Belinda Tumbers is the Managing Director AMEA Snacks at Kellogg Company. Her key strengths include commercial strategy development and execution, leadership and team effectiveness including driving strong employee engagement, building effective and long term internal cross-functional relationships as well as external customer relationships, solid P&L and fiscal management.
What attracted you to join Kellogg and how would you say your career has evolved with the company over time?
I joined Kellogg nearly 23 years ago, attracted to the fact that it was a multinational with strong brands and it presented an opportunity to move across functions and even countries. It is also a diverse company that celebrates differences and has a strong purpose, where giving back is as important as the results that we deliver. Never did I imagine, back in 1998, that I would be sitting here today running a business that spans the AMEA region. I have been very fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to live and work in Australia, USA, New Zealand and now Singapore, learning from new experiences and different roles. I started in Marketing, but I spent the bulk of my career in Sales, then the last five years in a general management position, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
With your various geographical relocations and experiences, you must have encountered many cultural differences in the workplace?
Every culture is very different and as a result you need to adjust your style to be effective in your role. When I first moved from Australia to the US, despite both being developed markets with English as the primary language, there were countless differences in culture that I had to navigate. Being part of such a diverse region now is what I love about my current role because no two cultures are the same. One day I might be talking to Japan and the next to our team in South Africa. It is so important that you learn to influence and also to flex your style so you can be effective in dealing with these different markets and cultural nuances. Living and working in Singapore is also great as it is a melting pot of cultures and with that comes fantastic diversity.
How has the D&I ethos at Kellogg supported your growth within the company?
I found the FMCG industry to be very male-dominated when I started out and at times it was hard being a female working your way up. Whilst there has been progress, which is pleasing to see, there are still areas where improvement needs to continue, such as sales, supply chain and general management. I am lucky to work for Kellogg where diversity and inclusion is a top priority and we are recognised for it. We have a number of programs that support diversity, including our Women of Kellogg program, which develops initiatives to attract, promote and retain women in our organisation. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Kellogg appreciating the role that women can play and what they can bring to the table. I have been fortunate to have a strong support network and sponsors that have helped me advance in my career.
Tell me a bit about the Women of Kellogg program and how are you involved in that?
It's a global initiative, one of many diversity and inclusion initiatives that we have as an organisation across the world. The Women of Kellogg program includes things like supporting International Women's Day; mentoring and reverse mentoring of women in our organisation; ensuring we have robust succession planning and good career paths for our female talent so they can see good career progression. We also have female leaders from across our global organisation share their stories so we have role models for others to learn from and be inspired by. As an organisation, we're also very aware of what it means to be a working parent and we want to create a flexible environment for everyone to flourish. We've also got retention, attraction and promotion metrics for diversity to make sure that we are hitting targets in the AMEA region over the next three years.
Have you seen any differences in how the programs are executed across the different continents that you've worked in?
No, because it's so entrenched in our organisation and so the focus remains pretty consistent across all markets. There is a difference in the diversity metrics across markets though for a variety of very good reasons. Obviously, there are markets as well as functions with a much higher percentage of females to males in the organisation. As an example, when I was in ANZ, we had a 50/50 leadership team and females occupied most of the key roles such as marketing director and sales director. In my Snacks role today, we are largely a 60/40 male/female split in the leadership team and we're pretty close to gender equality across salaried employees. In some markets where there may be cultural barriers the numbers may look different to this. Kellogg is very overt in their focus in supporting, promoting and retaining women in the workforce.
Tell me about your involvement in the FIA.
The FIA is the Food Industry Association, the not-for-profit governing body that looks after the interests of food manufacturers and various associations across Singapore. I'm sitting on that operating council for an interim period, alongside companies like PepsiCo, Nestlé and Danone, and we basically represent the industry. The FIA’s role is to bring together the food industry to champion initiatives that promote sustainable growth and support regional policies. I also sat on a similar board in Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council.
What can you tell me about your leadership style and how it empowers women?
As a leader, I'm pretty clear on what I stand for. I like to drive accountability down into the organisation; empower people to challenge the status quo; and having a solution-oriented mindset where people come to you with answers rather than relying on direction from senior leadership. I believe that it's really important to help people to succeed. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than having people get promoted into roles that they've really wanted. Generally, I see myself as very open, very transparent and non-hierarchal – I have an open-door policy and love chatting with people right across the organisation. It's very much a case that I'm accessible to anyone because we're all working towards a common objective and it's important that we do that in a collaborative way.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
Building a strong network within Kellogg at different levels across the organisation and having sponsors at senior levels, both regionally and globally. It is so important that females have this to draw on. We often think that we don’t need it, but in reality, to advance we probably need it more than our male counterparts do.
Is there any particular advice you would give for women who are trying to progress in their careers while also managing family responsibilities?
I am often asked about work/life balance and managing career with family, but for me, there is no such thing as work/life balance – there is only life. You need to make choices in life that make you happy. When you get to 80 and reflect back, you want to be able to say you have lived the best life possible, driven by the choices you have made along the way. If that means having a career and managing a family, then it is absolutely possible, and you will find a way to navigate both. I don’t think there needs to be a trade-off between one or the other. Managing a career and family is a balancing act, but that’s true for both men and women. For me, it comes down to prioritising, having joint responsibility for your family with your partner, and working for an organisation that recognises the importance of the family unit as much as they do employees.
What obstacles do you foresee for future generations of women and is there anything we can do about it?
It is terrific to see progress in terms of more women advancing into more senior roles and taking CEO positions, but it is slower than I would like. For me, obstacles are there to be overcome. We need men around us to support the diversity agenda and the advancement of women in the workplace. We need women to take control of their own careers more and ask for things that they often don’t. We need workplaces to offer flexibility so that people can live their best life. I feel optimistic that a lot of the barriers that women have faced will be minimised in the future. I have two young daughters and it is important that they are learning independence, learning how to have a voice and learning how to be strong and resilient without losing sight of who they are. We need future generations of girls that know what they want and then we need to clear the path for them to go out and get it!
Is there anything that you could suggest to organisations to improve their diversity and inclusion?
I believe it is important for organisations to have a clear diversity and inclusion agenda, one that is communicated to all levels of the organisation and brought to life via meaningful initiatives. Employees are looking for organisations that have this – they want to work for companies that celebrate diversity and promote an inclusive workplace. They want companies that are purpose-driven, where they feel accepted no matter their preferences; organisations that support the right causes and do the right thing by their people. It's really important to have an agenda that addresses that for people, both to attract them to your organisation and also retain them within it.
Posted over 1 year ago