Why Cindy Chen Moved From Mondelez to GSK

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Cynthia Chen, better known as Cindy during her tenure at Mondelez International, has taken her digital insights to GSK to help the drug maker grow its pain relief business.

Ms. Chen left snack maker Mondelez in May and joined GSK in June as global business lead, Panadol and Fenbid. She is relocating to Singapore and reports to Laura Boros, GSK's senior VP-global head of the pain relief category.

Ms. Chen is focused on Panadol, a paracetamol pain-relief brand that is one of GSK's power brands, and on Fenbid, a regional ibuprofen product sold only in China. She filled the role left vacant when Bart Prins left GSK in early 2016.

Ms. Chen said she began talking with GSK in 2015 and decided to join the company for three main reasons. First, she saw an opportunity to apply her knowledge of marketing in digital, social and mobile areas at a different company working on a digital transformation.

"I felt given [my] experience, I could really help GSK continue to build in that particular area," she said in a phone interview.

Ms. Chen also said she was inspired by Emma Walmsley, who is set to become CEO of GSK next year when Andrew Witty steps down from the role. Ms. Chen, who has a nine-year-old son, noted that Ms. Walmsley is also a mother.

"As a mom myself, I am certainly inspired by that kind of leadership," said Ms. Chen.

Perhaps the most personal reason for Ms. Chen's decision was the health of her own mother, who was diagnosed with cancer last year. "When you have this life-changing moment, you think about what you are doing, is that meaningful," Ms. Chen said.

Ms. Chen is not the only well-known executive to leave Mondelez this year. Among others, Laura Henderson, global head of content and media monetization, is joining BuzzFeed as SVP of marketing. Bonin Bough, Mondelez's chief media and e-commerce officer, left in August. Mondelez recently hired two outsiders to fill media and e-commerce roles.

At GSK, Ms. Chen's team is responsible for the overall Panadol brand equity, as well as products and marketing meant for children, adults and the aging population. While pain relief products can be seen more as need-based products than the want-based products she previously worked on, Ms. Chen sees some overlap when it comes to consumers having affinity toward particular brands.

"There's also the emotional side you have to continue to build which I think my previous background will absolutely help me to help GSK continue to build that piece," Ms. Chen said.

While she is working on different categories than she handled at Mondelez, Ms. Chen can apply insights on modernizing the messages of established brands. At Mondelez, for example, Ms. Chen worked on selling Oreo cookies, usually seen in grocery store aisles, online. Efforts included personalized packages sold directly by the company during the 2015 holiday season. At GSK, she is focused largely on Panadol, which has been sold for decades in markets such as Australia, where it recently was voted as a most trusted brand. According to GSK, around 20 million Panadol tablets are taken every day worldwide.

Panadol's Buddy Bear campaign in Australia is aimed at helping parents personalize the process of giving medicine to their children.
Panadol's Buddy Bear campaign in Australia is aimed at helping parents personalize the process of giving medicine to their children. Credit: GSK

The work that Ms. Chen is overseeing is not yet in the market. However, Panadol has started to put more of an emphasis on digital marketing. For example, its Buddy Bear program in Australia tries to help parents ease the frustration that can come when one has to give medicine to a child. On a website, the parents can personalize a story and song for the child.

Agencies that work on the Panadol brand include Grey on advertising, Havas on digital, Edelman on public relations, Ogilvy Health on expert insights, Geometry on shopper marketing and Elmwood on design.