Olga Michalopoulou, VP of Marketing, Majid Al Futtaim

Olga Michalopoulou is an experienced Marketing professional with more than 20 years in the field, working for international brands in various industries – FMCGs (Coca-Cola), Telecoms (Vodafone), Retail (McArthurGlen Group) and Grocery Retail (AB Vassilopoulos – member of Ahold Delhaize Group, Majid-Al-Futtaim/Carrefour), in Greece, London and in the Middle East. She holds a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) and a BA in Communications. Her professional course covers all areas of Strategic, Operational & Commercial Marketing, in leadership positions, as a senior marketing leader and member of the Executive Committee of large organizations.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Olga shared her professional trajectory, insights on gender equality and inclusion in the marketing industry, personal sources of inspiration, hobbies and interests, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Olga. What inspired you to a career in marketing? How did you get your start in this industry?

I have always been fascinated by the human behaviour, in the sense that I had an innate curiosity to understand why people behave the way they do, what drives their decisions, how (ir)rational they are. Marketing is all about understanding consumers and addressing their needs and wants. It is also about building meaningful brands, creating relationships. My first steps were through Customer Research, as a Qualitative Researcher, conducting interviews and group discussions. Then, I moved into classic brand management, working for the most loved brand in the world (Coca-Cola, FMCG) and from there for global brands in telecoms, retail and grocery retail. In my 22+ years in marketing across various industries I still find inspiration in doing a job that is all about human connection and communication.

What do you love the most about your current role?

The challenge of a completely new market and customer profile. Being part of a genuinely multicultural organization. The opportunity to transfer all the knowledge and experience I have gained in Europe into actionable marketing strategies to drive growth in the Middle East, working for a very dynamic organization and a strong brand. It is very exciting to work alongside great professionals who have been in the retail industry in many countries around the world and bring to the table a diverse set of opinions and experiences.

How is marketing going to change in the next five years in your opinion?

The beauty of marketing is that it is constantly evolving, as are consumers. Perceptions, economic and market conditions, new trends/products/services influence how people interact with brands, and impact how brands address their needs. Undeniably, the exponential evolution of technology is bound to completely transform the landscape, from what consumers are looking for, to how easily & quickly they want it and to how brands can provide it. At the same time, however, there are some things that will remain constant, they are universal truths: the need of consumers to feel understood and to rely on brands that can provide inspiration, that can offer answers to their everyday conflicts and solutions to their pain points; brands that share the same values with them and with which they can engage.

How do you approach the ever-changing landscape of digital marketing and emerging technologies such as AI?

There really is only one approach to the progress of technology and the establishment of digital marketing: to embrace it as an integral part of evolution and use it to the full to remain relevant. Of course, this requires a strong commitment behind the constant upskilling of marketers, the injection of fresh thinking into marketing teams, the development of a legal and “ethical” framework to ensure that technology is not mis-used. I am very excited about the rise of AI; I believe it can become an enabler to take marketing to a whole new level, unleashing creativity, allowing brands to be responsive, inspiring and impactful.

What are your predictions for the Martech space in 2024?

The impact of AI is obviously of paramount importance. How AI is used to elevate customer experiences, gaining knowledge of consumers and building relationships with them will surely concern marketers now and in the near future.

What are your thoughts on gender equality and inclusion? Do you think there is a gender bias in your industry?

The marketing industry has always been skewed towards females, so there really is no “bias” against female leadership in the field. Having said that, the overall challenges around gender equality and inclusion that apply to all other fields are relevant also to the marketing community. I believe that we are making good progress in this field, through legislation, dialogue and policies. When we talk about inclusion and equality in the marketing industry though we must acknowledge that nowadays there are also other forms of “biases” that we need to be wary of. An example is that of ageism, where older, more experienced marketers may be considered outdated because they are not familiarized with new technologies or trends, thus being disregarded although they have a wealth of experience to offer.

I consider it my responsibility to lead by example when it comes to combatting all types of biases and inequalities in the work force, and creating an environment of psychological safety, where everyone feels valued, respected and free to reach their full potential.

Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?

There are two people in my professional life that have been pivotal in my development. First and foremost, because of how they have treated me, how much they believed in me and supported me.

The first is Prodromos Nikolaides (Group Coffee Director at Coca-Cola HBC), my first manager and mentor at the The Coca-Cola Company. He was a leader to me when I didn’t even know I needed a leader and all I hoped for was a good manager. Next to him I learned a lot, but mostly I learned to believe in myself, to treat others with respect, to listen, to be open to failure, to be humble even when I have a great success. He taught me to question things, to never assume that I am the average consumer for my brand, and to have fun while doing what I love.

The second is Shaeren McKenzie, my former Chief Brand Officer at McArthurGlen. She is an amazing marketing professional with a unique ability to cut through the noise and get straight into the essence, she has an amazing instinct of what is right, however she combined this with a thorough understanding of key insights. She pushed me to be the best I could be. She was the reason I moved with my family to London, and she gave me the opportunity to open my horizons to a truly international environment.

I feel privileged to have crossed paths with these two incredibly talented, authentic, kind, caring, humble, inspirational people. I can only hope that I have had half of the impact on my teams that they had on me.

What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?

Authentic leadership is a form of leadership that can truly foster trust, honesty and integrity, all key values in building connected teams that can elevate the outcome of their collaboration and achieve great things together. It is grounded in humanity; therefore it triggers positive sentiments and motives. An authentic leader is true first to himself/herself and exhibits some characteristics that are inspiring to others: self-reflection and self-awareness, which creates a safe environment for people to feel accepted and comfortable with their weaknesses and with making mistakes; compassion, which is empathy coupled with intentionality to actively support others; vulnerability, which allows teams to see that their leaders are not superhumans, and that sometimes it is ok not to be ok, building thus an environment of acceptance and trust; and openness, which sets the framework for teams to behave in a transparent and honest way.

What are some of your passions outside of work? What do you like to do in your time off?

My biggest passion, accomplishment and pride are my children. As I mature personally and professionally, I seek a more balanced lifestyle in which I care for myself and enjoy things that keep me happy and healthy. I adore traveling, discovering new cultures & people and I am fascinated by the glory of nature. What keeps me going is my insatiable desire and need to learn; a new skill, something new at work, a new language, from relationships and collaborations with new people.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

If there is something that I have learned over the years, is that specific predictions about the future are very fragile. I want to be in a place personally where I feel good about the choices I have made, I am richer in the things I have learned, I have remained true to my values. I hope to be doing what I love so much, marketing, in a professional environment, but to also be exploring ways to use my knowledge and experience for good (supporting an initiative for the good of our planet and society or helping younger generations of marketers’ kick start their career).

Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone who is starting their journey as a marketing leader?

Find your “why” early on. This is going to be your north star, your inner force in times of doubt, your strength in times of hardship. It will guide your decisions, influence your behaviours, enable you to collaborate with others and give you clarity on where you must invest your time and efforts. Be patient, enjoy every step, gain as much as you can from every experience, learn, be willing to get your hands dirty; this is the only way to get better and build your confidence. Be present, which means fully engaged and committed. And be the change you want to see around you.



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