LEADERS SURVEY: Mondelez Australia president Darren O’Brien speaks to flexing style and rapidly shifting taste

Adrian Rauso
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Mondelez Australia president Darren O'Brien.
Mondelez Australia president Darren O'Brien. Credit: Mondelez International

The man in charge of some of Australia’s most iconic snacks says customer preferences are changing at breakneck speeds.

“We used to talk about product life cycles in 10-year increments and sometimes product life cycles were 20 or 30 years or more,” Mondelez Australia, New Zealand and Japan president Darren O’Brien told The Nightly for its exclusive Leaders Survey.

“Fast forward to today and we’re creating new products for every celebration and giving season.

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“Consumer expectations for novelty and innovation are higher than ever, requiring us to continuously anticipate and adapt to shifting trends.”

Cadbury, The Natural Confectionery Co., Oreos, Ritz and Philadelphia are some of the brands in Mondelez International’s huge stable.

In Australia, the Chicago-headquartered business operates six manufacturing plants across South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania with approximately 2000 employees on its books down under.

Mr O’Brien says a big part of his job is juggling the legacy of the Mondelez brands with new innovations, pointing to Aussie chocolate staple Cadbury as a key example.

“We recently celebrated 100 years of Cadbury in Australia and my key responsibility is to make sure that we’re still the most loved and trusted brand in another 100 years from now,” he said.

“We’re currently investing in new manufacturing lines to produce the Cadbury brands that people love for the next 20 to 30 years at our plants in Ringwood (Victoria) and Claremont (Tasmania).”

The Melbourne-based Mr O’Brien has worked his way up the Mondelez ladder over the past 16 years and says he has learnt to be flexible in his leadership style to cater to different audiences.

“One of the greatest lessons I have learned in leadership of a global company is to have flexibility in communication styles and a willingness to listen,” he said.

“They’re essential skills in bridging cultural gaps and empowering others. Flexing your style doesn’t mean being inauthentic, it’s just a shift to suit your audience.

“Australians talk fast, we love our sports, and we also tend to put a high value on winning. But that doesn’t mean that that’s going to be a winning formula wherever you go.”

The former Masterfoods marketing manager says finding what energises you is another key piece of advice he’s taken on board.

“Effective leadership requires resilience, humility, and unwavering determination and in some regards you do have to have an endless source of energy,” he said.

“By viewing every day as an opportunity to drive positive change, I find the motivation to lead with purpose and authenticity and it’s my source of energy.

“It sounds lofty, but the reality of it is regardless of whether you’re the president of Mondelez or whether you’re doing an incredibly important role in one of our factories or dealing with our customers, the decisions that you take, the actions that you take, can drive positive change in our world and the world of our suppliers, customers and consumers.”

Mr O’Brien also believes embracing sustainability and transparency is paramount for consumer-facing businesses to thrive in the current climate, once again pointing to Cadbury’s evolution.

“At Easter, for example, we changed the packaging of our Hunting Eggs … by making the switch to cardboard we saved 131,000kg of plastic and over 200,000kg of packaging,” he said.

“It doesn’t just make a positive difference to the planet, it makes good business sense as more and more people are choosing brands which align to their own values and we’re seeing that reflected in our sales.”


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