What Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Head of Wellness Learned From Working Around the World

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Dutch-born Marga Balvert’s career has taken her across the world, from her own country’s capital city of Amsterdam, where she started her career at Nike’s European headquarters in the events business. From there, she’s worked in Berlin, Antwerp, Buenos Aires and now, London, where she’s set to start a new role as the head of wellness at the Walgreens Boots Alliance in April.

Working abroad—and in the majority of her positions, for the same company, as Balvert was at Nike from 2008 to 2015, with a yearlong stint at VF Corporation in Belgium—has been a master class in learning how to connect with people. “The most valuable thing you can get from working in different countries is working with different types of people,” she said. “It definitely helps you to operate at different levels of an organization as well.”

Though Balvert’s earliest days were spent in events, she soon moved into brand management, working in the digital sphere. “It’s hard to imagine now, but [digital] was up-and-coming at the time,” she said. Working for Nike just outside of Amsterdam and Berlin, she was involved with major storytelling milestones for the brand, including the launch of the first “Just Do It” commercial starring a woman in Western Europe. Returning to Nike after two years spent freelance living in London, Balvert moved to her husband’s home country of Argentina to become the brand director for South Latin America, her first role outside of Europe, and one that taught her “how to motivate and inspire a team in a different language in a different culture.” There, she worked on the Youth Olympic Games and was part of the team that launched the first female-centric football (or as Americans call it, soccer) campaign in the country.

Being open to new experiences, and reaching out to new people—even those who might intimidate you—has been key to her success, Balvert said. And working in so many different environments had made starting fresh feel like a natural next step.

“Every place and every person brings you something,” she said. “New perspectives, creativity and insights. You need to listen and be open minded because you can grow your work but also as a person going through those different experiences.”

Big Mistake
Early on in her career, Balvert put work first—and though commitment is admirable, she said it rubbed some of her co-workers the wrong way. “I worked long hours, was very prompt and direct in my communication and work went before anything,” she said.

Lesson Learned
Now, she’s realized that “this [behavior] can also come across as impatient, intense and might not inspire or motivate others.” These experiences taught her to have empathy, listen and adapt. She added: “When I evolved my approach not only the work got better and the team stronger but I enjoyed my job even more.”

How She Got the Gig
Connecting with Lowe’s chief brand and marketing officer Marisa Thalberg led to an introduction with another CMO, Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Vineet Mehra, which eventually led to her current position. Not being afraid to reach out to people at the top of her field was a boost, said Balvert. “I always thought those people must be too busy to actually respond,” she said. “But they’re very open and willing to help.”

Pro Tip
Knowing to balance the need for consistency across the globe while still catering to a specific market is paramount, she said. “We need to drive global cohesiveness, but every place is slightly different,” said Balvert. “Finding that balance is probably the biggest challenge in marketing.”

This story first appeared in the March 23, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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