Atilla Cansun

LS International

Successful leadership is not easy. Driving a team forward and producing outstanding results time and time again is not something that every leader is able to do. During this Podcast, we speak with Atilla Cansun, Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Committee Member of Merck Consumer Health Company. Atilla is responsible for leading globally a brand portfolio of almost a Billion Euros, which consists of 9 strategic brands in 6 different categories. If anybody knows how to lead a team successfully, it’s Atilla.

Atilla says “I am fully convinced and wholeheartedly dedicated in making a difference by applying emotional intelligence.

Listen to the full Podcast to hear Atilla’s opinions on:

–          Changing leadership styles towards the spirit that is needed in the teams he works with

–          The biggest challenges that the teams currently face

–          Biggest skills shortages today

–          How the business attracts and retains talent

Lauren: Hi, I am Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Our guest today is Atilla Cansun, Atilla started his career in marketing in European Headquarters of P&G at the end of 1996. Atilla successfully progressed his career in marketing where he worked on various categories such as fabric care, haircare, as well as styling and color, on both the professional, and consumer side. During his time at P&G, he gained experience across various markets around the globe. In 2013, he was hired by Merck Consumer Health as the Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Committee Member where he is responsible for leading globally a brand portfolio of almost a Billion Euros, which consists of 9 strategic brands in 6 different categories. Atilla oversees ideation, design, delivery and in-market implementation as well as expertise centers such as market research, design, digitalization and professional brand building. Welcome Atilla.

Atilla: Hello

Lauren: Thank you so much for joining us today

Atilla: Thank you for inviting me Lauren.

Lauren: I would like to start the discussion with the topic of leadership. Throughout your experience, you have probably witnesses first hand that not every team needs the same style of leadership. How do you adapt yourself to different teams and how do you know which leadership style is best for each team?

Atilla: Here also I think there’s the conventional answer which is I listen to everybody and look at the data and what’s the history of the business and the brand. I am fully convinced and wholeheartedly dedicated in making a difference by applying emotional intelligence.

Lauren: Uh huh.

Atilla: And changing the style of leadership towards what is the spirit that is needed in that team, and a lot of the time that, you know, data may be similar/same but what makes the difference is what is the motivation, what is the spirit, the emotion that’s out there, and what does the team need to feel like, in order to master that challenge that ahead of them. And this is where I’m trying to also, in some cases, be more assertive and strong and pushing and motivating because they’re just needing that kind of spirit in that team to challenge the brand challenge or the business challenge at hand. Some other cases the team may be coming out of, you know, a little bit of a disappointing faith. They have given it their all but the results are not coming in and in that sense, they may be needing more hand holding, they may be needing, you know, their wounds to be licked, if I may say that way.

Lauren: Sure

Atilla: And so, if I think about the big strategic brands of Merck Consumer Health, think about how I varied in terms of how I am connecting with the individual teams. It’s more what the team is needing from a spirit, from an emotional perspective that makes, I think, a huge difference in how I can bond with that team and ultimately it impacts also the result/the output, how excited they are about me as their leader, but also about each other to move ahead.

Lauren: I mean looking at Merck Consumer Health what would you say are the biggest challenges that your business will face in the next 5 years?

Atilla: The biggest challenge for us is going to be, as our industry is very very fragmented. It’s how do we create scale and to become one of those few big companies with big global brands where, you know, from a structural economics that we are winning and viable and can continue to invest behind our brands. So, historically this industry has been driven a lot by local research, local product development, and local advertising communication. We’re seeing is the more we create scale, the more we can actually invest into the brands to build the brands. So, the biggest challenge is going to be us being the number 8 on a good day on the ranking, how can we actually focus on few brands than have that great potentially, we call them love brands, and to spread that love across geographies and make them bigger to help us also with the structural economics to allow me to invest even more into those brands.

