We Sit Down for a Conversation with CMA+SIMA’s New Chairman of the Board.

Our first interview of the new Board Member Spotlight series is with our newly-named Chairman of the Board Mike Gervasio. Mike currently serves as the Vice President of Category Leadership at PepsiCo, where he has spent over 20 years. Mike has been a longtime supporter of the CMA, most recently serving on our Higher Education board.

We sat down with Mike to discuss his new Chairmanship, the future of Category Management, and reflect on his 30+ years in the CatMan discipline.

Tell us about why you chose to accept the CMA+SIMA Chairman of the Board position.

I’ve spent the majority of my career going in and out of Category Management roles at various levels, from being an analyst to leading a team. I’ve been really blessed with the career I’ve had. I thought it was a great opportunity to give back and to spend a little time shaping where it’s going. It’s a satisfying discipline to be a part of, and I want to ensure it continues for the next generation.

What is the opportunity you see here and what are you most excited about?

We’re truly going through a new chapter in Category Management. I think COVID-19 is really highlighting how people shop and how the ways they buy their products are continuing to evolve. From a traditional brick-and-mortar, scan-based approach (where CatMan was based); to this Omnichannel approach with digital, direct store delivery, direct home delivery, etc. It’s a new, multifaceted system we have to evolve.

The other part that’s very exciting is how CatMan is expanding beyond traditional retailers and CPG industries to things like hard goods, home electronics and home construction. More types of business are embracing CatMan, so we’re seeing this expansion of shopper behaviors and types of solutions.

Looking back on your own career, what has been the biggest learning experience?

It’s funny, as Category Managers, we’re very logical people. Everything is based in fact, so sometimes it’s hard for us to hear “no.” So, I’d say the biggest lesson is learning that sometimes “no” is really the starting point of a conversation. Sometimes that’s a springboard to go back, think about a problem differently and propose an alternate solution.

Is there anything you wished you had done differently in hindsight?

Over the years, I think we’ve always “noticed” what to do next and have seen where we should be pushing, but we’re not always as fast as we could have been with change. We could have been faster in adopting new technologies and new approaches, we could have thought about org design differently. We had the ideas, but I wish, in hindsight, we were able to change quicker.

What has been your biggest professional success?

I think it’s two things really. First, when Kroger brought dunnhumby’s loyalty card capability over from the UK and implemented that initiative. I was the insights lead on the Kroger team for PepsiCo at that time, and really seeing how insights can shape new opportunities was exciting. Kroger’s growth was fantastic, our growth was fantastic, and the insights we got from the loyalty card data really drove that growth.

Second, was helping build the Demand Accelerator at PepsiCo, where we’ve created a new approach by combining all the shopper-based functions: insights, shopper marketing, CatMan space – and created a single entity for it. We’ve designed that against all of the businesses – from Frito to Pepsi to Quaker. It’s a really exciting time, and we’re really proud over the last 5 years that Kantar has given us the #1 rating with CatMan. So, I feel really good about the changes we’ve made and this new approach to our value-added resources to our customers.

When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what key attributes do you look for?

Transparency and the desire to collaborate. I think the best ideas are when two people and two ideas come together to form a single idea. I find when working with a customer, an internal partner or a 3rd party, it holds true. Combining two ideas often makes a better one. So, it’s transparency, collaboration, common goals – all those things make a great partner.

When you’re evaluating a new opportunity or strategy, what do you feel are the greatest predictors of future success?

To me, it’s the ability to scale or execute the idea. Too many times in my career, we’ve had an idea that works great in the board room, but we’re really not able to scale it or execute it broadly. The best ideas are the ones that can affect a lot of people or touch a lot of the business – those are the ones that make the biggest impact.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Before I was at PepsiCo, I was on a pretty strong track with another company on my road to management. And I made a lateral move to come and work at PepsiCo. I had always admired the company from afar and I was willing to take the risk for the opportunity. I wanted to come in and learn, and I was willing to bet on myself. It was the best decision I ever made.

What do you think will be the biggest change in retail over the next 3-5 years?

It’s the blurring of where and how people acquire things. A great example is how people are buying their groceries during COVID. The places they’ve gone to, the online options, direct home delivery. I think this tradition of going to a short set of retailers and picking out their products is behind us. Shoppers expect to buy anything, any way they want, any time they want, any style. And that’s changing retail completely.

It’s going to be a challenge for all of us. We’ve come to understand traditional retail really well, with small levels of change over the years, but lately, the rate of change has been greatly accelerated and it’s only going to get more non-traditional in the near future. Luckily, over the last few years, PepsiCo has built an incredibly talented eCommerce team who bring a relentless focus on consumer centricity and are enhancing our digital capabilities to rise to the challenge of this shifting landscape and enable PepsiCo’s continued growth.

In our field of CatMan and Shopper Insights, what is the one thing that gets you most excited right now?

CatMan, up to this point, has been centered around the products. You look at sales over time and make decisions about a set portfolio of products. At the center of it, is this category definition. It might be soft drinks or potato chips, and you make choices and trade-offs within the category. I think with this new “always shopping, anywhere, anytime” paradigm, we have to pivot to the shopper as the center of the process.

If you’re not shopper-first and making decisions off the person and their preferences, you’re going to miss the full potential. I think adding shopper insights to this, as we did a couple of years ago, is absolutely spot on. It’s really two parts of one discipline, and the “shopper-first” approach is where we’re heading.

Professionally, what are you most passionate about?

I’ve been doing this for a while now, so the part I’m most excited about is developing people and teams. I’m constantly amazed at some of our newer talent. How they’re bringing new ideas, breaking new ground and pushing the agenda forward. They’re leveraging new technology and new data skills, and I think it’s exciting just to let these folks loose. Give them the right experiences, give them the right coaching, but let them lead the change and help us push to the next level.

What did you think of this interview? Sound off on LinkedIn and let us know your thoughts!


Want to learn more about the CMA+SIMA Board of Directors? Check out this recent blog.