Laura Rytkölä - Global Director P&M at Cloetta

08 December, 2023

Laura Rytkölä is the Global Director P&M at Cloetta in Stockholm, Sweden. She has been with the business for over ten years, having previously spent a decade at Henkel Norden. Laura started her career in Accounting.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role at Cloetta?

I really like what I do, so it’s a hard choice, but I would probably say being able to drive change both in business and in people. It’s really exciting.

Also, things are always changing and there are new challenges to tackle, so the variation between the challenges we are working on and ongoing projects is probably the most rewarding part.

Which internal stakeholders do you deal with most?

The most frequent ones would be those in my team and my colleagues in the local markets that we have a very close collaboration with within the Pick & Mix category.

On top of that, there’s the executive management team, as well as my Supply Chain colleagues – so entirely covering the flow of the business model.

I know you lead four different teams. What does communication and the structure look like in those teams?

Everything in the business model links together; the teams are working on different aspects and focus areas of the same business model. The key is to make sure that everything is connected and makes sense.

We try to structure the targets for the team in a way so that everyone has the same general headline. So, when we are talking about driving different priorities, everyone will recognise what is going on.

There are projects where some parts of the team are working together more closely and we need to make sure the rest of the team is aware of what is happening – it’s keeping tabs on the whole communication flow, knowing who needs to know, who needs to be involved, and then ensuring everything is progressing nicely.

You have a background in Finance. How are you finding it being more involved in business development, strategy and so on?

I would see a Finance background as a clear plus, because it can give you a very nice overview of what is happening from a financial transaction point of view.

It also gives you a strong foundation of understanding profitability and how things are, what we do, and how it is impacting profitability.

I see it as an added benefit and something that has been a definite help for me.

Do you ever want to go back to the Finance side of things or are you quite happy with your current role?

I am very happy with my current role, but it is something I have thought about - maybe in the right circumstances. However, for the moment, I am definitely having the time of my life, so I’m not looking to switch back.

You’ve been at Cloetta for ten years now and you were at Henkel Norden for ten years, too. If you reflect back over your career so far, if there was one thing you could change, what would that be?

That is a hard question, because I don’t think I would change anything. I’ve been trying to make conscious choices in terms of what roles I apply to, and which roles I take on, so everything has built up to where I am today. I wouldn’t go back and change anything career wise.

The only advice I have is to worry less about the small things and not sweat about it too much, as it will work out in the end. But I wouldn’t change anything.

If you were to think about the three to five key drivers to success that you might look for in employees or team members in general, what would you say those are?

Especially when recruiting people into the team – and we’ve recruited quite a few over the past few years while we’ve been building the core structure – I am looking for collaborators and people who are generally interested in working with others.

I am also looking for people who are curious. I want them to be curious about how things work, how things are interconnected, and how it will affect not only the short term, but also the long term. That type of genuine curiosity to get things and just purely being eager to look for solutions.

I would say those are the key elements: collaborators, being curious, and always looking for solutions.

In terms of high-potential employees and high achievers in general, how do you aim to retain those employees?

It depends on what works for that specific person. Generally, great leadership has worked for me. I have had the benefit of working with fantastic leaders who have seen potential in me; otherwise, I probably wouldn’t still be at Cloetta.

But, in general, I think recognising strengths in people, guiding them in the right way, and then providing opportunities to grow.

In my own team, we try to get everyone involved as much as possible in different elements of the business, so that they will get a very broad understanding of what it is we are doing. We’re not fine with people just understanding their own part; they will need to understand the broader scope, and especially our high potentials - then we will keep feeding them with challenges to grow further.

How do you identify those high-potential employees?

At Cloetta, we have a process and a nice, structured way of working with the staff, both assessments and development plans.

For example, in day-to-day business, we look at what is working, and for example we see someone who has a fantastic ability to find the essentials in a huge amount of data and present it in a fantastic way, or someone who is very good at manoeuvring in a complex team environment and being able to deal with conflicts in a constructive way. It’s looking for those types of people and what is coming through on a daily basis.

From there, it’s trying to paint a bigger picture and have a discussion around the faith we have in them, how they see their future, and their plans. Hopefully, we’ll find a sweet spot where we can meet on a common interest.

