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Mars Chairman Stephen Badger Talks Leadership, Life, Lessons Transparency is Key with Partners, Consumers

Stewarding one of the biggest family-run companies in the world is no small task—especially when that company comes with a 106-year history. Chairman Stephen Badger and his fellow board members take this challenge seriously. Here, Badger discusses the challenges and rewards of his role and the future of the company.  

On shedding Mars’ “secretive” reputation: 

For over 100 years, the company focused on communicating about Mars brands—a job well done given their popularity around the world. Historically, there was no obvious benefit in talking about the company, and the family has never desired the spotlight. But times have changed. "Consumers want to know more about not only the brands that they're buying, but the company that is behind them,” Badger says. “There are a range of issues that are a direct threat to our business, as well as a threat to society and the planet overall. We feel a responsibility to do our part in addressing them. That includes speaking out publicly about our stance on these issues and engaging with others to address them.” 

On the benefits of keeping Mars, Incorporated a private company: 

"Being a private company gives us greater control over our own destiny. It also gives us a competitive advantage in that we know who our shareholders are,” Badger says. “We could fit them all in a small room if we had to. So the ability of management to interface with the shareholders is direct, tangible and immediate, and gives us the capacity to make decisions quickly. It allows us to pursue our own path, our own future and to really invest in the long term."  

His advice for family run businesses: 

Working with family comes with many advantages—along with plenty of challenges. With over a century in business, the Mars family has learned a few things. “If I had one piece of advice for other family businesses, it would be to really find the set of values that combine you together,” Badger says. When it comes to moments of conflict, the Mars family turns to the company’s Five Principles. "Those principles really bring us together," Badger says. "When you have disagreements, as you would in any family, they ground us... and help us find common ground even if we disagree." Beyond that, he advises setting up the appropriate governing structures, and then ensuring you have the best people in place. “In many cases, that may be the family, or it might not be” he says.  

On the company's digital transformation: 

"It's incumbent upon us to perpetually think about the changing nature of consumers behaviors, not only in terms of what they want to buy, but where they want to buy it, and how they want to be told about it," Badger says. "The ability to engage in conversation with people is something that we're really excited about. I think that's the next evolution in terms of what we're trying to undertake and that really excites me." 

On company challenges: 

According to Badger, the biggest issue facing Mars—and all businesses—is the magnitude of disruption happening today. He advises a step-by-step approach. “I think the first challenge is getting one’s mind—as much as one can—around the disruptions that are occurring,” he says. “The second step is to figure out what transformations you need to undertake. And the third is to really figure out—particularly in a large organization—how to move at pace. We’re eager to be having that conversation, and looking at how we do things like set up small, nimble teams; how we fail fast; how we share learnings; and how we take the next step and move our business into the future as quickly as we can.”  

On a sustainable future: 

In 2017, Mars announced $1 billion in its Sustainable Generation project, which aims to reduce its carbon footprint by over 60 percent by 2025. "It's through Mars that I've had my eyes opened to the reality that not only is business critical to solving today's issues, it's fundamental to it. The magnitude of the issues facing the planet is such that business has to be front and center in that dialogue and in addressing those issues. The goal is to minimize our impact, whether that's as an individual or as a corporation," Badger says.