How a Consumer Goods CEO Built a Post-Merger Executive Team

CEOs face all kinds of challenges when it comes to forming and maintaining an effective and cohesive leadership team. Trying to do so as the result of a merger during slack U.S. economic conditions is one of the most challenging situations of all.

That’s just what Newell Brands CEO Mike Polk has had to do this year when his company merged with Jarden in a $15-billion deal.

Throughout 2016, Polk has had to oversee two very important but very different forms of combination. One of them involved bringing cohesion and efficiency to the joining of dozens of consumer brands from each house, ranging from Newell’s Sharpie markers and Baby Jogger strollers to Jarden’s Rawlings baseball gloves and Mr. Coffee machines.

The other major task Polk faced was to merge the leadership teams of the roughly equal-sized companies into a single, cohesive whole—and to subtract insiders and add outsiders as part of the formula. While he was CEO of the acquiring company (the former Newell Rubbermaid, now Newell Brands), the acquired company (Jarden) actually generated more revenue than its partner pre-deal.

“We have a profound opportunity to create one of the leading consumer-goods companies in the world,” Polk told Chief Executive. “We’ve got a great set of plans to unlock growth potential in a lot of our categories and to accelerate not only growth but market share.” How will he achieve the company’s goal?

Here are 4 facets of Polk’s strategy he will rely on for building an executive team.

1. Tap a passion to win. Polk saw a lot of untapped potential in the various brands and looked to include executives who saw the same thing. “Growth is the engine that powers us,” he said. “We believe we can be transformative value creators for our shareholders by bringing the company together as one, with one strategy, and to continue to nurture the entrepreneurism inherent in our brands and in the choices we’re making. We wanted to build a team with a passion to win.”

2. Build expectation and ambitions. Newell Brands is “committed to building our people and our team for the company that we aspire to be instead of the company we are today,” Polk said. “So we brought people together from a number of places with that commonality. We need big ambition in what is a wide-open playing field.”

3. Put the consumer first. Only by “putting the consumer first in everything we do,” Polk said, “can we unlock our growth potential and create a true growth algorithm for the company. And our team has worked over a long period of time, in various contexts, to do just that.”

4. Rely on relationships. Selecting a management team included picking people from both of the predecessor companies, but also people whom Polk knew—and knew he could rely on—from past assignments and other companies. “Relationships are important,” he said, “so you know how one another works. And when you get great people aligned around an ambition, they can do great things.”

Even if CEOs are not dealing with making a mega-merger work, they can still utilize Polk’s principals to tailor-make a team that works best for their firm. It’s all in understanding the priorities.


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