How an art history degree prepared Elise Burditt to be director of biscuits at Mondelez
Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest roles about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.
Elise Burditt, associate director of biscuits, UK & Ireland, Mondelez International
This week, Elise Burditt tells us how she came to be the associate director of biscuits, UK & Ireland at Mondelez International.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?
Growing up I wanted to be an art historian (and even majored in it at university). Though on the surface my job may not seem all that similar – especially the business management parts – marketing and particularly advertising, creativity and communications has so much connection and overlap with art that it’s not all that surprising to me I ended up here.
How did you get your job? Tell us the full long story.
I actually spent the first five years of my professional life working in US politics – not the typical place to start for a CPG marketer. During that time, much of my job was speechwriting and political strategy – I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but effectively I was marketing candidates and ideas instead of products. Once I made the decision to move on from that industry, I earned my MBA to round out my professional experience and transitioned into brand management from there.
At the time, I feared being ‘behind’ as I had a fairly non-traditional background compared to my fellow students who came from finance, consulting or engineering. What I quickly discovered was that the experience I had early on and the skills required to be successful in politics (communications, strategic vision and leadership, influencing) would be incredibly useful through graduate school and in my subsequent brand management career.
I joined the Mondelez business in North America where I worked across a variety of US flagship brands such as Oreo and Ritz, doing everything from innovation to brand strategy and communications to general management. After six years, I was itching to really stretch myself and be out of my comfort zone, which led to me transitioning to join the European business, leading first the Gum & Candy and now the Biscuits portfolio for the UK & Ireland. Despite my relocation being only four months before the pandemic hit, I wouldn’t change anything along the way – I am grateful for my non-traditional experience as I think it helped shape me in really important ways both as a marketer and a leader.
OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
I build brands. I lead a team of brilliant, passionate marketers to develop, protect and grow brands that people know and love (and we sell some biscuits along the way).
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
My family definitely understands the fun parts – new product development and advertising. When I was leading innovation for US Oreo, I remember many times waking up to text messages from my sister with dozens of ideas for new products and flavors.
What do you love most about your job?
Getting to work with such a variety of amazing and talented people within the company across a variety of teams, functions and countries (and including our brilliant agency teams, true partners in our brand-building efforts). It’s also a privilege to be able to look after brands that people know and love – when I tell people what I do, more often than not they will share an emotional connection or a memory of eating our products with family and friends (Cadbury Fingers is a frequent favorite).
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
When I joined the industry, there was much more focus on getting big company experience to develop classical marketing skills. I think it’s very different now – with so many brands in the market of all sizes and a rapidly-changing external environment, there are so many more ways in. What I am looking for the most when hiring for my team is the ability to learn and deliver impact quickly – things change so fast that being able to build new skills and add value has become even more important, regardless of subject matter expertise.
What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?
Culture is a hugely important consideration – even more so now, when companies are dealing with constant uncertainty and change. We spend a lot of our lives working, and for me, it’s so important that we surround ourselves with people who support one another through challenging times.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?
Agility and problem-solving – things are constantly changing in our industry and in the macro environment we operate in (the last 18 months are proof of that). It’s critical to be able to face the challenges that come with this constant change and find solutions to move us forward.
Who should those who want your job read or listen to?
I think it’s most important to be curious and to read a variety of things (as well as be a consumer of media and culture!) Everyone will find different things that resonate with them. Personally, I often listen to How I Built This, a podcast that features the growth stories behind well-known companies – I love getting inspiration and learning across different industries and businesses as it helps me from becoming too narrowly focused.