the waters division to become the General Manager of the cluster France and Benelux for Danone Waters.
Since 2018, Cecile has joined the COMEX of Bel Group in charge of Strategy, Growth and Markets.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging task for me as a senior executive VP in charge of transforming big organizations is always to find the right balance between the need of transformation (sometimes fast and furiously) and the need for continuous improvement and continuity. In fact, any organization needs both. Sometimes you have to put the focus on the case for change and acceleration of the transformation, but at a certain point, you also need to give a sense of stability and consistency for people to follow you and for them to stay fully engaged. So finding the right balance between both dimensions and the right pace for each of them is supercritical and should be carefully adapted to the business and people situation.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I never dream about becoming a CEO and about being at the top. This is not my motto and this is not how I get there. I'm passionate about strategy, brands, transformation and leadership. So my personal motto is more « grow and make people grow » than anything else. I had the chance to work for 17 years at Danone and to have a fantastic career path there because Danone has always fueled my willingness to learn and to transform business and organizations. So for 17 years, I had the chance to work in 3 divisions (biscuits, waters, dairy), to live and work in many regions (europe, Russia, latam, china), to experiment highest positions in marketing at local and global level and to experiment big general management positions. After 17 years at Danone, I was pretty clear on what I wanted and what I did not want anymore. I wanted to keep on transforming big companies, with strong purpose and values. This alignment between what I think, what I say and what I do became my n1 priority. I met Antoine Fievet, the family owner of bel group and I knew that this alignment of vision and values + the long term perspective of a family business would be the perfect fit for me. That's the reason why I joined the comex at bel.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I cannot pretend to have a daily business routine at all! In a normal time (pre covid) I also travel a lot to stay very connected with all our markets. But when I'm in Paris, as I have 4 kids, there are moments that are quite essential to me and to my personal work/life balance. I always take breakfast with them and bring them to school. So I do not start at the office before 9:00! And I do my best to be with them before they go to bed in order to keep these little but super important moments when I read them a book and kiss them before they sleep.
During the day, it's always super busy, without time for emails... so I do finish them late in the day!
4. What’s the most recent significant leadership lesson you’ve learned?
The most recent leadership lesson I got was related to the covid crisis. In fact, I discovered again and again the incredible capacity of people to move fast, to adapt and to transform the way they work. It proves us that when you truly put values like care at the core of everything you do, when you give a strong meaning to everyone's job (for the food industry, the covid crisis reminded us the essentiality of our mission.... which is about feeding the world whatever happens), when you empower your teams and communicate in a very frequent and direct way, everything is possible. The level of energy despite the context was high and the pride and sense of belonging went up very significantly! Unleashing people power is our most powerful tool and we always underestimate it.
5. What one book has had the most profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I'm a huge fan of Simon Sinek books. All of them had a great impact on me and my leadership style. The « Start with why » has definitely built this strong conviction that purpose and mission should always come first ... and then the rest (results and profits) is just a consequence of it.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I always start by the top. I believe the best way to build leadership capacity is to have a role model comex, with a super strong alignment on values and purpose. Then there is always a domino effect. This team is gonna build below it, strong teams with the same spirit, values and commitments towards the mission.
7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
It's a very simple story but it says a lot about our roles as Executive VP in a comex. Most of the time I believe that our job is to engage our teams behind transformations. The only way to do this is to build a strong and compelling vision and to convey it in a very simple way so that everyone in the organization knows how he/ she can contribute to it.
I believe we are a bit like priests and we have to preach a lot. But translating a vision into a simple story that everyone knows, understands and relies to it is a very difficult journey. One of the most beautiful feedback I received after my arrival at bel came from a personal assistant who was about to retire.
After a town hall meeting, I took the elevator with her and she told me « I have told you that I truly love your speeches. » I said « Thank you but could you tell me why ? » and she told me « because this is the very first time in all my career that I understand everything you say. » It made my day and gave me the feeling that I did accomplish something good!