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Mintel: Interview with CEO of Mintel Americas, Jon Butcher

Company Overview: Mintel Group Ltd. is a privately owned, global market intelligence agency, based in London. Mintel was founded in 1978 and, today, maintains offices in London, Chicago, Shanghai, Belfast, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Munich, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.

The business is accredited with the Better Business Bureau and has earned an A+ rating. New shoppers can register at https://shopper.mintel.com/user_apply_email.php.

MSM talks with Jon Butcher, CEO, Mintel Americas:

MSM: As background, Mintel was established in 1972 and incorporated in 1980 and has grown steadily ever since. At what point did you join the company and how did that come to be?

Jon Butcher: I worked in Mintel’s UK Headquarters (in London) for two years, prior to coming to the US in 1998. It meant that I was able to learn about Mintel’s products and services before we established the US business in Chicago. While in the UK, I managed a number of international research projects which involved working with shoppers across several continents – it was fascinating! A key project requirement for the clients in international fieldwork was to ensure consistency of approach, and it was a fun challenge to deliver this in the face of different cultural nuances and expectations.

MSM: In 1998, Mintel acquired a small, three-person consumer research firm in Chicago. Accepting the new position required pulling up roots from the U.K. and moving almost 4,000 miles away, across the Atlantic Ocean. What did you find as your biggest challenges in both the new job and the relocation?

Jon Butcher: It was really the best of both worlds. The team had the support of a well-established international company behind us, while we also got to enjoy something of the start-up experience (for example, requiring new employees to assemble their own desk, or dropping everything to go outside for a snowball fight). Our US launch timed fortuitously with the emergence of the Internet, so we had a natural platform to accelerate our growth. We have had some phenomenal people working at Mintel from the get-go, and that helped with the inevitable growing pains that a company goes through.  As we grew, we certainly needed to introduce more process and structure – we have been constantly learning through every stage.

MSM: Today, Mintel’s Chicago office has relocated to a prestigious downtown location, overlooking the Chicago River. It occupies an entire floor and has over 200 employees. The office design has been described as “an agile work environment”, since it’s essentially wall-less and no one is assigned a desk or cubicle. The main workspace is a long series of tables, with places to plug-in electronic devices, such as laptops. http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/series/office-tours/chi-mintel-office-tour-bsi-photos-20150212-photogallery.html

What were the perceived benefits to this cutting-edge design and what have been the drawbacks? And we have to ask, where in the world do employees store their “stuff”?

Jon Butcher: We’re very proud of the collaborative work environment we have at Mintel. It is the same in every Mintel office around the world. A lot of thought went into making the Chicago office design both appealing and functional, so that we maximize the space and create a stimulating working environment. The office provides different types of experiences, whether that’s standing desks, meeting rooms with video conferencing, or living room set-ups with couches. We practice agile seating where teams are assigned to certain areas but individual employees are encouraged to sit wherever they like each day.

With regard to where we keep our things, we subscribe to a “clean desk” philosophy, meaning that at the end of the day items are stored in a locker-room and workstations are cleared. It really cuts down on clutter.

Many of our employees and visitors to the office particularly love the large, red double-decker bus that houses one of our many beverage stations. It’s a nod to our London roots. The office is also unique in that we offer employees the opportunity to take some time out of their busy day and recharge in the Zen Room.

The work environment can take some getting used to if you’re more used to having walls and cubicles.  Having said that, our building’s landlord routinely uses us as a showcase space for potential new building tenants!

MSM: After doing a thorough, five-year search of Mintel on the Mystery Shop Forum (MSF), we were completely astounded to find not a single negative post. In fact, we were treated to a steady stream of posts by shoppers proclaiming how much they loved working with Mintel and how they only wished there were more opportunities to be had in their area. To put this into perspective, this is an extreme rarity on the forum, without even a troll attempting to rile things up!

We are acutely aware that this doesn’t just happen by accident. What is your and your staff’s strategy for creating this positive relationship between Mintel and their independent contractors?

Jon Butcher: When we first opened our US office, we recognized that our Field Associates are just as important as our clients, and they are treated with fairness and respect. With the increase of mystery shopping programs and mobile apps making it easier to “crowd source”, we knew that we would have to work hard to keep our contractors happy and engaged with Mintel. With competitive, timely payment and quick, courteous responses to shoppers, as well as being available to answer more detailed questions by phone, we hope that we have set the bar high.

Our ethos is that we need to have a loyal and engaged network, especially for those urgent requests that all secret shopper companies receive. With such a large network there is always a chance for error. If issues arise, shoppers expect quick resolutions, just as a member of our team or a Mintel client would. We strive to deliver only the best results.

I do want to call out the team that oversees our field associate network; they approach their work with a terrifically positive attitude, and they really do care about every aspect of their work. I think that comes across to our field associates.

MSM: Shoppers on the forum have lamented that although they are signed up with Mintel, they weren’t chosen for a particular project, like the mail survey or the GNPD assignment. What can they do to enhance their chances of being selected?

Jon Butcher: We get this question a lot! We ask interested secret shoppers to make sure their profile demographics are up to date, that they routinely log in and see what jobs are open and that they ask one of the Mintel account managers if there are any new opportunities. All of our projects are driven by client demand. They dictate where and when we do shops. We send out recruitment emails to our most active shoppers (by log in) and post new jobs to the shopper homepage, usually on a first come, first served basis. Our contractors enjoy working with us, so jobs go fast and are held onto for many years.

MSM: Through over three decades of strong and steady growth, Mintel has definitely positioned itself as the world leader in marketing intelligence. What’s next?

Jon Butcher: Market intelligence is what sets us apart and what defines us as a brand – literally in fact, as the company’s name is an amalgamation of the two words. From the start, we have been defining and refining what market intelligence is.  Today, it is not enough to provide data to clients – rather, they demand ever more insight into the meaning of the data, and specifically the implications for their own business.

We will continue to be innovative in the products and services that we offer, across the different components of our research: consumer and market analysis, product intelligence, and competitive intelligence. Being global is key to our remaining relevant. As we ourselves grow, we are providing our clients with truly global insights. Our global field associate network helps make the world a manageable proposition for our clients!

MSM: Thank you, Jon! With the collaborative approach, which is inherent in everything Mintel does, it is clear why the company is the leader in its class and a favorite among shoppers!