BE: You’ve been in a manufacturing role, moved into information systems, then finance. You were responsible for all pet care and snack foods factories in North America, held a corporate staff officer role in finance, were general manager of the confectionary business, and held a corporate HR role. You attribute your varied career in almost 30 years at Mars Inc., where you’ve had more than 20 staff and line jobs crossing many functional areas, to your internal network.
ER: An internal network allows you to connect with individuals who can influence your career as well as help guide you through opportunities that you might not otherwise be aware of. Internal networking is building a wall brick by brick. You can start on the foundation level, and if you’re with the business for a while, you just keep adding bricks until one day you have a wall.
BE: How can executives build internal networks?
ER: They need to identify where they want their career to go and the people who can help them get there. If you want something, you have to move toward it. To do that, you have to find a way to add value, whether it’s exchanging information or identifying what you can do to help that person—be it a colleague or someone senior to you. We work in teams in our business, and if you help your team and individuals on the team succeed, they can support you in building your career.
You become a senior person in business not because of time but because you’ve built relationships with individuals of influence who recognize the value you can add. In your career, there’ll be opportunities that you’ll want to be considered for. The best way is to not have to interview for those jobs but to be considered by people who want you on their team.
BE: You mentioned that you’ve sometimes gained insights from people who were lower in the organization.
ER: One of the businesses is our Mars drinks brand, Flavia, and one of our guys is real gung-ho about Flavia. There are three or four levels between us, but we’ve connected before, so he feels comfortable calling me and saying, “Do you have five minutes?” Once or twice a month he’ll just come up with an idea and we’ll start talking. It’s not a test; it’s not something I do because we have some common bond in sports or anything else. It’s all about the business, and the great thing is he feels he has the freedom. Will it help his career? Probably. Will it help me? If he gives me a great idea, I’m happy to listen.