How did you get there? Estrella Lopez-Brea

Delighted to have had the chance to chat with Estrella Lopez-Brea, who is currently Head of Insights at General Mills for the Europe & Australian region. She believes the role of the Insights function is to be a strategic partner responsible for delivering real value to the business, so she has a passion for helping organizations grow by putting the consumers at the centre of what they do. Estrella also has some brilliant advice for junior researchers!

Hi Estrella, I’ve always enjoyed your thought provoking and inspiring LinkedIn posts, so thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions and provide some inspiration for junior researchers. So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

The truth is that I’ve been in the world of Consumer Insights all my career, for 22 years now! During that time, I’ve worked in different countries and across different global companies, helping them get closer to their consumers and supporting brands grow through strong brand building and innovation.

I started working in the agency side at C&R Research in Chicago, and then quickly moved to the brand side. I worked four years in tobacco, then moved to Coca-Cola Spain where I spent ten amazing years, then I came to Switzerland to become Global Head of Insights at CPW (Nestle breakfast cereals). Now I work at General Mills where I take care of brands like Haagen-Dazs, Nature Valley, Fibre One, Larabar and Betty Crocker among others.

It must be tough working around all that delicious Haagen-Dazs! And if you had to distil everything you’ve achieved right down, what would you say are three secrets to your success so far?

Being empathetic and genuinely caring and supporting others.

Having a growth mindset and constantly looking for ways to keep learning and developing.

Being flexible and open to change.  

So, come on, if you’re allowed to say, what’s the most interesting, crazy, fun project or initiative you’ve ever worked on?

Two initiatives come to mind. They were both interesting, challenging and crazy in different ways, but both of them still manage to put a smile in my face when I think about them:

One was a project about energy balance and caloric intake that I did while at Coca-Cola, in partnership with the Nutrition & regulatory team and the Spanish Nutritional Foundation (FEN). The objective was to understand the biggest elements of impact on people’s weight (food intake, physical activity, medical conditions…) and the role that soft drinks played in the population’s diet. I learnt so much about nutrition!

The other one is a huge global demand space work that I led while at CPW. It provided a growth framework that allowed the organization to identify key brand and innovation strategies across all the regions and granted me the CEO award in 2018.

Not being in the office and around colleagues, it is incredibly challenging, for younger researchers to stand out. What two bits of advice do you have for a junior researcher, working from home in lockdown, on how they can thrive and impress their teams?

I agree, being visible in a 100% virtual world can be a real challenge as there’s less opportunities for informal interactions and for sharing your voice in front of senior stakeholders.

Here’s a few pieces of advice:  

Make networking inside the organization your priority. Talk to as many people as possible across your areas of influence to ensure people know you and what you do.

Show that you are business-focused and have curiosity by sharing pieces of insights, articles, etc. to the people you want to influence.

Another one is to send your thoughts in writing to the key stakeholders in advance, so they have visibility to them in case you don’t have the opportunity to share them during a meeting.

And thinking more long term now, what two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

The first one that comes to mind is to be business first. Of course, as researchers, our job is to be advocates of the consumer/customer, but first and foremost we must deeply understand the business priorities and needs so we can provide real value to it.

The second one is related to the times we’re living: uncertain and with lots of changes happening in very short periods of time, at all levels. In this sense, cultivating a mindset of agility, experimentation and foresight is critical.

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?

Oh yes! I always try to surround myself with people that I trust and that can give me honest feedback about my development and growth. Sometimes it’s been a mentor, a good friend, or a combination of the two.

In this sense, two people come to mind. One is Begonia Fafian, with whom I worked with at Coca-Cola, and the other one is Eugenia Barcos, a good friend and colleague at CPW. I’m so grateful for their constant support and the role they both still have in my life.