Philippe Claude began his legal career in Switzerland, starting with his role in the luxury industry before moving on to the consumer packaged goods sector at Nestle. He had spent most of his life in Switzerland, having graduated high school and university in his homeland before taking the bar exam in Geneva.
Claude stayed with Nestle for almost sixteen years, until Mars made him an offer that would set him on a very different, exciting path.
“I was given the opportunity to change my life and move from Switzerland to the United States and build a team for my function that had previously been outsourced by Mars,” Claude remembers. “I came out of Switzerland to handle chocolates first.”
His position came as the company was making the switch from outsourcing marketing properties legal work to making it an in-house operation, and after a year and a half, Mars merged its chocolate business with Wrigley. Claude was put in charge of two teams, with people living in the US (New Jersey and Illinois) and the UK.
“What brought me to the United States was the opportunity to come to a place where there was not a full team in place,” he says. “I was able to build a team and actually make a difference without stepping on somebody’s shoes.”
In establishing his team, Claude wanted a variety of outstanding professionals from diverse backgrounds.
“I wanted diversity and people at different levels, some who are more junior, some more senior, so that there is the possibility for individual development in a business that has been challenged by not only COVID but the environment we’re living in where chocolates, candies, and gum are facing a little bit more headway than in the past,” Claude says.
Today, Claude holds the title of associate general counsel for marketing properties at Mars Wrigley, a division of Mars that encompasses the company’s confectionery and healthy snack business. He oversees the marketing properties legal work for all Mars Wrigley brands and ensures they have the right protections around the world. He is also responsible for enforcement and anticounterfeiting efforts regarding trademarks.
That last part is key, as much of Claude’s work involves adjusting to the ever-changing world.
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“The changes in consumer behaviors—the way you are buying now compared to the way you were buying five years ago—has evolved significantly (and the COVID-19 pandemic has even accelerated this evolution), and that means companies like ours have to constantly adapt,” he explains. “You have to be top of mind for your consumers and at the right point of sale, where people buy. If you miss that, you’re not selling, period.”
Confectionery and healthy snacks are highly competitive markets that requires constant efforts and constant innovation to stay relevant.
“That makes it, from the professional perspective, a challenging but extremely lively and exciting area to work in as an intellectual property lawyer,” Claude says. “The brands are basically the carrier of the passion of the company for its products. If M&Ms or Snickers are not top of mind, you will maybe buy something else. That makes it very active, very dynamic, and obviously, very competitive.”
Philosophically, Claude believes that our ever-changing environment and evolving behaviors require a mindset that focuses on innovation. For example, as people exponentially order their groceries online, they aren’t exposed to candy and healthy snack options on store shelves as they used to be. Another example is that the enormous popularity of Netflix and other streaming services means people are going to movies theaters less, which are a popular place to buy candy and snacks.
“All of those changes are impacting every aspect of our lives,” Claude says. “I try to stay as aware as possible of how that impacts my work and my company, and [ask] what is the right response to those changes?”
“If M&Ms or Snickers are not top of mind, you will maybe buy something else. That makes it very active, very dynamic, and obviously, very competitive.”
Success requires not only understanding change but embracing it, and Claude is quick to point out that change leads to new areas for growth.
“Ten years ago, we weren’t even thinking about how we can get M&Ms into every Uber,” he shares. “There are challenges but also an equal number of new opportunities, and we have to determine how we get there, test them fast, and determine how they’re working for us.”
Claude takes pride in the speed at which his legal team has taken on all these changes. That marks a difference between his past experience working for huge companies in Switzerland and the United States.
“In Switzerland, there is more prep work and planification for every project,” he explains. “The time taken to design and strategically think about initiatives is longer and deeper, while in the US, I would say the action mode often prevails. Both models are eventually very successful, but it’s a different approach to business.”
Do a Google search of images of Switzerland, with its snow-capped mountains and quaint villages, and you may wonder why anyone would leave it. Claude says all places have their advantages and disadvantages, and that while he loves Switzerland, he’s also very happy with his life in the United States.
Notably, the US and Mars Wrigley have given him the opportunity to build his dream team and reimagine the way we snack.