Thibault Mesqui

Managing Director at Heineken

Head to the moon, feet on the ground (how to bring to life a successful Strategy)

19 Minutes

During his keynote at the Strategy Fest, Thibault Mesqui discussed how to build a successful strategy in 5 steps, and using his personal experience at Heineken to illustrate the journey.

Step 1: Have a Bold Long Term Plan
Step 2: Know Where You're Coming From (can also be step 1, actually)
Step 3: Put in Place Your Tactics
Step 4: Be Decisive - Make Choices
Step 5: Communicate Your Strategy, Make It Live and Breathe

More about
Thibault Mesqui

Passionate leader with 15years of multicultural experience in top FMCG companies. “Jack of all trades” and master in strategy, Thibault is committed to creating positive change in business with people in the centre. Combining a diverse background in operational marketing, strategic marketing as well as business development in Innovations, he is driven to challenge the status quo, setting up inspiring strategies and making sure to embed these strategies into his team's collective and individual plans so that they go from a dream on paper to business success in reality, following pragmatic and structured steps (start simple, scale fast). Originally from France, Thibault has been working in different European countries for the last 2 decades and is currently in the Americas operating as a Managing Director for Heineken in Saint Lucia.

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Video Transcript

Good afternoon, good evening, everyone. Sarah Karim, thanks a lot for this introduction. I am Thibault Mesqui, and I am very honored and humbled to be talking with you today at Strategy Fest. And if we're being honest, I'm also a bit stressed to come right after this amazing standup that we just saw. 

Today I want to talk to you about how to bring it to life. A successful strategy. It's not going to be about rocket science. Most of the things that I will tell you, you know them, that it's not going to be there are going to be mostly examples and things that I read throughout my career. 

Well, let me start with that one simple question. So what's your strategy? when you hear it right, you hear the pressure, these expectations, this incredible heaviness on your shoulders when that word hits your ears? Right. And I've been there. I know it. And yet, it's crazy because strategy is very natural to us. Take the example of my sons, they are nine and seven years old now, they devise different strategies. There are no older than three or four. They will want to get a toy and they will go to my wife and say, Mommy, Mommy, can we get this toy. And as many parents do, she would probably say no. And then they would go away a bit annoyed we might make a good deal on the let's go back to my wife and say, you see what we did? We did our bit because we really love you, but we have that toy now.  And if it was still a no, they were waiting for me to come back. They would run to me. Give me the best of hugs like daddy we missed you do you know what happened today? We agreed with mom that we would get that toy. When can we go and buy it? And we're not asking anymore. And the crazy thing is that more often than not, they would get the toy, but that is for totally different talk about compromise and parenting.

Let's go back to strategy to show you that everyone has a strategy. And I can hear you now saying, yeah, but, you know not getting a toy when your five-year-olds and setting up for success in the marketplace are two different things, yes and no, so let's dive a bit into the principles of strategy that others say when you're five years old and we're probably seventy-three years old. 

Let's take a more ambitious goal than having a toy when we're 5 years old. I want you to give me the next five minutes of your strategy to land someone on the moon. You know, sort of crazy right here, you know, rocket scientist, how do they do that? I know nothing about astrophysics, do I? Probably neither did Kennedy at the time, or Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk when they dreamed about putting someone on the moon. And they did. So let's pretend we were one of them for just one second. This is great. What do I need to put someone in the mood to let someone know when I need a lot of people that know what they're talking about because I'm not one of them. So I need an astrophysicist. I need rocket scientists that will help me understand what it takes. They will need to build a rocket, to build a rocket they will need a lot of money. So I need to raise money. I will certainly need someone to fly that rocket to the moon, and if you like Kennedy and you want to be the first country to land someone on the moon, you need to create a lot of sense of urgency around that. 

And here you have five steps, one strategy, putting someone on the moon. And again, you might say it's a bit simplistic, but again, what I learned throughout my career is that the strategy shouldn't be all the nitty-gritty details, about you know, how to put someone on the moon. It should be your idea, your vision, your long term vision, and a few building blocks to get there. That is what your strategy should look like. 

So what makes that a successful strategy? Well, it always starts with a vision, the long term vision. And the bolder the vision, the better it is, aim for the moon, but also in simple terms, because everybody in your company, in your team, your organization needs to understand where they're going. So don't use complex terms, keep it simple we're going to the moon guys. 

The second point is to start knowing where you're coming from, where you're starting from. If you want to go to the moon, you need to understand the distance you need to bridge to go from here to there. And for that, I will invite you. To be brutally honest, I've seen a lot of strategies in the past on paper fantastic, but not working because actually, the starting point was the correct one. 

