Mondelēz CFO spills the beans on getting your marketing budget approved

Budget approvals is one of the challenges that CMOs face in their line of work. Having to convince their CEOs and CFOs that the marketing plan is worth every dollar can be a tough fight at times. A recent study by Adobe titled “State of B2B marketing in Asia” found that 28% of senior marketers either agreed or strongly agreed that “marketing is just seen as a cost centre supporting sales”. While some marketers might view CFOs as one of the hurdles to overcome when it comes to securing budgets, Mondelēz International’s head of finance, Lin Tze Lau (pictured), said the finance function is here to help shape long-term financial goals towards achieving strong growth as well as robust margins, and now to expand to new segments and channels.

“It probably comes as no surprise that the finance function tends to be viewed primarily as the book-keepers or accountants, or the people in charge of overseeing budget strategy,” Lau, who oversees the finance portfolio for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, said. However, she explained that her marketing colleagues understand her role is to support them as both parties work together to achieve positive results and drive the company’s growth agenda forward.

Before joining Mondelēz, Lau was head of finance at Wrigley overseeing Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei for more than a year. She also worked as a business controller at L'Oréal for about four years, according to her LinkedIn. Having amassed years of experience in the finance field at renowned firms, Lau said listening and keeping an open mind is crucial to building a good working relationship with the marketing team. "We may be from different functions, but it is important that we are willing to collaborate for the sake of a common goal," she added.

Communication and sharing are also key. Ultimately, both marketing and finance share the same purpose of empowering people to snack right, and Lau said it is a matter of building a shared understanding of how each function sees the way forward.

According to her, Mondelēz prides itself on being purpose-led and value-driven, and that does not change even when it comes to securing budgets. She said it is important to ensure that all business functions understand the value that any given investment will bring, including how it can achieve growth in our business financial KPIs or bring about external KPI wins.

Ultimately, it’s all about negotiation. I personally see this as a two-way street, where it is important for all parties to listen, keep an open mind and be willing to collaborate.

For Lau, the conversation should always focus on how the company can optimise performance, create meaning and accelerate value, not on trying to trim budgets down arbitrarily. Highlighting Mondelēz's goal of leading the future of snacking and empowering consumers to snack, Lau explained that the partnership between marketing and finance as well as sales is important to ensure the company achieves its aim. To build a healthy partnership, close communication and collaboration are necessary where the different functions analyse and strengthen business cases to achieve solid growth. "This is also aligned with my own personal philosophy, as I strongly believe in the meaning of a TEAM - together everyone achieves more," she added.

The effort to work as a team is also made easier at Mondelēz because the company does not work in silos. "As we don't work in silos, we are able to break down barriers and create a more cross-functional understanding of each other's roles," she said. For example, while the head of marketing oversees driving consumer-led growth, Lau knows she herself is trusted as the finance partner to hold marketing accountable to the financial statements.

While it is often assumed that the finance team tightens the purse strings, Lau is still reasonable and objective when it comes to evaluating requests from the marketing team. Investments that are aimed at building a platform for the future and help Mondelēz grow in category leadership are less likely to be rejected, she said. Also, investments that bring about share gains or propel the company to become the market leader in its core categories are also more likely to capture her attention.

"There are also some campaigns that truly showcase how we are putting consumers first, creating relevance and connection at the core of those plans," she said.

A recent report by the CMO Council said C-Suite leaders have growing confidence in the customer-centricity of marketing leadership, with 62% of its survey respondents considering the essential role of CMO as "customer experience advocate and champion" in their organisation. Majority of C-Suite leaders also associated the descriptor of "brand reputation custodian and value creator" (51%) with CMOs.

Likewise, Lau also views marketing as the heart of the organisation, helping to drive growth by keeping a pulse on consumers' evolving needs and ensuring Mondelēz continues to meet those needs. Going beyond her daily responsibilities in finance, Lau is also part of the Malaysia and Singapore leadership team. The team meets monthly to make important company-level decisions that go beyond her immediate scope and core responsibilities such as people.

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Read the rest of the interview here:

A+M: What is the best part of your role?

Lau: As head of finance, I am lucky enough to get to work with and develop many great talents within the company, and I consider investing time with cross-functional talent and mentorship a crucial role. I also get to collaborate with other functions in Mondelēz, which gives me clear visibility of the whole organisation and puts me as the right hand of our MD, a responsibility that I uphold and take seriously.

Aside from that, I also consider myself fortunate that the values of the organisation are aligned with my own personal ones. Mondelēz is committed to upholding its diversity and inclusion agenda, which is focused on three pillars – colleagues, culture and community. In particular, our efforts to give back via the community pillar, such as programmes to feed the needy, is one that is near and dear to my heart.

A+M: What is the biggest challenge in your role?

Lau: As the “engineer” of business value, there is an ongoing challenge to balance between the pressure on the top-line and bottom-line results. I do work alongside my colleagues on the Malaysia and Singapore leadership team which calls for more room for collaboration and leading with purpose.

Another challenge that I believe is one that many will also share revolves around retaining and growing talent. Over the years, I have realised that this is no easy task, but it is also a challenge that I truly enjoy. The winning growth culture at Mondelēz which is all about each employee having a growth mindset, feeling empowered and being agile helps us shape the new generation of employees and a highly engaged workforce.

In achieving this, we have developed a leadership framework focusing on three values: love our consumers and brands, grow every day, and do what’s right. Each value has corresponding commitments and behaviours needed to support this culture, which sets us apart in the industry and helps us lead the future of snacking.

A+M: How has the pandemic evolved your role and impacted your job?

Lau: Since the start of the pandemic, I have been part of the special situation team to mitigate the challenges brought on by COVID-19. The pandemic has changed consumer behaviours, from where they now shop to the type of products and brands they prefer. There is a clear preference for brands that consumers can trust, and more than ever the business needs to uphold its commitment to growth and operational excellence. We have all needed to adapt and be more agile.

On a more personal front, the shift to working from home has meant learning how to make space and time to check out from work and take regular breaks. For example, my team is encouraged to take proper lunch breaks, set meetings for after 9.30 am, clock off early on Fridays, and take holidays when needed. Mondelēz launched “The Right You” movement last year to empower employees to prioritise their well-being, with pillars such as “The Right Body” and “The Right Mind” to encourage looking after our own physical and mental health, which I found were of great help to my team and me.

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