In this Best of Series episode, we hear from Angela Buglass, former CEO of Trilogy International, on creating your own destiny, cross-functional experience, and being at the pinnacle of a listed company.
We interviewed Angela in early 2018 when she was the CEO of Trilogy International, the parent company for popular consumer brands across such categories as skincare and luxury home fragrance products.
She is currently the MD of Hello in New Zealand, a women’s health brand, while also serving as the Chair of Cosmetics New Zealand and sitting on the board of The Beauty Collective.
After just over 3 years at Trilogy, Angela went on to become CEO of Antipodes Water.
Her experience also includes roles with leading FMCG players Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, and these roles have taken her all around the world.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Angela talk about:
- How gaining a variety of experience at smaller organisations was fundamental to her development in landing senior roles at large multinational brands;
- Her routines and recovery methods that allow her to achieve life balance;
- What she looks for when recruiting executives to her team; and
- Why communication and honesty will allow you to be the creator of your own destiny.
Connecting with Angela Buglass
You can connect with Angela via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
“We don’t talk enough about the losses, because losing is just as interesting in terms of the development process.”
General discussion points
- When you’re studying at university, you’re often getting the highlights, the best parts of the story – “Here’s where we won”.
- The setbacks I had personally were probably just me not being focused enough, not knowing what I wanted or stopping to think about what I wanted and what the path was to get there. But I look back and think, well, I had a lot of fun in those early years of my career too, and you don’t want to get too serious too soon.
On broad career experience in small organisations
- When I worked for a smaller business the thing that was really interesting was even though my role was sales and marketing manager, I was exposed to everything, not just the little bit of marketing I needed to do for my brand, but also the selling strategy. Also working with finance to make sure the cash flow was good. Working with supply chain to make sure I had stock to sell in the first place. And even working on product development, which I would never probably have gotten close to in the L’Oréal world. I found that I was quite interested in all of those factors because to me they all spin around together. You can’t have one without the other. And that’s probably the best learning from a smaller business.
- People should absolutely think about working for a smaller / mid size business for experience; for me it was fundamental in my development. I think you have to be aware of what you’re opening yourself up for, that you must be sure that you can cope with rapid variation daily or within a short time period. So you’re switching from a finance meeting to a supply chain meeting. You’re taking a different seat at the table to make decisions when you’re in a supply chain scenario to that when you are with marketing.
On life balance
- I’d probably say I’m not good at life balance right now. I’ve read a lot and I continue to read a lot about how my own personal wellness is so important to my company’s wellness in terms of being able to have clarity, have vision and lead by example.
- We’ve had quite an intense period of growth in our company and as, you know, a recent acquisition and that has probably meant more hours than normal. And there comes a time in a CEO role where you can’t say, “Sorry, I didn’t meet that objective”. There is absolute expectation by the shareholder that you will see those tasks through. I guess that’s why often they say CEOs have an optimum period to be in their role because it’s a lifestyle, more than just a role.
On the most important part of her routine
- It’s my diary management and the way we are thinking ahead. I had a new EA start last week and she said to me, “How do you do it? How do you have back-to-back meetings and get even basic things done in the day?”
- We’re talking about having diary gaps and breaks, but looking ahead to next week saying, what do I need to have done? We’re putting deadlines on my diaries for prep time, deadlines for my team to have things sent to me.
- We’ll usually go at least four or five weeks out just flicking through, because it can be very easy to run out of time to prepare for something that needs a lot of good thinking.
On what propels her to success
- It is about defining what you are missing as a leader and then finding that for yourself. So, if for example, you’re a really relationship-driven person and you’ve spent many years doing great sales at a territory level or you’ve had the same customers for many years, you might identify that what you really need is fresh customers or a fresh market so that you can test your well-honed skills on something that you’ve never experienced before.
- You might have just stopped learning altogether within your organisation and feel that there is nowhere to go internally. Maybe you need to step sideways into a smaller organisation or a bigger one, bearing in mind that a smaller one will mean a wider role, whereas in a bigger organisation it will mean a narrower role.
On what she looks for in future C-Level Executives
- Confidence first. I don’t mean arrogance, but confidence and commerciality. You rely on things such as CV’s and reports from executive search interviews, a whole lot of traditional methods to assess a person for a role. The reality is it’s their ability to do the job, enjoy the job and relate to the rest of the team. That appears to me to be most important based on my experience.
- I’ve employed people at C-level who were perfect on paper and even had good reviews from previous employers and big organisations. And again, that big versus small organisation thing played out.
- If you apply for a hairdressing job, you must go and do a day or a couple of hours on the floor showing people that you can cut hair. In our Executive world, you don’t get a trial run and that’s possibly a bit unfortunate because how people interact and fit into the culture and how they actually use their academic skills to develop the business are the two biggest things for me and I’ve seen that done well and I’ve seen it done not so well.
On her best interview questions
- I try to go down the path of a parallel life because everybody has a dream that they wanted for their future, what they thought they would do when they were younger. So, for me it’s often asking, “Where should your career have gone? Or where would you have liked it to have gone?” Often it ends up in some soul searching mid-interview.
- You can also start to have a little bit of a feel for what their disappointments have been in their CV rather than talking only about the high points and promotions. I like to know what the bits were that haven’t happened for the candidate so far.
On building a great track record
- It would depend on the category in the market. I always benchmark my brands against the category and both should be growing.
- If the category is flat, then maybe it’s OK to not have growth in your numbers. But if you’re introducing a whole lot of new products and not growing, then there’s definitely something wrong.
- If you’re spending more than you were spending before and still not growing, there’s definitely something wrong there too. So, it comes back to some good commercial metrics.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- First and foremost, be honest with yourself.
- Are you doing something you love or are you doing this job because you think you should?
- Are you honest about where you want to go and how you want to get there?
- And are you honest with your team about what the job is?
- There’s a lot there around communication, self-development, honesty and really starting to build your own plan. You must be the creator of your own destiny.