An example that I had in 2012 when I joined Heineken in Croatia, my mission was to double the volumes of the Heineken revenue. What's your strategy? New evidence on my shoulder. So I talk a lot to my colleagues, to my peers in the first weeks is like, what's your strategy going to get there? And they told me, you know, no worries Thibault, it's all taken care of. We have a strategy by the book. We're taking three pillars from the Heineken global brand. We're activating them through the TV ads, digital, print, shop floor, bars, supermarkets, you name it, to the market mentioned by the book. And they were doing that by the book, but it was not working for a simple reason, and actually, nobody spent time to understand where we are starting from, we knew where we were going but not where we were starting from the basics when in place. 

People were seeing these amazing ads on tv, but they were not finding the brand in their supermarkets and when they were finding the brand it was not the right format or certainly not the right price, the basics were not there. To be brutally honest with you, where you are starting from. That's going to help, you know, how you're going to get to where you want to be. 

The third point is to put in place your tactics, you know, and see them as building blocks, so your strategy as a bridge between the point where you are today and the point where you want to go and to have that bridge hold your foundations, pillars to make those pillars rock solid based on facts as much as you can base them on facts. It's not always possible. But the more facts you have, the more solid pillars would be, the more solid your tactics would be. And marry that with your experience or your guts.

The fourth point is to really make choices, like a reporter said once, the essence of strategy is to choose what not to do and that can sound a bit counterintuitive, but it is pretty right near where you're building a bridge to go from A to B. You have infinite possibilities, maybe not infinite, but a lot of possibilities of where you put the bridge and what kind of shape it's going to have is going to be straight, is going to be a bit like you bent. So you need to make choices for yourself, for your team. You need to narrow down the field of opportunities and possibilities that's going to help you focus and make sure that you put the right tactics in place at the right time. If you don't do that, it's going to be very difficult because you're always going to have too many possibilities and so many choices. So that's it. You have a vision. It's aspirational. It's simple. You know where you come from and the tactics you made. You have a strategy on paper. Great, we can frame it, put it on your desk and look up to it and you're done, right? 

That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about today because when I left my career, they said business is not run on paper. And as strange as it can be on your paper, business is run on the ground, or the shop floor, online, in the markets where you do business. So you need to bring it to life. And how do you do that? Let me give you a few tips, again these are just from my career. 

The first point is when you have your strategy on paper you need to share it time and time and time again to get everybody in your company, in your organization, in your team needs to know where they're going and how they're going. And too many times we keep the strategy for the C-Suite level and then people don't know where they're going. So it's difficult. You know, your world, if you're building a rocket, you will land the person that builds the door to close off the rocket, you want to know that this rocket you want them to know, this rocket is going to the moon, is going to give them a bit of a hint on how well you need to weld it, you know? So share your strategy 

The second thing is you need to align your teams and for this. You have a very simple thing. Use your KPIs, make sure that you build a KPI tree that goes towards your strategy. So, for instance, you know, usually we give KPIs that are very functionally driven to make a function work better, which is fine. So Supply-Chain will say, hey, optimize your production plans, optimize the production so that you can produce more with less money to your sales team who are going to say, hey, I want this amount of innovations or increase revenue by that percentage, which is fine. 

But for instance, if you're a company, a manufacturing company, and your goal is to become more sustainable one screw it right. You should give to a supply chain. Just this and to your sales team I want some innovations to increase my revenue. By that, I really gotta make sure they're going to have profits if they do their job correctly. But will you get more sustainable? So you might want to tweak those KPIs so that everybody works as one. You might want to say to the supply chain, I want you to improve your productivity and make sure that we also improve our energy consumption. And in a sense, I want you to have to focus on performance that will improve our carbon footprint, not the other ones which the elections there. And you're going to have an increase in revenue and you're going to have your optimized production. But they are still working for a bigger role of being more sustainable. 

Spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year. It's an exercise not difficult to spend that amount of time, and you will see that it is going to be easier later on to fulfil your goals, your long term goals. 

Third tip: celebrate victories, find a few low hanging fruits, win them, celebrate them big time. The reason for that is we all want to be a winner. I want to be a winner. You probably want to be a winner. We all want to be part of winning adventures, winning strategies. So the faster you can prove that your strategy is working, the better it's going to be. More people read writing scores. So sure, every little step, how it's winning and how your strategy is actually winning one. You welded your first door for the rocket, celebrate it we're one step closer to putting a man on the moon. Simple. 

The next point is a bit less obvious. Make bold moves, choose a few risky bets. And if you're in gaming or in sports, you might know that's the bigger the risk, the bigger the rewards. But that's not what you're going to look for in this case. you're going to look for the bold moves that are going to shift the mindset of your teams. Because when you want a winning strategy unit, you need everyone to work as one. 

