George Margonis, General Manager Philip Morris Bulgaria: The Key to Success Is a Collective Leadership

Manager Monthly magazine published an interview with George Margonis, General Manager of Philip Morris Bulgaria as a Finalist in the most- prestigious annual business contest “Manager of the Year” 2020.


Q: What did you learn from Covid-19 and how did it change you?

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global event, which disrupted entirely the business environment around the world. Encountering phenomena of such magnitude undoubtfully changes all of us. They become a test for the strength and stamina of people, governments, business and societies overall.

When facing crisis of such magnitude, business has an important role to playmust stay close to society and provide the needed support to ease the transition phase in the difficult times. Companies need to react rapidly and strongly support their customers, their employees, their partners and their communities. Furthermore, what we learnt during the most challenging times in the beginning is that business leaders must act with urgency and responsibility towards the new situation to ensure business continuity but by displaying solidarity, care, and genuine humanity.

I am very proud that we at Philip Morris Bulgaria reacted very quickly and took all the necessary measures at an early stage to ensure the safety and security of our customers, employees and partners. We managed to switch more to digital and remote support to our customers and redeployed our resources rapidly to ensure business continuity. Last but not least, we provided support to the most vulnerable and exposed communities in the fight against COVID-19 through the organization BCause Foundation.

Overall, crisis brings you back to taking care of business fundamentals and paying special attention to people –employees, customers and partners. This realization and the reminder of the importance of the basics is the best learning in this crisis.
I am confident that societies and companies will go out of this crisis stronger and better: more agile, more resilient and more empathetic.

Q: What are the scenarios for the future of your industry and how will you try to influence it?

In PMI, we have a very clear vision that we follow with or without COVID-19. We believe that the future of our company and the whole industry is a smoke-free future. Our vision is to unsmoke the world by providing all adult smokers with less harmful alternatives compared to continuous smoking. There are more than 1 billion adult smokers around the world and all these men and women deserve to have access to better smoke-free alternatives.

That’s why for more than a decade we’ve invested billions of dollars in scientific research, development and production facilities of smoke-free products that are better alternatives than continuous smoking.

To accomplish our vision, we disrupted our successful business model from within. This required a huge shift on the way we used to work as a company in the past with a major transformation on all levels of the business, including investments in science and innovations, digitalization of operations, completely new way of working with new structures and areas such as digital and customer care with constant focus on the consumer.

The successful transformation of our company is a result of vast efforts and time of all PMI employees. Every leader in the company – including me as General Manager of Philip Morris Bulgaria–have the responsibility to first transform himself and his way of thinking and then provide the context, resources and the right culture to transform the organization towards the new normal – a customer-centric one by unlearning what we knew from the old business and adding new knowledge. Transforming such a solid industry is not an easy task but we believe that this is the right thing to do, as the realization of our smoke-free vision can contribute for the improvement of public health and this will make the difference.

Q: What are the values you rely on as a manager?

From experience, I have learnt that in order to have successful assignments, you need to blend your values with the company values and at the same time adjust in the business environment and culture of the geographies you operate in. It is not an easy exercise but if you don’t blend all these elements, there is high probability to fail or to derail from your direction.

During my last almost 4 years in the current assignment, I had to mobilize everybody towards the industry transformation for a smoke-free future. The focus of all our efforts at PMI is the customer and how to provide solutions to satisfy his needs. My core values as a manager are customer centricity, agility, speed, curiosity for new things and entrepreneurial spirit.

Moreover, I really enjoy working with people who have high levels of personal responsibility, like to work with autonomy and focus on the results. I believe that integrity, collaborative spirit and respect to diversity are non-negotiable values for me and the whole PMI.

Last but not least, I believe that forming a team that is really able to create and sustain fun in the working environment is the greatest achievement of a Manager today. A happy and successful organization is what counts at the end of the day!

Q: How can we bring about a change for the better in the environment in which we live and work in?

Businesses prosper in solid societies and I believe that it’s the duty of business to support communities for the sustainable development of our societies. Especially in times of crisis like this business leaders have a role to play to support the communities in need to overcome the crisis and smooth the transformation towards the new normality.

For 6th consecutive year we at PMBG continue to support the local communities in the Bulgarian tobacco- growing regions through the program for social responsibility “Summer for Joy, Autumn for Care” organized and executed by BCause Foundation. Not only we did not cease the financial support during COVID-19, but we extended it in order to support the affected local communities in those regions. Additionally, during the state of emergency we provided close to 1 million BGN to our long-term partner BCause foundation in their national campaign “Make Good” in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We also supported the art and theater campaign #OutTowardsYourself, organized by ArtAkcia, which aimed to support the art communities during times of crisis and give inspiration to people during isolation.

Business without successful and prosper societies cannot be viable and sustainable.

Q: How do you motivate your team for excellent results and what are excellent results for you?

Motivation cannot come without the full dedication of all employees towards the common mission and values. Our ambitious vision to design a smoke-free future through the development of innovative products can only be achieved through the trust and support of our employees. During times of crisis strong collective leadership with high commitment of all employees is the key to success. I’m glad that during the pandemic our people expressed high resilience, dedication, motivation to help our customers and provide them with the best care. During the lockdown, we were rewarded from both our customers and our employees with high approval rates for our management actions. I call these results as excellent!

Q: What is the most scarce resource for you in your business and how do you deal with the deficit?

For more than 10 years we at PMI have invested more than 7 billion dollars in scientific research, development and commercialization of smoke-free platforms that have less risk than continuous smoking. More than 400 scientific experts and engineers are working on the development of our innovative products that have become game-changers in the industry. We strongly believe that scientifically substantiated products have a significant role to play in the approach of reducing harm of tobacco and for the improvement of public health.

Transforming our business and the industry is a result of long-term preparation and huge investments and therefore we might be lucky that we did not have any deficit. On the other hand, what makes the difference in business is people. No company can afford scarcity in talent, motivation and passion for success. This is something that we invest a lot of time, energy and resources by finding the right talents, providing vast opportunities for development, offering learning and knowledge, while opening a big window to the world. Deficit in talent is not an option, so you need to continuously try your best in this direction.