Catalyst: Cracking Complex Business Challenges for Mars

For more than five decades, Mars Incorporated has invested in Catalyst, a distinctive thought leadership capability made of highly skilled, diverse Mars Associates with unique access to experts. Catalyst takes creative risks to conceptualize, develop and pilot breakthrough business solutions to help position Mars purposefully in the thought leadership space.  Catalyst’s work has been recognized as cutting edge by scientific and business communities and continues to be a source of competitive advantage for Mars.

“By harnessing innovative and abstract ideas from a vast pool of stakeholders, including internal, external and academic experts, Catalyst unlocks transformational business strategies,” said Bruno Roche, Chief Economist and Managing Director of Catalyst.  “We strive to be a change agent for Mars, helping the company deliver long-term growth that we can be proud of.”

Catalyst is behind some of Mars’s most exciting initiatives, including:

  • The launch of new inclusive business model pilots with Wrigley of Kenya and in the Philippines, in slums and remote areas where Financial Capital is scarce.  These pilots have demonstrated that delivering and measuring Human Capital (individual well-being) & Social Capital (trust within a community) among the Wrigley micro-entrepreneurs is a driver of increasing Financial Capital -- a major breakthrough that is unlocking a sustainable route to market, and that is scaling up to other geographies and business situations;
  • A contribution to a special edition of “the Brewery,” for the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, 2014.
  • A partnership with the Said Business School at Oxford University to co-develop a new management theory whereby Mutuality is driving business performance – through modified management practices and metrics;
  • A partnership with Danone to illustrate how the new management theory is applied through emblematic case studies - from both Danone and Mars.
  • The launch of the ‘Making Business Mutual’ forum, co-organized with Oxford, to promote responsible business practices as imperatives for success, as opposed to a positive add-on or branding exercise. The inaugural conference was held in May 2016 and proved to be a great success, with over 500 delegates attending. Moving forward, the ambition is to position this annual event as a “product” that is of enduring significance in terms of its impact on business practice, intellectual thought, scholarship, and policy.  

Additionally, through its Labs, Catalyst is working to harness abstract ideas and transform them into strategies to help the company deliver growth. For instance, the Demand Lab has made great strides to bring discipline and rigor to our marketing activities by utilizing insights from applied mathematics, statistics and data mining, as well as psychology, cognitive sciences, neurosciences, ethnography, and behavioral economics. The results have been incredible – through its work, the Demand Lab has doubled the efficiency of Mars’ advertising and deciphered the role of media in the laws of growth for our brands, bringing huge savings to the business and giving Mars a set of capabilities envied by our competition.

Catalyst has also made great achievements through its Culture Lab, which has developed a ‘best practice’ integration of acquisitions into Mars (based on a fusion of sociology and business anthropology), bringing huge value and enabling smooth cultural integrations. Furthermore, Catalyst’s Mutuality Lab has influenced the company’s 25-year vision, Mars' recent corporate branding, and is developing a new holistic performance measurement system for mutuality across the entirety of our business & identifying corresponding management practices to enact mutuality (Economics of Mutuality program).

'The only thing we have in common at Catalyst is that we have nothing in common,' a Catalyst associate once observed. Catalyst is not a traditional team, by design.  It strives to be an agile organization made of associates & fellows from different backgrounds, nationalities, walks-of-life with a common passion to leverage values, sciences & knowledge to improve the world, and a relentless conviction that business/entrepreneurship is a powerful vehicle to achieve this goal. 

Over its lifetime, Catalyst has demonstrated that Forrest Mars Sr's 1967's intuition that 'management is to apply sciences to economic problems' was correct. "The economic problems of today are not the same as in 1967, the sciences have also evolved in a dramatic way, yet Catalyst’s approach to transform abstract academic thinking into breakthrough business solutions and a means to ensure changes 'stick' culturally remains more relevant today than ever, " said Bruno.