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Marianne Kirkegaard: “It Comes Down to One Word”

The spark that ignites a person’s passion for business can come from anywhere.  For Marianne Kirkegaard, the newly elected President and Chief Executive Officer of CSM Bakery Solutions, her passion for business is a manifestation of her deep interest in people. “Meeting people and learning about and from them has always been a passion of mine, and that is what excites and inspires me about my work,” she says. “I get the opportunity to listen and learn from my colleagues every day.”
Career with CSM Bakery Solutions 
CSM Bakery Solutions provides bakery ingredients, products and services for retail and food service markets as well as artisan and industrial bakeries in more than 100 countries. Their products include specialized ingredients such as fillings, icings, batter, and dough as well as finished products, including cakes, donuts, muffins, specialty breads and cookies.
Marianne has extensive experience in the food industry, having worked in a variety of executive positions at Carlsberg Group and Unilever for more than 20 years before joining CSM Bakery Solutions in 2011 as head of commercial.  “I’m curious about the different trends across our industry and enjoy that we can make a difference in the quality of food people consume,” she says. “Our ambition is to be the industry leader, and I’m proud that in many respects we are.”
Her ability to listen and collaborate has led to her being named president and CEO of CSM in September 2016. She discussed how she expects to lead the company in terms of listening, to colleagues and customers, and collaboration.
“In many ways it comes down to one word – feedback. Whether I am working with our customers or my colleagues, I am constantly looking for ways I can do my job better,” says Marianne. “For a customer, I make it a point to understand the daily challenges they’re wrestling with because it’s only when you know their world that you can earn their trust and have the open dialogue needed to help them and you succeed. If you don’t ask – you’ll never learn.
“As for my 8,500 colleagues at CSM, I’m energized by collaborating with them,” she says. “I recognize that I’m not a specialist; I am surrounded by people at CSM who know more than I will ever know about a specific topic, and the opportunity to lead them as a team to collective success is so inspiring. The talent and diversity of my colleagues across the business make this a great experience.”
As a two-year-old carve-out from a larger parent company, CSM is undergoing a dramatic transformation. “We’re undertaking major changes in how we structure our business, manage our supply chain and build our culture,” she says. “For example, we are implementing a new ERP system and reworking all of the various processes that make up our supply chain. One misstep can result in disappointed customers. We’ve learned how important it is to communicate change and listen to everyone who may be impacted by it. Thankfully, we’re making good progress and our customers recognize it.”
The Role of Women in Industry
Marianne finds questions about the role of women in business “interesting.”  She says, “They imply that the role women play may be different than one men play — and I hope that’s not true. Like men, women provide tremendous value in all elements of the business world.” As for the topic of diversity, she believes it is most productive to define it in broad terms. “While I always hire the best candidate no matter if they are a man or woman, there is certainly great value in diversity,” she says.
“Diversity is not one-dimensional, and I have found teams that have people of different sex, race, nationality and even religion perform better. There’s great value in the different insights, experiences and knowledge bases that such teams share.”
Work-Life “Balance” vs. Choice
Marianne and her husband Lars have two children and two careers, and they work hard to maintain the mutual understanding and flexibility necessary for career and family to thrive.
“I think it’s much more about ‘choice’ than ‘balance,’” she says. “The concept that the time spent on work and family life, for example, can ever be truly equal is a tough one to make happen. If you have a family, it’s important you and your spouse are aligned and have the ability to complement each other and be there for each other and your children when necessary. Fortunately, I’m lucky to have married well in this regard!”
Finding the Right Opportunity
Marianne considers herself fortunate to have started her career at a company like Unilever. “After University, I was looking for a company that could provide strong development experiences for their new talent, offered international roles (I was very interested in that) and took good care of their people. Unilever fit the bill and I’m lucky to have joined them. I believe CSM offers similar opportunities and one of my goals is to ensure we develop our people in similar fashion.”
Her advice to people entering the work force? “The first job you take can have a significant impact on your career, so choose wisely! Make sure you do your homework, talk to as many people as you can and find an industry and business you enjoy. It does not have to be a big company – but make sure it’s a good one.”