20 Questions With The Gorilla Glue CEO and Darden Alumnus Mark Mercurio (MBA ’04)
By Jay Hodgkins
In a world where many jump from one company to the next to advance their careers, University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumnus Mark Mercurio (MBA ’04) climbed the corporate ladder the old fashioned way, spending more than 10 years at consumer packaged goods powerhouse Procter & Gamble before rising through the ranks at The Gorilla Glue Co. for five years to become the company’s president and CEO in 2019.
While his post-Darden career path could be characterized as traditional, he’s among a rare number of chief executives to reach their seat through a marketing career path. The former P&G brand manager, who was chief marketing officer at The Gorilla Glue Co. before becoming CEO, says marketers bring a valuable set of skills and mindset to the CEO’s office. Learn more about his interests, leadership style and why he’s not losing any sleep at night.
What was your first job?
I was a paper boy and a caddy. I think I started working when I was 10!
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Be grateful for everything; feel entitled to nothing. I feel blessed to have had the opportunities given to me, but also know I worked hard to make the best of them all.
Whom do you most admire?
My parents. They sacrificed a lot for their children to succeed. Thankfully, we have all made the most of it.
What motivates you?
My wife and kids. I always strive to have balance in my life. I work hard to achieve my personal and professional goals but will never do it at the expense of my relationships with my family.
When and where do you do your best thinking?
When I exercise. A good sweat helps to make something complex or stressful feel much more manageable.
What’s been on your mind lately?
Hoping our country and the world becomes far less divided than it is right now.
What are you reading these days?
I’m more of a podcast guy. I just listened to a fascinating podcast interview of Jack Clark, acclaimed head rugby coach at University of California-Berkeley, talking about the importance of values and culture in a winning team.
What technology can you not live without?
Spotify. I need my music! Of course, I prefer to listen on my iPhone so I guess I cannot live without that as well.
What’s your motto?
Be who you are and be that well (St. Francis de Sales). I was raised and taught to be confident in and comfortable with who I am.
How do you deal with conflict?
Conflict stems from differences in motivation. Taking the time to understand those differences in motivation, then dissecting them openly, takes the emotion out of conflict.
What characteristics do you look for in people?
Humility, empathy and high expectations. I believe you can be humble and relatable while also expecting the best from yourself and others. I have no patience for arrogance or hubris.
What is your “superpower”?
Being able to see and leverage other people’s “superpowers.”
What is your favorite cause?
Helping kids whose family situations are not as favorable as mine was.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
Telluride, Colorado, in the summer. Turks and Caicos in the winter.
What do you lose sleep over?
I don’t lose sleep. I have built a great team that I trust implicitly and stay true to myself. That is a good recipe for a full eight hours!
Which class at Darden impacted you the most?
All my finance classes. Having studied engineering, running a business looked complex to me. The finance classes made all concepts of business management much simpler to me than they seemed on the surface.
What’s your favorite Darden memory?
First Year study groups. Camaraderie is the reason I chose Darden, and those study groups built meaningful relationships on Day One.
What’s your No. 1 tip for current Darden students?
Do not get trapped into the self-imposed pressure of other people’s successes, and do not let other people’s constructs of success define your career choices.
You served as chief marketing officer at The Gorilla Glue Co. before becoming president and CEO. What advantage do you think marketers bring to the chief executive seat?
I think marketers who grew up in brand management bring a few advantages to the CEO seat. First, to build a brand you must think long-term. It requires strategic thinking, long-term investment and consistency in your messaging. This long-term thinking transfers well to overall corporate strategic thinking. Second, it requires an intense understanding of the markets you play in, brands you compete against and consumers you serve. A hyper-focus on your markets, competitors and end-users helps you avoid the pitfalls of focusing too much internally instead of externally. Third, marketers are focused on changing behaviors through communication. This skill of thinking in terms of behavior change — be it in consumers, employees, customers, suppliers — has served me well as CEO in driving positive change and growth.
In an era when many MBA grads change employers frequently, you worked your way up the ranks at Procter & Gamble for 10 years after Darden before spending the last seven years at The Gorilla Glue Co. Why was that career path right for you and what were the advantages of growing within a company?
I’m a loyal guy. I get that from my parents, who both worked at the same place for decades. I have always been inclined to find a place where I can grow roots. Growing roots has allowed me to confidently invest in relationships across a large swath of the organization, which in the long run has served me well. Growing roots has also helped my family feel confident in building plans for our livelihood, like our house, kids’ schools, etc.
Staying in one place also allowed me to focus first on my personal growth. I never felt like I was chasing a title or a salary, which is a distraction, in my opinion. I was able to focus solely on growing as a leader. Admittedly, if I were not growing, I would have left, but I was lucky to find myself at two great companies where I could invest in relationships, grow as a leader and have stability for my family. At times, it required patience, especially early in my career. It was tempting to get distracted watching other people climb the ladder quicker by jumping around. But I stayed true to myself and that worked out in the long run.
About a year after you became CEO, the coronavirus pandemic began. How has your leadership evolved through the pandemic and what lessons have you leaned on?
The pandemic supercharged my growth as a leader. Most folks by now have heard the line “never waste a good crisis” in the context of the pandemic, so it is a bit cliché but also true. Here are the lessons I leaned on.
First: Values-based decision-making trumps financials-based decision-making, especially during times of crisis. In so many instances early in the pandemic, we did not have all the data we wanted to make decisions, so we really relied on our beliefs and values. We asked questions like: Will this make our employees safer? Will this allow us to better serve our customers? Will this make our brands more relevant to consumers during this time? We knew the answers to those questions could lead to some short-term financial hardships, but we did not know to what extent or for how long. Our values became our north star for making tough decisions with uncertain information, and we slept well at night knowing they were decisions that would reinforce our culture and build our business for the long-term.
The second lesson: Let leaders lead. If I had managed through this crisis in a command-and-control style, I would have gone crazy, and my team would have killed me. I had to trust the fact that I have built a great team, and trust that my team and I shared the same beliefs to guide decision making. Our operations team focused on safety and service, our sales team focused on connection and partnership, our marketers and innovation teams focused on adapting to be more relevant, and our finance team focused on long-term growth not short-term pain. It was beautiful to watch these great leaders shine, and it made my job so much easier.
The third lesson: You cannot communicate enough. Without information, people make assumptions, so we needed to communicate fast, frequently and transparently, even if that meant telling people, “We don’t know.” During a crisis like this, people do not want to know what has been decided, they want to know what is on the radar. This increased communication brought us closer together as an organization — something that will propel us into the future, post-pandemic.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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