I can imagine there's a good degree of risk-taking that needs to be had. Is that quite prevalent and do you feel you take a lot of risks, as well?

Yes and no. Sometimes, in business, you’ll need to take risks. Looking back into the past three years, there’s been a huge amount of uncertainty.

You just need to do your best at identifying the pieces of data that you’ll need to evaluate and base your judgements on, and get people aligned and on board with it.

In the end, what might have felt risky really isn’t risky anymore, because you’ve done your homework and assessments. From the outside, it may look risky, but it’s about analysing the consequences of potential areas of risk and creating a plan to mitigate those, then we go ahead.

What do you see as the challenges that await Cloetta and how do you plan to overcome them as we step into the New Year soon?

The inflation situation and the development of consumer spending power is a situation that I believe many companies are facing, along with trying to estimate its impact. 

Also, the development of raw material input price and what level that will stabilise on. I think those are the bigger question marks that the industry at large is currently dealing with. 

What does the hiring and onboarding process look like at Cloetta?

Starting on the hiring side, the first key success factor is the job advert and conveying the joy of doing what we do, and the challenges that come with it, to attract the right candidate base.

We also try to go quite broad in the beginning to have very brief discussions with multiple candidates to get a feel about what we are dealing with, then potentially tweaking profiles or backgrounds that we are looking at depending on the role and the specific area that we’re looking for; we filter the process step by step.

We have four or five steps in the whole recruitment process, and we involve the primary person running the process, which is the recruiting manager. The recruiting manager can then get a better feel for the candidate, and potentially discuss changes over time in the interview touchpoints.

In addition to that, we also involve close team members; they could be from another team, a manager, or a close colleague who will be working with the person we are looking to recruit, as well as HR.

We try to make sure that we get different aspects and viewpoints into the evaluation and decision process, so that it is not coloured by one person, and we get multiple angles. When I run the process, it’s very helpful to get someone else’s opinion, compare thoughts, discuss the candidates, and plan for the best mutual fit at the end.

What are some key measures that are actively taken to reduce bias in the recruitment process?

I would probably say going broad in the beginning to get a broader candidate base. Also, Pick & Mix as a business model is a bit of an odd one out; a limited number of people work with P&M, so when we recruit people, almost no one has any past experience of the business model. It’s very rare we’ll find someone who has. So, people are coming in cold, which means that we need to be open minded in terms of the backgrounds we are looking for.

A person who would be a fantastic fit for packaged FMCG brands might not be the right fit in the P&M business. So, from the get-go, we need to challenge what it is we are looking for and what competencies are important. 

Also, when getting more viewpoints into the recruitment process, you can sometimes get very attached to a candidate. Then, someone else comes into the evaluation process, or we use case studies to get a more objective view of what the candidate is able to deliver, which helps reduce bias in the decision-making process. 

What are the current recruitment challenges that you face, not only finding the right person, but with the market?

I am not sure I see any huge challenges. We’ve been lucky or at least worked hard to make sure we have the best possible starting points. We have been listening to other companies or other teams recruiting, and you hear sometimes it’s difficult getting candidates.

We get plenty of candidates and generally have a good base to evaluate from. I think it’s a combination of a really nice business we are working with, and candy/snacks is an ideal category, too. I think most people are intrigued and we get a nice amount of attention.

What could a job seeker do to stand out in the current market?

Pay attention to the vacancy, because you can tell when someone has spent time thinking about it and addressing their application. I understand from an applicant’s point of view, if you’re applying to several of jobs, it can get tiring over time. But you can split out the people who are not paying attention, and those ones immediately get cut, because it’s not a good starting point.

Also, read up on the company and, when you land the interview, be prepared with questions, because that is going to show your interest. The best scenario is when I get eager candidates who come prepared with a lot of questions - most of them will probably be answered during the discussion, but make sure you have a couple of extra ones, as it shows you really thought about it and are interested. 

We had one candidate who came in with a quiz. It was part of a case presentation, and he took the opportunity to have me and my colleague compete against each other in recognising different sound bites. That was something new and fresh that I hadn’t seen before. He also got the job in the end.

What’s your secret to building a strong network?

For me - and the people who are in my closest network - there is generally a common interest and a general desire to be of service, to help out and support.

Often, it comes into a type of common interest in the beginning and then builds further.

