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Calling all Martians

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Calling all Martians.

It’s hard to stand out in today’s world. Even, it seems, if you make great chocolate.

I hadn’t thought much about the competitive world of confectionary until I read about American company Mars Inc. trying to fill 70,000 jobs by offering unlimited candy and a 10 per cent bonus for arriving at work on time.

The seductive photos of Snickers bars and M&Ms caught my eye, as did the notion of a bonus simply for being punctual. The more I read, the more intriguing this private company with a “deeply secretive past” became.

Mars is a family-owned business formed in 1923 when a father and son team — Frank Mars, a self-taught candy maker, and his son Forrest Mars Sr., a Yale-educated engineer — came up with the Milky Way bar. It was inspired by a malted milkshake they’d enjoyed together; because the main ingredient was nougat, it was bigger and cheaper to make than competing bars but still tasted chocolatey.

Seven years later, Mars introduced peanuts and created the Snickers Bar, the world’s best-selling international confection today.

Over the next 80 years, the company diversified beyond candy; its brands include Uncle Ben’s rice, Eukenuba, Pedigree and Whiskas pet food, Masterfoods and Dolmio sauces and ingredients and Alterra Coffee Roasters.

While its brands are well-known, Mars is an intensely private company and, until fairly recently, stayed completely out of the limelight, refusing media interviews and declining access to financial statements. Even the company’s bankers had to earn the right to look at the accounts.

Legend has it contractors who repaired candy-making machinery were led through the Mars factories blindfolded. Employees, known as associates or (amongst themselves) Martians, are forbidden to talk to anyone about their work and Mars won’t participate in industry events, for fear their secrets will be stolen.

The company’s head office in McLean, Virginia is a nondescript “fortress of silence” with less external signage than the CIA headquarters just two miles down the road.

Privacy is part of a corporate ethos articulated by the Five Principles of Mars: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom.

Quality at Mars means taking care of tiny details that consumers would hardly notice — millions of M&Ms are rejected every day because their Ms aren’t perfect or their shells not shiny enough.

Although 1,000 Snickers bars come off the line every minute, not a drop of chocolate tarnishes the factory floor. Apparently there is less bacteria on a Mars factory floor than in an average household sink.

Efficiency is key to the company’s success (Mars produces more candy per employee than any other company in the industry) but the principle of freedom is closest to the Mars family’s heart: “We need freedom to shape our future; we need profit to remain free.”

That means the family don’t want to be answerable to the views or pressures applied by shareholders or the media.

Unfortunately, as the company plans to hire 70,000 new associates over the coming decade — it currently has 85,000 people working in 400 facilities across 78 countries – it will need to overcome its desire for secrecy.

Recruiters are actively visiting university campuses offering boxes of candy (and unlimited supplies if you’re hired); a range of interesting roles including global making-things-more-awesome manager at Skittles (essentially, a brand manager); and the opportunity to move within the organisation to the pet food division in the unlikely event you tire of candy.

Mars is an unconventional business that’s managed to stand apart from its competitors, despite its reluctance to stand out.

 

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