In a marketplace defined by complexity, disruption and change, today’s most successful enterprises are those that bring diverse perspectives and experiences to each new challenge. In fact, economic growth is more robust and sustainable when women and men alike participate fully. However, as more women join the leadership ranks, they should see themselves simply as business leaders, not as ‘female’ business leaders. A staunch believer in this philosophy is Marianne Kirkegaard. Marianne is a woman who delineates genuine magnificence and fierceness of spirit, whether it is in empowering businesses or empowering people.
An Artificer of Business Architecture
As President and the Chief Executive Officer of CSM Bakery Solutions, Marianne combines business acumen with go-to-market expertise, identifying the appropriate strategic and organizational structure and building the business around it. “The most difficult task when it comes to strategy is to focus, and thereby decide ‘what not to do’. Somehow adding activities, products and services is for most of us just easier than letting go,” she says. “The letting go part requires good business acumen and, as importantly, a lot of courage, an ingredient I don’t think a good leader can have enough of. And, of course, no leader will ever become successful with any of this without the right engaged and empowered team around him or her.”
Marianne has extensive international experience working with consumer products – food and non-food for more than 20 years. She has held a variety of executive positions at Unilever and Carlsberg Group before she joined CSM almost 6 years ago. She started her career in Marketing and Sales, but has for many years now been busy with general management roles of increasing responsibility. She has been fortunate enough to have been expatriated with her family to different parts of the world for the last 11 years. She is a member of the board of directors of AAK, a Swedish-Danish company producing high value-added vegetable oils and fats, and of Dansk Supermarked Group, the market leader in retail in Denmark. She has an executive MBA from the Scandinavian International Management Institute and a master’s degree from Aarhus School of Business.
A Personal Path of Empowerment
Marianne believes that the path of empowerment walks through the asphalted pavement of education. She wishes everyone – no matter where they are from – would have access to good education. “Throughout my life and career, I’ve been fortunate. I was raised by wonderful parents who showed a great deal of faith and trust in me and made certain I had access to good educational opportunities,” she says. She also feels lucky to have worked with multinational corporations, where she was positioned in challenging roles and given responsibilities that allowed her to leverage and continue learning. She believes that the best environment to learn, grow, and take some calculated risks is provided through the “freedom within a framework.” Marianne is grateful for the talented people who have given her that freedom, and played a major role in her personal and professional development.
“Without a doubt, authenticity and courage have helped me succeed more than anything else,” she says. “I see little value in not being as transparent and candid with people as possible, and I have found that most often people appreciate it. Most people can see through insincerity, and I don’t think anybody is comfortable in such an environment.”
Empowering Women in Business
Marianne’s vision for women is to see themselves less as “women” and see themselves more as business leaders. Women in business must intersect race, cultures, professions, faiths, sexism, generations and perspectives, rather than see themselves as victims. Says Marianne, “Unfortunately, I still meet women who feel unfairly treated in business life vs. their male colleagues. Sometimes they even feel victimized. And, while I certainly know and appreciate that it is harder to succeed as a female leader in certain cultures, I am convinced that the victimized attitude is not the solution to ever change that. Instead we should step out of that role, and through examples and good role-modeling, change this culture over time.”
Marianne believes empowered women in business should be no different than men: “In terms of being empowered, I’m not sure it’s any different for a man or a woman. I see an empowered person as one who dares to be authentic. It’s also a person who is comfortable with who they are and has the self-confidence and empathy to make the right personal and professional decisions, and not at least, who is perfectly willing to deal with the consequences of those decisions – whether they’re good or bad.”
Leading the Legacy of CSM Bakery Solutions
CSM Bakery Solutions is a global leader in bakery ingredients, products and services for retail, foodservice and traditional bakeries. The company connects bakeries and businesspeople with an international presence that includes 28 manufacturing facilities, four innovation centers of excellence and more than 7,000 employees. It also maintains strategic partnerships with partners all over the world to ensure availability of specialized ingredients, leverage unique product expertise, and offer known, trusted brands to help the customers grow their businesses.
Marianne leads CSM’s overall business performance and operations while also guiding the company’s long-term strategic direction. She’s perceptive about creating a work environment and a framework that will help her team be successful. “Things will never be perfect, but they can always be better,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to have the resources and people to make sure it is!” Marianne envisions focusing and developing the business to become an even better supplier to its customers in the product areas that it would like to be famous for. In addition, the talented team at CSM is working diligently to bring some exciting innovations to life.