Jessie Sweet’s career so far at candy giant Mars Inc. has been, well, pretty sweet.
A project manager at Mars Inc. in the Mars Symbioscience division and a Smith Alum (2014), Sweet was the honored guest at the third Innovation Lunch and Learn for MBA students facilitated by the Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change.
Mars Symbioscience develops products through a technology-based health and life sciences approach.
For example, this division does research behind cocoa flavanols – plant-based nutrients found naturally in cocoa – and develops products with more nutritional value and fewer calories than a traditional chocolate bar.
Sweet had been in marketing before she transitioned into project management at Mars via implementations of IT and operations projects.
During her time at Smith she intended to focus on marketing but subsequently earned her PMP (Project Management Professional Certification), which she believes has been helpful in her newest role at Mars helping to facilitate innovation discovery and implementation.
As part of the process in product development, for example, associates at her division formed an innovation group where they can express ideas and obtain feedback. This has helped associates engage with each other and share ideas while also being able to learn why certain ideas may not move forward because of the risks and costs involved. To prioritize projects, Sweet emphasizes analyzing missed opportunity costs and evaluating the complexity of the implementation.
Sweet described her role as focused on innovation execution. She noted that for innovation you need both a “big ideas” person and an executor. What these two people must have in common for innovation to work is passion for new ideas and continuous improvement. Sweet shared, “you may not be the one to come up with the “innovative idea” but every new idea needs someone who recognizes its value, who is willing to advocate for it, and who will put in the work to see it through before it can become an innovation.”
In her work, Sweet has found that it is advantageous to take the
perspective of project team members, ask a lot of questions, and to try to understand their point of view. By doing this and being open minded to others’ approaches and listening, Sweet finds that often team members experience “aha” moments and produce new insights. These conversations are best achieved in person rather than through email. Sweet recommended to the students, “always be curious, continue to ask why, and look for opportunities where you can add value.”
The MBA students in attendance noted that what is particularly striking about Sweet is her natural curiosity and ability to really listen to others. The students were grateful to Sweet for sharing her views about what it takes to facilitate and implement new ideas in an innovative division of a global company.
For more information about the Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change (CLIC), visit: www.rhsmith.umd.edu/clic.