Founders Mentality with Francis Debeuckelaere

LS International

In today’s fast- changing business landscape, the tendency for companies is to grow and expand rapidly, which most of the times means a great increase on the complexity and ramifications of the business. In this matrix of people and functions, one can get lost and start to disconnect from the companies’ core identity. Therefore, we brought Francis Debeuckalere to the “Career Success Podcast” to ask him about “founders’ mentality” or how to act and feel as if the company you work for is your own. Francis is the Regional President of Europe at Bacardi, a company he has been working at for over 20 years. With roots in Sales & Marketing, he has been a regional and international leader with renowned success in his field. Before starting his career in Bacardi he worked in other FMCG companies such as Nestle or Alken-Maes. With Francis, I’m going to try and figure out how one can stray away from complacency and adopt the “founder’s mentality”.

Lauren: Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success Podcast. Today we have invited Francis Debeuckelaere to discuss the “founders’ mentality” or how to act and feel as if the company you work for is your own. Francis is the Regional President of Europe at Bacardi where he has been working for over 20 years. With Francis I’m going to try and figure out how one can stay away from complacency and adopt the “founders’ mentality’ in any size company. Welcome Francis!

Francis: Hi, hi Lauren! Francis on the other line live from Brussels.

Lauren: Thank you, I’m live from Barcelona. So yes, today we have invited you here to discuss a topic which you are passionate about, and I can’t wait to learn a bit more about, which is the “founder’s mentality”. Can you start by explaining a bit about what the “founder’s mentality” is?

Francis: Yes, well let me tell you a small story before starting off, you know, my parents had a store here in Belgium, so I grew up in a store and sold there before I started by university studies. When I was working in a company, honestly my father, often he didn’t understand why we did all these budgets and why we spend all this time making lists and all those stuffs. He said, we were an independent, and your world where you come from doesn’t seem to be the one in which you are living right now, because multinationals work differently. So, that is why I wanted to talk about “founders’ mentality” essentially. So, if you go further on the “founders’ mentality” for me it is essentially, acting in a company or multinational or a company as if it is your own business, spend it like it was your own money, this is for me is the essential part of that and honestly in a lot of multinational’s there is often a lot of, I would call it complacency and not a lot of “founders’ mentality” because a lot of people hide behind our what is called consistent growth, which means not necessarily optimizing or making sure that the pattern looks well. What is it for me, is act as if it is your own business, act independent and as if it was your own money basically.

Lauren: Ok, so, in large corporations, I think the challenge will be some people are managing P&L, other people aren’t managing P&L, how do you see that, how can you really act like a founder in large corporations in various environments?

Francis: Well, it is a very good question, and it is one that at this moment within Bacardi equally, you know we are a family company, but equally you know we define it very simply: if you want to be part of the company basically there are only two jobs (and that is what by CEO is using what I am using often): or you are in the front line or you are helping the front line. Basically, these are the two jobs that exist, if you are doing something else, it is probably not the right thing, or it is a function that shouldn’t exist probably. So, it is about, being in the front line or helping the front line that is basically the principle of that, which is quite challenging for a lot of multinationals to make sure they act on that. It is not necessarily and easy exercise, but it helps you to stream-line the organization, and to make sure to do the things within the company that should be done and essentially, and more importantly, strip out what shouldn’t be done anymore.

Lauren: And from the point of view of processes, I know this varies a lot from company to company, in terms of how many processes they have, why do you think companies create so many unnecessary processes sometimes?

Francis: It is a very good question. I think some are needed, I am not talking about having a system like SAP or things like that if you are a bigger multinational, it is certainly needed to make sure you get things done or we can say, well let’s have conquer because we are going to make sure we know where people are is ever there is a crisis or, you know, there is an attack or something, we know how to look at all the people. But honestly, I am more and more convinced that a lot of these processes or so-called processes or best practices, are simply made to justify jobs. I think best practices are often things that other companies do, even in our case, we often look at, I would call it, the really, really big ones and we just copy their stuff sometimes, without thinking if it is really adding value. You know, what does it really change within the company, does this differentiate us? Does this give us a competitive advantage with regard to our competition? But I think a lot of processes are added just to make sure that maybe a bit confrontational but often I think a lot of processes are just made for people to be happy within their job and not taking risks, because “founder’s mentality” implies automatically risk-taking.

