One of the nominees for the 76th Annual Kettle Awards, to be held May 23 at the Union League Club of Chicago, is President and CEO Sylvia Buxton, of Perfetti Van Melle North America, maker of Chupa Chups, Mentos, and more.
Voting for the Kettle Award is currently ongoing, and will close at the end of February.
This is the second article in a series of articles that will highlight all three nominees.
Sylvia Buxton is a strategic global executive with more than three decades of experience in fast-moving consumer goods, shepherding and growing high profile businesses and brands such as Mentos, Airheads, Hershey’s, Reese’s, and Airwick.
She is the most senior woman in global leadership at Perfetti Van Melle Group, currently leading the North American business unit of more than 1,200 employees across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Perfetti Van Melle is the second largest global non-chocolate candy and chewing gum manufacturer.
Liz Parker: How did you originally get into the candy and confectionery industry?
Sylvia Buxton: I’ve always been a lover of chocolate and candy, so when I got a call from a recruiter many years ago for a marketing job with Hershey, it sounded like a great fit to keep me in my candy habit! I interviewed and got the job with Hershey Canada. Ultimately, I spent almost 24 years with the Hershey Company, working in both the U.S. and Canada as well as internationally, in roles ranging from brand marketing to innovation and seasonal marketing.
LP: What was the biggest challenge of your career, and how did you overcome it?
SB: It’s hard to think of just one big challenge in a career that spans several decades. Most recently, the biggest challenge has been leading through COVID. When the pandemic started, I had been in my current role leading the North America region for Perfetti Van Melle for less than two years. As part of a global company, I was able to take advantage of expertise and best practices from other markets, like China and Italy, who were further ahead in the crisis than we were in the U.S. Our leadership team came together and very quickly mobilized several crisis teams including health and safety, business continuity, and recovery. One thing I’m very proud of is how we focused our response around our company values, starting with Care for Our People and keeping our employees safe and fully employed. A key aspect of our COVID response plan was regular communications with our employees, first more factually about the medical aspects of the crisis, and later pivoting to communications that supported employee engagement. We’ve weathered the crisis well, with minimal health impacts and in our most recent fiscal year we set financial and operational records despite the continued headwinds that have been the outcome of this pandemic.
LP: What do you love most about working in this industry?
SB: The two biggest things that keep me in the industry are the people and the brands. This industry is filled with truly incredible people who treat each other as extended family and who don’t let competition get in the way of building long-standing relationships. And of course, working for consumer-loved brands and putting smiles on people’s faces is a great way to spend your working days!
LP: What is the proudest moment of your career?
SB: While many moments come to mind, one that I’m very proud of is the growth of the Hershey’s Seasonal business. When I joined this section of the marketing organization, there was a feeling that this team was somewhat like the Island of Misfit Toys from the classic Christmas movie. As the director of the Seasonal marketing team, not only was I able to lead the team to deliver outstanding business results, but we also turned around the image of the group to make it a key stop in the marketing career building ladder, bringing high potential members into the team as well as promoting many others out to other parts of marketing.
LP: What is your favorite candy or confectionery treat?
SB: Do I have to pick just one?! Over the years, my love of this category has continued and evolved. Most recently, my favorite is our Mentos Pure Fresh gum … specifically the Wintergreen flavor. I go out of my way to shop where this is available and chew it every day.
LP: What’s the next step in your career?
SB: That’s a great question. I am loving my current role as the leader of the North America division for Perfetti Van Melle, and with our recent announcement to acquire the Mondelez gum brands in developed markets including U.S. and Canada, this will be an amazing new challenge that I’m excited to be part of integrating. In addition to my industry, non-profit, and chamber of commerce board positions, I would also be interested at some point in taking on a board member role at a for-profit company.
Congrats to Sylvia Buxton on her nomination! For more information on the Kettle Award, click here.