If you could go back and give yourself some career advice, what would that be?

I think it goes into progress and not perfection. Mistakes happen and it’s not the end of the world; you don’t need to land everything perfectly every single time. Take a moment when something unexpected happens or when you feel as if something has failed. Take the time to analyse it, take the learnings and try again, because there will be a lot of times when things don’t work out correctly the first time.

How do you deal differently with failures now compared to when you were younger?

I wouldn’t say I take them lightly; I take them in a different way. I’ve had to learn to take a step back and analyse.

There are a lot of things that we are trying for the first time and there is no instruction manual, so there is going to be trial and error. There’s going to be a lot of testing and evaluating, adjusting, and testing again.

I think it’s more the mentality and the curiosity of it – why did it fail or why did it not work the way we wanted it to? Can we change it or is it a complete failure and not even worth trying again? Can we do something else? When things don’t work out, at least you learn more. You need to be curious about it and take that with you. You’ll now know what works and what doesn’t and try something else instead.

Don’t dwell too much on your mistakes, because that’s probably the worst thing you can do. Give yourself a moment to be sad or disappointed, but then shake that off and do something constructive.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

I’ve learned over time and in discussions with my boss - who has been a great support in my journey - about creating the best possible circumstances for your team to succeed. That’s the type of mindset that I try to apply with my team and managers in my team, to see what they need to do the best possible job. Then, in a sense, get out of their way or see where you can support them.

It's about creating the platform for your team to succeed. It’s not so much about you knowing everything; it’s really enabling your team to do the best they can.

What about junior members? How can they impress their bosses?

To get in my good books, you need to be curious, and you should be open to understand and learn, and ask a lot of questions. Often, what I see in junior members is that they are a bit cautious in the beginning and they think their opinion isn’t important – it is always important.

If you have a question, you need to ask it, because I want you to understand it, I want you to grow, challenge, be more, and learn more.

Don’t be afraid to speak up, because your voice and your opinion are important, and you may be able to see things that others don’t. Every voice is important.

Why do you think junior members are more afraid to voice their opinion?

It may partly come from feeling inexperienced compared to the people around them. They may think, if other people haven’t asked a certain question, it is a stupid question, because - if it was good - someone would have already asked it.

Also, sometimes part of the environment doesn’t necessarily allow for it. So, in my team and in general, we are trying to create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions and actively participate in building the plans, which takes effort from everyone to make that happen.

Is that something that's encouraged daily? To speak up, ask more questions, and be more curious?

It is and we spend a lot of effort on it. We have a joke in my team that the answer to every question is, “It depends.” It depends on the market, the customer, and other circumstances, etc., so you have to spend a lot of time thinking, analysing, and evaluating things, otherwise you will miss half of the important things.

That is something we try to instil into the team and then joke about it, because it is always a bit more complicated than you thought in the beginning. But then you just need to go figure it out, because again there is no manual on how to do this; you need to figure it out as you go.

Sustainability is an important topic right now. What are the key challenges your business is facing?

I’m not sure I would phrase it as challenges. We have fantastic colleagues in Cloetta working on our sustainability journey and - looking back a few years ago - it is more broadly ingrained into the entire business.

We have different people working on different aspects of it; Procurement on raw material sourcing, etc., and everything is tapping into the overall sweeter future agenda we are driving.

From a Pick & Mix perspective, which is closest to hand from my daily life, it’s around assortment and making sure we are increasing the share of products with non-artificial flavours and colours, and making sure the ingredients we have are of a good quality, if not better.

In addition to that, we are working on vegan alternatives and ensuring there is a nice offering in the portfolio. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of years. Vegan was a bit of a polarising factor and people were afraid of it - some people are afraid it’s not going to taste as nice, but the key is to really create nice tasting products and there as so many good options right now. We are happy with driving that agenda and we can benefit from that.

Also, we work closely with our suppliers to offer different types of alternatives. With Pick & Mix, you choose exactly what you want, so there is room to make your choice and we want to be part of offering that.

Additionally, we are working on reducing hard plastics in the outer cases we transfer our products in, and we have a high ambition level on reducing everything both from our own factories and our third-party supplier portfolio. We contribute in that way, as well.  

Thank you to Laura for speaking to Hanna Gibson, Senior Consultant in our Nordics division. 

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment