James Kane has the kind of open smile and boisterous laughter that one would rarely expect from a senior manager, let alone the country head of a history-making multinational brand like Mondelez. Yet, he managed to climb up the business ladder, moving fluidly through different roles and various company formats without losing his positive frame of mind.
Born and raised in Australia, Kane grew up in his family’s wholesale nursery in Riddells Creek, a small town about 60 kilometers far from Melbourne.
After a few part-time jobs at a local petrol station and behind a checkout at Woolworths, he finally made his debut with Cadbury (then Cadbury Schweppes) in 1998, whilst he was still studying Business and Marketing in Melbourne. What was advertised as a 12-hour part time job turned out to be a full-time merchandising role at Schweppes Cottees, and the cradle of a brilliant career.
“I found that I actually enjoyed working more than I enjoyed studying,” said Kane, bursting into laughter. “It just meant a lot more to me.”
Between 1999 and 2008, he was able to fit into several different roles within the company; from sales executive to account manager, to state field sales manager. From then on, his career inevitably intertwined with the evolution of the brand itself. When Cadbury and Schweppes separated in 2008, he was appointed Cadbury’s new state manager in New South Wales. Two years later the company was acquired by Kraft Foods, and Kane moved into running the confectionery side of the relationship between Kraft (soon-to-be Mondelez) and three Wesfarmers subsidiaries, Coles, Kmart and Target. He said that was the best experience he had.
“It was a challenging role, with three different customers, totally independent from one another, with different needs. But it was also a big part, about 40 percent, of the business, so you could really make a difference with it.”
After almost three years, in 2012 he moved back to head sales of operations, leading the national field team in Australia, before heading to New Zealand in 2014; the following twelve months as sales Director helped him get the hang of the NZ market, so much that he recently transitioned to the Country head role, in November 2015.
He smiled when asked about Whittakers. “They are a great company in a lot of areas, and a very worthy competitor,” he said. “Due to the nature of our category, everyone compares us. Whittakers are very good at PR, and conversely, we probably haven’t spoken publicly about our successes as much as we could have. A great example was last year when Whittakers released the Jelly Tip Block and we released the Jaffa Block. The Jaffa Block actually sold more units, but if you ask the average person in the street, they probably assume the Jelly Tip Block was more successful.”
“A lot of people asked me what’s the difference between Australia and New Zealand, and I think there are not as many differences than we think, but the things that are different are very different,” Kane said, mentioning the ‘very nature of Foodstuffs’ as one of them. “I enjoy it, given my background. It makes you want to think of different strategies in this market, compared to what you do in Australia. And there is definitely something about a Kiwi spirit, or passion, around all things Kiwi. Kiwis love being Kiwi, being uniquely different.”
Vividly passionate about developing both people and brands alike, when it comes to Cadbury Kane has a clear sense of purpose: “The biggest challenge is getting the balance right between being a local Kiwi icon and a big multinational organisation. We still do Kiwi favourites and we want to keep doing it, but we also have a huge pipeline of global innovations and experience, which can allow us to work closely with our customers to ensure benefit for everyone.”
Kane again smiled when asked if our beloved Snifters will make a come back, saying he personally would love to see it. “It definitely comes up,” he said. “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about it…”
Under Kane’s leadership, Cadbury has bigger plans, with New Zealanders in mind. The company is sponsoring the Olympics and contributed $200,000 to support the NZ Paralympic team on the road to Rio. Since last year, the company has also been launching successful free family events throughout the country, to raise funds for Make-a-Wish to help kids with life-threatening conditions. The next one will be in Auckland on 19 March, while an exciting TV campaign will come to life around Christmas across NZ.
But there is obviously more to him than just being a manager. When he’s not busy working, he likes spending time with his 19-month-old little boy, Jack, as well as traveling around the globe or simply going for a run at the crack of dawn. Definitely a team sport person, you can find him watching the AFL, cricket games or basically any sports on TV. Recently, he also embraced the cooking craze and has Myfoodbag dropped at his door every Sunday.
For a man with so many interests, there is only one, inexplicable fear: sloths. “They move so slowly,” he said, laughing. “Every time I see them on TV, I feel my skin crawling.”