Esme Borgelt’s career has taken surprising turns, from finishing a law degree in her home country of South Africa, to spending 10 years with Kimberly-Clark and the last 15 years at Kellogg’s where she is now the Managing Director for ANZ.
“I am originally a law graduate from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and coming straight out of university, joined Kimberly-Clark as part of their graduate recruitment program. Did a couple of stints, as they moved graduates around. Landed in sales and pretty much never left, ” jokes Esme.
“At the end of her 10-year stint at Kimberly-Clark, she was the Sales Director for the Consumer Division. Esme then left Kimberly-Clark to join Kellogg’s where she has been a key member of its ANZ Leadership. After almost 15 years of leading a massive team of passionate salespeople for the iconic cereal giant, Esme was tasked with the role of turning around Kellog’s ANZ as Managing Director.
Ahead of The Executive Leadership Summit 2019, Esme sat down with our CEO Dana Lightbody, to discuss all things leadership and how her priorities have shifted over the course of her career. Mentoring is high on that list of priorities for Esme as she talks about how it delivered great outcomes for Kellog’s business and culture.
Moving into Leadership
When asked about her career trajectory from sales to the C-Suite, if that was typical of her industry, Esme notes that her climb up the corporate ladder was far from traditional.
“I think in the past you would typically find finance and marketing leaders at the helm. In recent times as there is a great appreciation for execution, you see more and more salespeople step into more generalist roles. And it makes sense if you think about it.”
“I joke with people at Kellogg’s – I say ‘everyone’s in sales!’ We are all focused on delivering the same outcome, which is generating more sales. I think that is what makes Kellogg’s such a special place.”
With the new roles, came a new mindset and approach to what leadership looks like for Esme.
“When you get appointed to your first management position, you got thrusted into this role that you are nowhere near equipped for being responsible for people.
I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery and development ever since. When I started my career in the mid-nineties, good leadership was all about command and control,” remarks Esme.
“Being a woman and developing my career in sales in those days, you learn quickly to become mentally tough, not to show emotion, not to show any weakness.”
“But I think in more recent times, as expectations on managers and leaders has evolved from the command and control model. Those things that I learned early on in my career that made me good and strong, are the things that started to hold me back.”
After going through an intense leadership training program, it soon became clear that the ‘keep your emotions in check’ approach to leadership wasn’t working, and Esme realized she had become an ineffective leader.
“The mental toughness that I brought to the table meant that I wasn’t relatable for people. I couldn’t inspire people to be their best self or do their best work because they can’t relate to me. That was a huge personal turning point for me, and I had to learn to become more comfortable with being vulnerable.”
Changing her style from ‘command and control’ to leading with purpose and passion has enabled Esme to be more creative and strategic. It has come to a point of prioritizing team results over taking charge. For Esme, leading is ultimately about loving what the team has achieved together.
Leading with Purpose and Being a Mentor
Esme sums up the lessons of her long career by identifying the top two skills to lead teams well into the future – first, self-acceptance, and second, to lead with purpose.
“Learn to become comfortable with being you. When people are comfortable being themselves, all that energy can be redirected into achieving business results.”
The second skill is around finding your purpose in life – why you do, what you do and helping others to find theirs.
“Purpose to me has changed over time, and it has become a relentless focus on creating an environment where people can bring their best self to work. I take a great amount of energy from the success of others and enabling people to achieve outstanding results.”
According to Esme, “if you’re doing what you do in service of something greater than you then it doesn’t always feel that hard, and you get through anything.”
“I take a great amount of energy from the success of others and enabling people to achieve outstanding results.”
The Future of Work
There are big things happening at Kellogg’s, with some exciting initiatives that highlight exactly how work is changing and what the future looks for individuals, teams and organisations. Esme makes work exciting for her team at Kellogg’s with opportunities to play around with cross-training. For example – who would have thought that the massively popular Baby Shark Froot Loops was conceived from idea to shelf by a team member from HR?
“We gave her this project, and she absolutely nailed it from beginning to end. Her intention is to continue building her career in HR but she’s going to do it in a completely different way,” notes Esme.
Another cross-training project at Kellog’s is what Esme calls the ‘SWAT Teams’. At the beginning of the year, they put together multi-functional teams to solve ‘meaty’ business challenges. The SWAT Teams are not typically involved in the area where the problem is.
“The results that we got from that were stunning! People brought the time and energy to the work and came up with new and different solutions for us,” remarks Esme.
“In some ways we are changing the future of work. Which is going to be a lot more objective-driven rather than function-driven.”
Esme’s brand of leadership is just as surprising and exciting as her journey. It is inspiring to learn how she is innovating work by starting a collaborative and creative culture. With Esme at the helm, the next generation of business leaders is off to a great start.