Yeah, the second biggest challenge is going to be I find critical for Merck Consumer Health but in general for the consumer health industry is the ability to strengthen our connection with both consumers, patients, but also healthcare professionals, be it the digital touch points. So, I see a huge need for catching up. These can be some other parts like for example beauty of the fast-moving consumer goods for the higher organization to get more fluid, to get more literate in digitalization especially in social media. That is as small, has been historically the smaller part of the investment into the brands and specifically, as far as brand building is concerned, everybody a little bit in this hype of, you know, now in the social media is coming digitalization is the buzz word out there. But, I find that this is going to be the biggest challenge to make those skills, the digital connection, and being able to convey content and bond with consumers via social media is going to be the biggest thing that will make it or break it for companies.
So, over the past the 3,5 years we have made big investment into building capabilities internally. And to also better understanding what does qualification of content mean and moving away from the other extreme of, you know, here’s my radio copy, here’s my TV copy, I qualify it and with the click of a button, it goes out there and hopefully performs as it did like in my testing. That does not translate anymore into this heterogeneous, if I may call it that way, social media environment and you need to force humanize people. There’s not the protection of that medium in between and you need to be able to gain insights from real life and allow consumers to shape jointly with you as a marketer your brand and so that is, I find very different from how I was to describe brand building 10-15 years ago, and that is going to be elementary to any newcomer into marketing and that is going to be a huge building block for any of the consumer health companies out there. If they crack it, they will go to the top, if they don’t then they’re going to probably lose out.

Lauren: Sure, and let’s shift a bit, because I’d like to get your input on a couple of talent management topics. I wanted to ask you what do you see as the biggest skills shortage today which may or may not have to do with the digitalization that you were just discussing.

Atilla: So, the one topic that is near and dear to my heart is the ability to make a difference from a brand building perspective to make a difference on this emotional territory. And the conventional way of approaching, you know, doing what makes sense, showing what does your product do, what is the concrete benefit that it delivers to you.
To me it doesn’t move the needle and that when we’re recruiting people and therefore looking at their grades and, you know, what kind of clubs they were leading, and how successful they were in their internships, that it’s not making the cut any longer. We need to find ways of grasping better that ability, there’s a German say Fingerspitzengefühl which is this ability to read a little bit in between the lines, ability to connect actually with the situation that, you know, smell the air a little bit in the room. That piece is a rarity and you need to intentionally go after that and find those people to be able to a build and nurture great brand builders so that for me is the big territory.
We have been, we have described a strategic choice for Merck Consumer Health as love brands and as in to overtly and intentionally evoke emotions, provoke, shape, but bonds with consumers out there, which has worked very very well for us over the past 2 1/2 -3 years and we have grown double the growth of the market place almost 25%-30% on some brands. So, we will continue to invest into this and this will require us, both at the recruitment stage to be very sensitive to this ability to pick up and convey emotions, but also from a capability building perspective across the board, build on that skill to be able to build brands that open people’s hearts, that people fall in love with, which is what I call love brands.

Lauren: And also, what does your company do better than other companies to attract and retain talent?

Atilla: I find it is very important starting with myself for so many talents out there to connect with the company and their purpose. Especially for millennials, we tend to recruit more juniors into the company. They’re looking for much more than just a transactional bonding with the company which is their salary, it may have worked 20 years ago, but now people are looking for, especially talents that have fantastic potential, are looking for a higher order purpose. I personally feel very very good about Merck Consumer Health purpose we call it “We One Hundred”. It is a dream if I may call, you know, our Executive Committee talks about it always, it’s a dream, a vision where everybody around the world should have the right and should get the support to live 100 fantastic years on Earth. So, what does that mean? It means that we will have to help the society prepare every single individual for a long, much longer than people could have imagined, you know, 20 years ago, even much longer life. It means that we have to invest into kids already in school age into learning next to math, and geography, and physics, also about their body and how that body needs to sustain for 100 years or more. It’s not a sprint. That they have to be using their bodies resourcefully. But also at the other end of the spectrum with the elderly. How can the company, us also as employees, help the society better integrate elderly into becoming productive into having their own contribution to the younger groups and so those are the 2 ends that we concretely have picked up.

Lauren: Sure, I think those are definitely standout examples that make Merck Consumer Health a bit different. Well, Atilla thank you so much for joining us today.

Atilla: Excellent. Thanks for those stimulating questions and thanks for inviting me.

Lauren: Great and thank you to all of our listeners. Please tune in next month for the next episode of the career success podcast.