Bonin Bough on His Next Gig and the Future of CPG

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Bonin Bough.
Bonin Bough.

Bonin Bough has been a little off the grid since stepping down from his role of chief media and e-commerce officer at Mondelez International last year, but the marketing veteran is back with a new post at Sundial Brands.

Bough has been named to the newly created post of chief growth and marketing officer at Sundial, a $300 million family-owned skin and hair care company, with brands such as SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage. He took an equity stake in the company and is reporting into Sundial founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis. The company and Bough declined to disclose the size of his stake.

Over the last year, Bough has kept busy investing in startups and hosting CNBC's "Cleveland Hustles" series, which was backed by LeBron James and Maverick Carter and focused on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs grow.

Ad Age caught up with Bough about why he decided to join Sundial and what he thinks lies ahead for the future of the CPG industry.

This interview has been lightly edited.

How did this job opportunity come about?
To be honest with you, I didn't really want to do anything corporate. I quit so that I could invest in emerging technology, which I'm doing and I have 14 portfolio companies under Bonin Ventures. But I met this guy who escaped two revolutions—one in Liberia and one in Sierra Leone. He and his family wound up in a three-bedroom in apartment in Queens, New York, and when he was really young he learned how to make African soap with shea butter that his grandmother used to sell in the village, so he started selling it on street corners in Harlem. Thirty years later, he has a $300 million, fastest-growing-beauty business, largest African beauty business in the world and its family-owned.

This is Sundial CEO Richelieu Dennis?
Yeah—I meet him and I walk into a family-owned business and I say, "You deserve to win," so we end up talking and I decided to take on the role because in the back of my mind I've always been focused on what the CPG company of the future looks like. Having spent almost a decade at a big CPG company, you begin to realize that there has to be a better way. There's no way that this business should only grow 1.5 percent, especially in beauty. So I said to Rich, "I've never done beauty, but I love you and the story and I love where the business is at and I'd love to work for you under one condition—you let me run it as if it were my own company," and he said, "Let's go."

Why is "growth" in your title?
I could've taken only the CMO title, but I thought the growth title was much more important. What I've always done is try to shape the industry by doing what I think is the right thing to think about and look at. That's the question we have to ask: Where can you source growth from? What is going to grow CPG businesses? Right now we haven't seen anybody be successful at it. So for me, it's about putting my neck on the line and taking on the growth officer role. Where are we actually going and where is the business going to go in a world where retail is transformational, with Amazon buying Whole Foods and crushing the competition? Growth is going to be driven by understanding the consumer in a new way.

What is the future for the CPG industry?
It's a world where we actually know the individual consumer and who they are and what they actually care about. Why doesn't Oreo, for example, know every single person who buys a package of Oreos? That's my goal here. I want to know every single consumer. When you look at the CPG company of the future, things need to change.

Like what?
One is that I need to know, actually know, the consumer—not email, but know the actual buyer of my product. The second thing is having a direct-to-consumer relationship that is not in conflict with a retailer, but in conjunction with a retailer. Why can't me and Walmart or me and Target both be able to deliver a customer solution? And the third piece is around the idea of making sure I have the talent of the future and invest in what the future of talent looks like, which is part of the rotational marketing immersion program we're doing, where I've taken our marketing team out of the Long Island office and into other companies for six-month rotations.

What company is your team working out of now?
It's about which companies are doing aspects of marketing and media well, and how I can have our people learn from those companies. the best way to do it is deep immersion. We've taken our team and moved them into Loeb Ventures, and Refinery29 is our next stop. Loeb understands continuity marketing, so how do we understand how to grab a consumer, own a consumer and sell a consumer across a portfolio? That's what Loeb knows how to do, so how do we learn how to do that with beauty? And Refinery29 is really interesting because if you were a big beauty company, wouldn't you want to own a Refinery29 type of destination and build a property?

So, your goal is to launch editorial properties for Sundial Brands?
Yes. What's interesting about the world today is that Instagram is a big part of what media looks like. We have Jenell B. Stewart as a big influencer and we want to expand that and bring other influencers in to own equity in the business and build a media property. We have KinkyCurlyCoilyMe, which is our magazine online digital property and we have a partnership with Curly Girl Festival, which is our events play, so we're saying, where does the beauty consumer go and how can we own those touchpoints?

Will you miss working a larger corporation, like Mondelez?
I thought a lot about that. I was at Dmexco and I thought to myself that these guys are hampered by the constraints of organizations that say they want to change but that have a historical nature that is used to doing things a certain way. The reality is that we've been complaining about CPGs for 10 years at least and nothing has changed. Is any large beauty business going to allow me to take all their marketers and move them into another company and keep moving them and do something rotational? No. So, do I miss it? I love the scale—the scale was great, but the reality is that we have to build a new model and I don't think that model can be built at a large CPG right at this moment.

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