Mike Bronstein

Vice President, Sales Finance,
Heineken USA

What were your early years like?
I grew up in East Brunswick, N.J., and both of my parents were teachers. When I went to elementary school, my mom went back to school to pursue her doctorate degree. I think the importance of education was influential from a young age. I was also very involved in team sports for as long as I can remember, which is a big reason I enjoy being part of close-knit teams now.

What was your first job?
In high school, I worked for a painter, stripping off wallpaper. Then, over the summers, I worked as a camp counselor and a tennis instructor. After college, where I studied operations research and industrial engineering, my first job was with a boutique consulting firm, specializing in supply chain and procurement.

What drew you to Strategy&?
After working for a few years, first at the small consulting firm and then for a wine and spirits company, I earned my MBA at MIT Sloan. I knew I wanted consulting coming out of business school; the question was, which firm? For me, it was the people I met who really drew me in, because I knew how much time you spend with your team in consulting, and I loved that aspect of the work — the camaraderie, the relationships you build. I think the other differentiating factor that Strategy& (then Booz & Company) offered at the time was this concept of a soft alignment, where you join a specific practice, but you also have an opportunity to interact with people and work in other practice areas as well. That appealed to me.

Why did you decide to leave consulting and move on to Heineken?
As my daughter got a little older, I wanted to travel a little less — so it was just the right opportunity at the right time. Heineken USA had recently formed a new business intelligence function, with a strategy and analytics arm, and I was hired as their senior director. It was an exciting new role on a new team that I could help to shape. It helped, too, that I had an affinity for the industry based on my experience earlier in my career.

How has your role at Heineken evolved since then?
After working in strategy and analytics for about three years, I was recently appointed by our CFO to be the VP of sales finance, so now I’m much closer to the day-to-day operations of our business. I have eight direct reports, and about 30 people I manage across four regional and national account finance teams, as well as revenue management, and a financial planning and analytics group.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I tend to think of myself as a coach. I really care about my team and I want to know our plan of action, but once that’s in place, I try to give people as much freedom and space as possible. I want them to be happy. I encourage my team to try to resolve things on their own before elevating them. But when it’s necessary, I of course provide support and air cover.

Any lasting lessons from Strategy&?
Absolutely. Being able to build relationships and to communicate clearly are skills that have served me well throughout my career, particularly in my transition to Heineken. Knowing how to break the ice and help people open up has been extremely valuable. Also, “managing up” has helped me a lot — aligning on expectations and regular communication with stakeholders are key to building trust. Lastly, the commitment to mentorship has certainly influenced how I manage my team. I’m invested not just in people’s day-to-day work, but also in their development and their career progression. That’s something I definitely picked up from my time in consulting.

What do you look for when you hire?
I still use case studies when I interview, because I’m looking for intellectual curiosity and a willingness to solve problems. I’m also looking for flexibility and excellent communication skills. Ultimately, I want to hire people who are willing to bring challenges and new ideas to the table. Finding the right cultural fit is also key, and I still like to use the airport test. I always ask myself: Is this a person you’d want to be stranded at the airport with for six hours?

How would the people closest to you describe you in a few words?
Tenacious, ambitious, humble, and thoughtful are words I’ve heard in performance reviews and in other feedback over the years. I also think people know I can deliver and stay calm under pressure. I like to work cross-functionally to get things done. Heineken would call it the “what” and the “how”: what you deliver and how you engage with others in the delivery. I think as you get more experienced, the “how” becomes increasingly important.

Outside work, how do you spend your time?
I try to spend as much time with my family as possible. My wife and I live in New Jersey with our 5-year-old daughter. I also run regularly and play soccer. I’ve done a couple of marathons and some half marathons. And, of course, I try to stay current on my TV and Netflix shows. Typical binge watching when I can find the time.

What’s next for you?
At some point, I’d love to work in another part of the world. But right now, I’m excited about my new role at Heineken, and the opportunity to continue building my capabilities in finance. Down the road, I think I’ll be well prepared for a management role that brings together operations, strategy, and finance.

What career advice can you offer?
Be open to different experiences. Be open minded. Find people along the way whom you trust and who can serve as mentors. Your career may, at times, feel like a winding, meandering road. But as long as you are continuing to build skills that will help you in the future, embrace it.

This interview was conducted and edited by Jen Swetzoff, founder of CLOSEUP, a creative content studio in Brooklyn. She was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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