Best known for its iconic Mars Bar, Mars the Company is so much more than that. It’s biggest selling products is surprisingly Pet food (they own the well-known brands of Pedigree and Whiskas). Along with other household names such as Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s and the more recent acquisition of Wrigley’s, Mars has become one of the world’s largest food manufacturers and the third largest privately owned company in the US.
I have been lucky enough this year to visit two of the Mars Manufacturing sites in the UK, as part of the Onsite Insights visit programme which these programmes support. The first was to Mars Drinks in Basingstoke and the second to Mars Chocolate in Slough. What struck me at both was how engaged and passionate about the company they work for every employee was.
Every Martian (a term they like to use about themselves) appears to have a true commitment to the company and a desire to stay for life. Whilst on the visit we met a third-generation team member and apparently, this isn’t unusual. The free chocolate and pet-friendly perks may be part of it, but I believe it’s definitely more than that. It is, I believe because they feel valued and are truly engaged in the goals and aspirations of the company. This is no mean feat in a world of constant change, transient labour and short-term careers.
The Mars Culture is underpinned by their five guiding principles – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom. It is clear to any visitors that these aren’t just words on the corporate wall, they are integrated in all key decision-making throughout the sites.
Mars is quite a private company and not just in terms of ownership. They rarely open their doors to the outside world, but that doesn’t mean they are not involved in both local communities and charities that are important to them. The company employs over 72,000 globally and with a turnover of over $33 billion is a force to be reckoned with. To the outside world, the Mars family are reclusive, however to their employees they are regular visitors to the sites. They engage and clearly nurture the family-owned environment that was created by their Grandfather Frank Mars Snr.
Career progression may be one of the reason Mars has so many lifers, the diversity of the company’s brands and business means there is opportunity for advancement and fresh challenges. They actively encourage cross-divisional talent movement. Structured peer reviews and appraisals ensure that each employee has a clear understanding of their own direction and contribution to the company. The company also funds personal development for each of its employees and has a strong mentor programme.
Engagement doesn’t stop on retirement either, one of the fabulous initiatives we saw on the visit to Mars Chocolate was a comments wall contributed to by previous site managers and employees who are periodically invited back to see how the site has developed. This struck a chord with all that visited. It demonstrates a truly inclusive culture that cares deeply about the wellbeing of its current, past and future employees.
A commitment to quality and continuous improvement is what you would expect of a food factory and the Mars sites are no exception. Both factories demonstrate excellent levels of lean and visual management. Lean tools, good work flow, Kanban systems and standard operational procedures are evident and there is clearly a commitment to review and challenge manufacturing processes. New automated packing equipment has removed much of the manual handling at Mars Slough, and whilst highly complex, has removed many of the previous health and safety hazards associated with repetitive manual handling.
Health and safety has always been an important driver in operational improvement, and a continued focus on this has seen dramatic improvements at both sites. Their approach has been to systematically review hazards and Near Miss activities, and implement corrective procedures as required. Simple and logical yet still missing in many manufacturing sites.
The suggestion scheme for improvements at Mars Drinks is a simple T-Card system in each area of the factory where employees raise suggestions, they are approved, or declined and actioned as appropriate. Again, simple but effective. This visual system is reviewed weekly by line managers and it works. No huge reward system, yet sufficient suggestions to know that this approach works.
And Mars continues to grow, they are innovative in their products, smart in their acquisitions but most importantly they genuinely care about the health, well-being and engagement of all employees.
Our next visit to Mars Drinks in Basingstoke is on 24 May 2017