So if you remember if you recall this example at the beginning, provided in Croatia I told you the basics of it in place. So a month later after I joined, I entered the strategic planning meeting, as we have, you know, once a year. I can remember I was working on the leftovers of my sales colleagues, marketing peers and my management team. In front of me, I said, hey, the first up of our new strategy would be to fix the basics like nobody listened to you, couldn't care less, not interested. And to do so, I could tell you we're going to spend zero money, zero dollars on TV and then you have all the heads turning around to you, big eyeballs like what did you just say. Thing is, beer is relying a lot on marketing, on communication, so when they hear that like he's got to be crazy, I could see them, you know like he's crazy.

 And, you know, because nobody talks about it. They went out of the meeting just thinking I was crazy. The second day, I mean, the same third-day people were starting to come to me saying, hey, what did you mean? I'm really serious because, you know, it's a risk and you need to double your brands' volumes. If you're not using TV you're going to have trouble doing that. And you were explaining a bit more all of a sudden, you had your colleagues saying, hey, what can afford you? You told me that this is too big or too small. What are you looking at? Say something you know, if you want to increase your distribution, you need to hit that good price point and all of a sudden you start to have people working together. In a new strategy. 

So think about those bold moves. They don't need to be too risky, but they need to be things where people will really need to create a bit of a shocker so that people really change their mindset and work with you. And by the way, the brand not only doubled their volumes the Heineken brand in Croatia, but now it's five times bigger in nine years after, you know, long term effort of putting the right people, the people in the right mindset since day one. 

So a few bold moves will help you and then what you need is to keep it alive to make it more, the reason for that is as good as you can be as visionary as you can be, you can never with certainty, foresee how the conflict will evolve in the next five years. Take the example of Covid it has hit us all quite hard. I know working at Heineken in St. Lucia the company strategy was based on growth, but it was working pretty well. 

But all of a sudden Covid hits, tourism is down, 72 per cent of the GDP is from tourism so purchasing power is down, no way you can have growth. So we sat with the team and said, hey, let's review our strategy because our end goals didn't make sense. And in that case, it did. So how are we going to do? We had planned this many innovations, what can we do and make a choice to make a bit of a sidestep. We are totally away from growth saying, hey, we still get a lot of new innovations. But the ones that are going to really be received by the consumers, the ones that they can afford right now, are also using that time to make efforts on costs not only to cut costs but to make sure that we review what we're spending, where we're spending, so that when the time comes to follow or to after growth again, we do it in a much healthier cost basis and in a much better way. 

Keep it evolving. You know, sometimes it's even more drastic than that when I was in Amsterdam, a global innovation manager working on a whole draft left for the whole draft of beer you know, that you have in the pub from the dispensaries, the one that is poured fresh cold super-light beer, the best beer we wanted to bring that experience to your home. So we did research and development. We have this machine, the sub, you know, small machine that you can pour yourself from. And when we had this machine, was it, hey, let's global. This is a real competitive edge for our company. So we really wanted to scale. 

And, you know, the appliance was a very nice appliance. It cost a lot to produce. So we priced it quite premium as a premium experience. And we give to people with five, six beers like wrinklies. But then after a few years, we understood that we reached, you know, some people like some niches and we couldn't get to scale, so we had to shift with our strategy. And we talked to consumers that were interested but didn't buy it. And we understood that they were interested in having much more beers paying more for the beers and more premium beers, more craft beers even not Heineken's beers maybe but pay less for the appliance. So we had to shift our business model to say maybe we need to subsidize their plans, lose a bit of money to gain a bit more money on the beer. 

So we had to pivot a bit our strategy, keep it evolving. That is what you need to do and to do that review of strategy at least once a year and it doesn't need to be changing. Don't change it too often because, you know, you're going to be there. But make sure that once a year, at least, if not twice to review it critically, brutally and say, hey, does that still make sense? Do we need to change this and that? 

So really not rocket science for me today as I come to the end of my speech, but I had to tell you simple things. Start with your vision, head for the moon, make it big but simple head for the moon, but keep your feet on the ground because business is won today, at least here. So make your strategy based on a vision. Make sure you know where you're coming from, honestly, put your tactics in place, share, share and share your strategy with everyone. Celebrate victories. Think about some bold moves to make sure that you put the mindset's in the right direction. And make people keep it alive. 

So, hey, my time is up. I really enjoyed talking to you today. I hope you enjoyed it, too. If you want to connect with me outside or discuss a bit further. Please do so. Contact me on LinkedIn, very easy. And if I have one thing to ask you today, remember this. Head to the moon feet on the ground thanks and enjoy the rest of the strategy fest. Bye.

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