Mars Sacks Snack Exec

Part of aggressive turnaround effort

MCLEAN, Va. -- Alarmed by a steep sales decline for Snickers, $18 billion food giant Mars has fired Martyn Wilks, the 20-year company veteran who headed the U.S. snack-food unit that generates most of its profit, reported

Mars North America President Bob Gamgort has personally taken over a candy division turnaround effort, said the report.

The uncharacteristic ouster of Wilks, unit president for the past 18 months, is the latest play by Gamgort to repair Mars' ailing confection portfolio, the report added. "Mars didn't [image-nocss] hit its sales and profit goals last year and, indicative of Bob's style, he wants to get a handle on what's working and what's not in the candy division, the company's primary profit center," a Mars insider told Ad Age.

Gamgort's aggressive turnaround strategy in recent months has included pulling a number of lesser brands such as Cookies & and Pop'ables, and yanking trade spending from underperforming retail customers.

The shakeup hasn't spared the agency roster, which has been shuffled thoroughly, said the report. In the past 18 months, Mars has shifted its $38 million Snickers business to Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide from BBDO; terminated WPP Group's Grey Worldwide to move Twix and Dove to Nitro; handed Starburst to TBWA; and given BBDO, agency for M&M's, the Milky Way account.

A Mars spokesperson confirmed for Ad Age that Wilks was out as of June 27. By the following day, Gamgort had sent an internal memo explaining that he is retaking the business he helmed only a few years ago until a successor can be found. "We need to move faster and more decisively if we're going to win in the marketplace and, as a result, I've decided to make a change in leadership," he wrote.

Wilks, who reportedly had a good track record running businesses in the U.K. and France, was "a process guy through and through," an executive close to the company told Ad Age. And while he was popular, especially with those he managed, for his perceptiveness and protectiveness, his success overseas did not translate domestically in his first U.S. operating position.

The decision to part ways with Wilks so quickly is part of the new Mars culture being fashioned by Gamgort and Mars' CEO Paul Michaels.