Lauren: And what about people in organizations or listeners here that may not want to be founders or maybe they just want to follow processes, maybe not innovate… where do they sit in this equation?

Francis: Well, if you don’t have the founder’s mentality, honestly, I can only recommend two things: first of all, get rid of them and the second one I prefer to work for my competition, because, you know, it is not about whether you are HR or Finance or Supply Chain, it is about every day, you know, what do you do to make sure that we will do a better job, and to make sure that we have a top to bottom line, and if some people prefer to do that, honestly I would prefer them to go to another company. I would challenge that even I every company, I think I would need that, I don’t know maybe go to a government it you want to stay like that, to sit and just do some stuff and do some processes, but it is essentially about adding value. So, it is not necessarily all about the big deeds or Supply Chain. For instance, listening to clients and know what they want instead of us making sure that we hit the best percentage rate or forecasting. Probably I would not recruit them.

Lauren: And what about people who are looking for companies that have more of a “founder’s mentality”, are there any companies that you would recommend?

Francis: Well of course, Bacardi, but that is normal because I work there. But I think my advice to people who look for that job, it depends on, often, the interviews you are having, I often ask them: what do you want to do with your life and your professional career? Do you like to do things? because a lot of people often say “I want the freedom”, but often when you recruit people, they prefer the frame work and they prefer everything to be organized and that is ok, I don’t say that is not possible to have any “founder’s mentality” within a certain framework in a company, specially if they get bigger. But honestly, I think it is easier when you are in a smaller company, that is for sure. I am definitely convinced we are 6000 people at Bacardi, and even there I am pretty sure that if you are not afraid, if you are authentic, if really you look externally, I am definitely sure that in any company you can make that difference. So, if you really like to be kind of an entrepreneur, I would preferably really recommend going to a bit smaller or mid-size company, that would probably be easier and there will be less hurdles.

Lauren: And how do you get your team to feel like founders? And also, how do you think that these founder’s mentality has helped your career?

Francis: Well, let me first talk about the team then, when you talk about a team, I think the first thing which I have in my team is some smaller things and some big. The first one, be authentic and express their opinion, genuinely express their opinion about what they think, this is how you recruit good people, so that is the one. The second one, I am a big fan of having shorter meetings, making sure that the pre-reads are ongoing, action points meeting, which is less about presenting all these very long power points, just as an example, within all of Europe, the maximum of slides you can prepare is 15 and the maximum you can present is 6, believe it or not this cut out a lot of administrative work, a lot of people, assistants everywhere of making these huge power points. So, the more you get action oriented, the more you create, I think, winners, motivated people, and then of course the big challenge is to cascade this feeling of people being fearless and daring to say what they think and adapting it.
Then the last question of my own career, about what is has helped me, in all honesty, I think at the beginning of my career I think it risked me of being fired a few times, and in the end is what I got, but I think in he beginning, when you express your opinion and say what you think and just say “look I would not do that because of money”, then it is when people think you know it is just a process of spending that money, be it, there is so many examples… but yes, there is a risk, more than 20 years at Bacardi, could have been fired in the first three years? Absolutely, probably more than once, but I think in the end it pays off. For me is leaving a legacy and making sure everyone gets respected for what they do. The more we make business, the more good, the really, really, good stuff at that moment, wherever you go afterwards in a company, when you leave your legacy, this really expresses your passion and the fun you are having in your job.

Lauren: I have a question, about the team point, a lot of companies, or some companies I should say, are doing away with power-points all together, do you think they are necessary today?

Francis: Well, look, there are three possibilities, or you don’t do anything, there is no presentation or anything, the other one is a power point and now we are getting back, because there are some really, really big companies, that are getting back to Words. Honestly, for me, it doesn’t function too well the Word Document, basically everybody is making a power point and they translate it to a Word Document which should not be objective, but I like to have the base as a start which means 6 slides where we discuss on, which basically takes you 10 minutes to present them and we discuss them and we decide afterwards. So yes, I like to have a smaller one, and that is my personal way of working with my team.

Lauren: Alright, well Francis thank you so much for joining us today on the “Career Success Podcast”.

Francis: Thank you very much!