Marketing superstar Aimee McCammon has taken on the most personal challenge of her career – taking her stepfather’s business, Pic’s Peanut Butter, from a small family-run operation to a globally recognised brand. Here, she shares how her formative years in ad-land shaped her into the CEO she is today.
Becoming a good CEO is not unlike making a carefully crafted jar of peanut butter. After all, it requires balance, the right techniques, patience, and a careful blending of skills to achieve the desired results.
Starting out in the fast-paced offices of Mojo was a baptism by fire into the world of marketing for a young Aimee McCammon, but an experience that set her up to well to face whatever her future career threw at her.
“I used to say to people after I left there, ‘If you want to see if advertising’s for you, go to Mojo because it’s like the university of advertising,’” she says.
Dealing with change is a key part of running a business, and she credits her ability to roll with the punches to Mojo’s “restless culture”.
“People either lasted three weeks and then were just like, ‘This is not for me,’ or they just absolutely thrived, and I loved it.
“It taught me to be really relaxed about change. It just doesn’t faze me at all, which is why think I can work with entrepreneurs.”
As her career progressed, she then moved on to work at Saatchi & Saatchi in Wellington, which taught her a different set of lessons.
“’Nothing is impossible,’ was the motto. [They taught me] to always work with the best people, and that good is the enemy of great. And they taught you about being a really inspirational player.
“I grew up at Mojo, but then Saatchi was like the finishing school that polished me off.”
Having been on the Pic’s board for almost 10 years, in January 2023, she took on the role of CEO.
The iconic peanut butter business began when her stepfather Pic Picot decided to try making his own peanut butter without the added ingredients, using a concrete mixer. From there it grew from being sold at markets, to supermarkets, to being recognised as a fast-growing manufacturing business with sustained growth as part of Deloitte’s Fast 50 every year from 2015 to 2019.
Leading companies experiencing this rate of growth is nothing new for Aimee though. Having worked for owner-operator companies before, helping them to move past the start-up phase, she says her first task is to implement processes and procedures that will allow the business to grow without losing the original spirit of the operation.
“My stepfather is a classic entrepreneur, so I feel like I’ve done a lot of this kind of work before, and it’s great. The only difference is he’s at my dinner table more often,” she laughs.
It’s also a role that she takes very seriously, getting stuck into things and being hands on where she can.
“I can tell you there is nothing more delicious than warm peanut butter off the line. I have been down in the factory sorting peanuts… it’s such an important part of the operation. We are not just a brand, we are peanut butter makers. So in my first week, I was down in the factory, learning how it all works.”
To be a successful CEO, Aimee says “incredible tenacity and a certain single-mindedness” is necessary.
“But the key thing really is to like people and actually enjoy the people you work with, and put great people around you.
“My role is to be tenacious in terms of setting the direction and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to all pull in the same direction. And you don’t know what’s coming. Things are so unpredictable, so you’ve got to be able to get back up again and lead people even when it’s hard, and help keep everyone on the track and adjust the path if you need to.”
Being on the Pic’s board for a while before taking on the role of CEO also gave her a good sense of the history of the company, and as the business was very small in the beginning she has worked closely with the consumers. However, keeping some of her governance role makes her a better CEO, she says.
“I do love governance work because it reminds you to look at the big picture. When you’re running a company, you are so myopically involved in that world that sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, and you really need to stand back. Governance work reminds me to do that.”
The brand as it is now, is very much a reflection of Pic and “his brilliant, enthusiastic personality” she says. “Always wanting to carve his own path, and not do it the way that everyone else is doing it.
“Peanut Butter was a dark and depressing place before Pic started up Pic’s Peanut Butter. It was full of sugar and emulsifiers. Now it’s a super-healthy category with lots of competitors and lots of players in it.
“We’ll keep doing our own thing. We want to keep being leaders and finding our own path, but there’s so many different ways we could go.”
Another key thing she learnt during her time in advertising was the importance of getting out and about to talk to people, now more than ever.
“It’s so easy in a digital age to be behind your computer and on your email. AI could really change that again,” she says. “Technology was meant to create all this free time so we could go out and connect with people, and ourselves, and the land, but it has just created more work.
“Advertising taught me, in a professional sense, that being curious about people and excited about people is really what makes the world go round. Humans are tricky little creatures, which is why marketing is such a fascinating thing.”
As well as looking forward to steering this rapidly growing FMCG towards domination of the peanut world, Aimee is just as excited to finally have a role that her children understand.
After all, “[t]hey don’t care about production values,” she laughs. “There’s not many people that can say they make peanut butter for a job!
This article was originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.