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Poul Weihrauch Mars Purpose


Taking the lead: Mars Petcare and a purpose-led transformation

IbyIMD+ Published 4 April 2023 in Magazine • 17 min read


Poul Weihrauch, CEO and Office of the President of Mars Inc, served as Global President of Mars Petcare from 2014 to 2022. During his tenure, the Petcare business more than doubled in size and more than tripled its annual organic growth rate. Weihrauch, pictured above with his dogs,  explains to Thomas Malnight the steps that needed to be taken to successfully transform the largely traditional pet food business into a leader in pet health and pet care.


TM: Let’s start with what purpose means to you, Poul. Many business leaders talk about purpose but not all of them translate it into a strategy that both transforms the business and leads to successful growth. How did you approach purpose in the Petcare business when you took over as CEO of the division in 2014?


PW: The first thing to say is that Mars, Incorporated as a wider organization has always been a principles-led business. The Mars Five Principles of Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom have been deep rooted in our history, in our culture, and in the way we do business. This provides us with a strong foundation and commitment directly from our owners on which to build. So, defining a purpose wasn’t a huge leap into the unknown from that foundation, but putting it at the core of our strategy and decision making was new.  

In Petcare, we defined purpose in about 2009 as “A Better World for Pets”. We printed it on the wall, and we put it on all our business cards, but it didn’t really change how we ran the business. In 2015 we made purpose an integral part of the Petcare strategy, and this was when we really started to bring it to life. At Mars we use a strategic framework called “OGSM”: Objective, Goals, Strategy, and Measures. Rather than having purpose as a separate item, we made it the objective for the segment effectively formalizing it in our strategy and decision-making processes.   

The starting point then was crystalizing what it meant to create “A Better World for Pets”. Any business we wanted to develop had to live up to this ambition. Purpose then became central to how we made choices. For example, we decided we would not go into some of the fastest-growing parts of the pet industry, like grooming. While a large and growing business, we didn’t see how it uniquely contributed to a better world for pets. Of course, grooming might be a very important part of the pet owner having a pet and might be necessary for a specific breed or as part of a lifestyle choice, but we felt there were limited health benefits. Our view was that it doesn’t make a better world for pets, so it wouldn’t be a space in which we would directly play. 

How did putting purpose at the core of your strategy change how you thought about, structured, and managed your businesses in practical terms?  

We came to recognize more and more that, at different stages of their lives, the needs of pets and pet owners changed dramatically. For us to continue to ensure a better world for pets, we needed to understand and address the constantly changing needs of each key stakeholder. This led to dramatic changes not only in our portfolio of businesses, but also in how each business focused and operated.  

So, rather than just treating our businesses as vertical pillars or silos, we decided that we would instead develop a holistic pet health model by looking for opportunities that delivered against our ambition. 

A key element of this stage involved expanding our thinking and business model to look at it from a “pain point” perspective. We interviewed thousands of pet owners to understand the pain points they faced. For instance, there’s a pain point at adoption. How do I choose the right pet? What should I feed them? What vaccinations will they need? When illness happens where do I go for help? What can I do with my pet when on holiday? We mapped the pet parents’ journey from adoption to end of life and then analyzed how we can help to address these pain points at each step. Thinking about relationships and pain points for each key stakeholder, and how we could help to address them, was the new core to our business. This led to the next transformative stage in our evolution, moving us towards being what’s often called a “platform company”.  Here, a key focus was on how we could enable and facilitate support to help key stakeholders solve critical issues. 

One example could be found in our pet food businesses. One unit, Royal Canin, has focused on how nutritional needs vary across pet breeds and age, and how nutrition can be used to support pets with specific health conditions. This unit works with vets in identifying and anticipating pet health needs, often developing nutritional products well before commercial markets exist. We reinforced this focus, while also expanding how Royal Canin could work with and support other key stakeholders. 

Another example is a pet adoption website that focused on how we could help address a broad array of issues for new pet owners. But we came to see this was not enough as we needed to look more broadly at the entire adoption process. Here, we identified an important need to not only look at adoption of puppies, but also how to develop a “rehome” pet platform for older pets. If you have a pet that you must relinquish for whatever reason, how can we help you avoid taking it to a shelter? Because for a pet that’s a very traumatic experience and can be for the owner too. Our platform functions as the orchestrator of the connection between the pet’s current family and its new one, in a peer-to-peer way.  

Identifying ‘pain points’ in the lives of both pets and owners is key to success

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