We interviewed International MBA alumnus Keenan Thompson, Global Director of Innovation at ABInBev. Keenan is the keynote speaker at the MBA Closing Ceremony, where he will share his experience with the class of 2019.
How has what your learned at EADA helped you in your professional career?
The EADA experience introduced me to a world of different cultures and most importantly different perspectives, something which I rely on daily in my professional and personal life. The rapid-fire programme of analysing over 300 case studies does a great job of simulating the types of environments business professionals are faced with continually. As a leader in Innovation, knowing the right questions to ask is much more important than having the answer.
How would you describe your professional background?
A dangerously creative multifunctional translator… Seriously, though, I am known for my ability to bridge the gap between commercial and technical teams, helping them understand each other’s needs, constraints, and eventually unlocking solutions that work for both sides. From diapers to beer, you can find my handprints on many global brands and product portfolios including: Kleenex, Huggies, Depend, Poise, Cottonelle, Colgate, Stella, Budweiser, Corona, Ultra and Bud Light. Known by my EADA classmates as the “Reverse Gear Racer”, my experience in various functional roles over the years helps me to continually challenge the industry. I’m never satisfied with working in one specific area. Flexing between product/pack/material development, category creation, insights, brand management, shopper marketing, technology landscaping, as well as disrupting the industry with the new-to-world machines necessary to make it all happen, is where I feel at home.
You were recently promoted from Director of Innovation, North America to Global Director of Innovation. How did this change affect the way you manage your team?
In a zone, I had the responsibility of innovating for the local stakeholders and the shorter-term initiatives tied to the zone business results. In my global role, I have to think 3-10 years out, what future consumer needs will be and how I can build the necessary tech platforms to best meet those needs. I’m basically responsible for creating the long-term commercial packaging strategy, defining the role of packaging as a marketing tool, and preparing us for any direction the company might go.
What are you most excited about in your position as Global Director of Innovation?
Seeing the results of my teams’ work hit markets all over the world… Making people happy, not solely consumers, but seeing the satisfaction of everyone involved in my projects continuously being challenged, learning, and bringing their ideas to life. For any innovation to make it through all of the hurdles and eventually hit the market, every stakeholder in the value chain must have some sort of added value to their situation coming from the new concept or idea. Being part of teams figuring out these added values together really forms lasting bonds and relationships, not to mention it’s a lot of fun, especially in beer!
What do you think is the most important factor and/or strategy to keep companies innovative?
Stay healthy, agile, DREAM BIG, and learn from your mistakes. Not only does this attract the right talent, but flexible companies with high ambition have a much better chance of finding the game changers. Keep in mind that nothing in this world is new – creativity is reverse entropy, innovation is creativity that adds value. Be a company that consistently looks outside for inspiration, and fosters talent that is skilled in making the best connections with the tools in and outside of the box.
Why do you believe that innovation is so important in companies?
Innovate or die…The only way to stay relevant is to keep moving forward. Innovation must create value, it’s the fuel that keeps companies healthy. I’m personally a big fan of having strategies and efforts in these three areas: a) Innovate for efficiencies and cost, b) Innovate for driving consumer/stakeholder value, c) Innovate to disrupt yourself before someone else does. If you have active projects in these three areas, you have a good chance of creating the right types of value to stay in the game.
What does it mean to you to come back and speak at the MBA Closing Ceremony?
I’m thrilled to be coming back. I never imagined how important my time at EADA would be, and how the friendships I made would shape my life. It has brought back many great memories and I hope the same will be true for those attending the Ceremony.
What advice would you give to recent EADA graduates?
Fully commit to your goals and the activities needed to accomplish them. You will never be prepared for every situation, but staying flexible, collecting feedback, pivoting, and connecting dots before others, is what will keep you ahead…Be humble, but be sure to make your mark. You will need the help of others to achieve your goals, be competitive but don’t burn bridges. Manage your personal brand and evolve it over time as you learn new things. If you are not having fun in your career, you have two options: 1) find a way to make it fun, 2) be proactive and change… Life is too short to not love what you are doing…Most importantly, leave a legacy in everything you do.