How Smollan is using Mygrow to help build a business that deserves to last.


How global retail specialist Smollan, representing some of the world’s most loved FMCG and commerce brands, has successfully adopted Mygrow to equip their people with the right skills for the future, and shift towards a softer, more people-centric culture.

From family business, to global player, to future-fit

Smollan began back in 1931 as a family-owned regional sales agency in South Africa. 90 years later it has grown to 90 000 employees across the globe. This is a company that understands growth and understands business – they have proven their weight as a global player across Africa, South Asia, Asia and Oceania, South America and Europe.

Time and hard work have accomplished this growth, but with time and growth come change, and change always calls for wisdom.

The Smollan leadership team recognised that success in the past doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the future. They recognised that the challenges of the present moment require a new set of skills. They also understand that these new skills require a new strategy for equipping them.

In what follows, People Executive and Head of Leadership Development, Ronit Levy, and senior leader and People Specialist, Michelle Bignall, share the background into which Mygrow was invited, and the impact that developing EQ is having in their business.

Keeping the best of the past while moving forward

When asked about Smollan’s people strategy Michelle shared: “What we are trying to focus on as a business is looking towards the future and ensuring that we are enabling our work force to be ‘future-fit’. This means we need to be equipping our people with the skills required to navigate all that is to come.”

Given the company’s history, the values of family are deeply rooted in Smollan’s DNA. Michelle went on to say: “This company has a way of getting into your blood. There is a family feel to it that you just can’t escape. While this is a wonderful cultural artefact of the past, it can be difficult to replicate globally.”

But scale is not the only obstacle to replicating culture. The rapid change in the world-of-work and the resulting increase of demand on workforces makes it even more imperative to retain the heart and identity of the company. The leadership of the business identified the need to continue reflecting the culture of family, and to continue creating meaningful employment – transforming lives and leaving a positive impact on the communities they serve.

Input from the team – We asked the Smollan team to share the positive impact that Mygrow has had on them and this is some of what was shared:


“I have a team of 23 people and as I have invested in my own growth and development I have noticed that my empathy naturally started to grow and my levels of irritation in situations involving staff started to decrease. We spend a lot of time together so I’m an advocate for growing and strengthening our working relationships so that we can work well together.”

– Peta-Jane Dineen, Field Manager

Defining the problem

People Executive, and Head of Leadership Development, Ronit Levy, shared: “There has been a huge shift in what is required of us as a company – from both an internal people perspective and client need. Where previously our clients would tell us what to do and we would do it, much more is now expected of us – we are required to think more strategically and critically than ever before.”

Ronit explained that while the company has an “unbelievably rich and beautiful background it has previously operated more as a machine, where soft-skills development wasn’t necessarily a priority”. Michelle contributed further by saying: “As a business we are moving towards a leadership oriented culture as opposed to the old autocratic style of management.”

This autocratic management approach may have worked in the past, but the past is gone. The future is calling for something different, and the team at Smollan has recognised the need to adapt.

For Smollan to remain relevant in the shifting business landscape the leadership have risen to the task of empowering their people to foster the right skills, to create a unified company culture across the globe.

Ronit went on to explain that Smollan is in the process of shifting to an even more people centric approach.

Adding to this, Ronit said:

‘Future-fit’ is not some ‘airy fairy’, far-off idea. The future is now, and the skills required need to be developed now if we are to remain relevant. EQ development is a massive part of that. Our product is people. That is what, and who, we are. We are a people business, and we have to make our people the best they can possibly be.”

Michelle went on to say:

A big shift [for us] is encompassing that people are at the heart of what we do and with that we need EQ. You can have all the cognitive ability in the world but without EQ you are a fish out of water.

Finding the solution

Smollan is set on building an extraordinary place to work – this is their ‘north star’ vision and a key goal of their 2025 business strategy. This is no small task. Changing company values and shifting from a more target-driven to people-driven ethos is an undertaking of mammoth proportions.

They chose to include Mygrow as part of this process. Mygrow is an EQ development technology that develops the competencies of Emotional Intelligence using techniques over time, through daily droplets on the Mygrow platform.

At Mygrow we are aware that the world is radically changing and both individuals and companies are struggling to find ways to survive. We give people and teams the right skills to navigate the challenges of personal and work life. We really want people to grow and companies to be better!

Smollan initially used Mygrow within their Women in Leadership mentorship programme and have since expanded into different levels of the company, from senior executives and management right through to teams.

These individuals have been on a journey to develop the skills of EQ that make people great at managing themselves and interacting effectively with others.

Input from the team – We asked the Smollan team to share the positive impact that Mygrow has had on them and this is some of what was shared:

Positivity and confidence

“The journey has truly given me the tools to combat the negative thinking traps that I was stuck in and that I didn’t even know needed to change. I have come to realise through my time on Mygrow that EQ development isn’t only for specific situations but has a holistic impact, affecting the way that you see both yourself and others. It really has the potential to change everything. I am completely different since I started on Mygrow. A good metaphor is that psychologically I was “hunched over” all the time, now I am “standing tall.” I’m comfortable in my own skin. I can see the difference that my values as a person make to the world and those around me.”

– Simone du Plessis, People Consultant

EQ as the set of skills required to face the future

Smollan has harnessed Mygrow as a culture-change tool: a way to equip, develop and grow their people. Mygrow is a unifying platform to hasten the process of shifting values and fostering culture change.

When asked about the Smollan-Mygrow fit, Ronit shared that Mygrow’s holistic approach to development deeply resonated with her. “The bite-sized chunks and incremental change over time was a huge win, as well as Mygrow’s stance that ‘training doesn’t mean development’. I also love the gym premise of building in increments over time. I bought into this very quickly as I believe that it is what our business needs. Many have done some form of EQ training before, but we have found that it’s not sustained development, and so isn’t as impactful.”

Michelle seconded this when she said: ”I think in general EQ is an important element of what we do as leaders, and for me much of the hesitancy with Mygrow at the beginning was wondering what I was going to learn in only 15 minutes a day. How will this be valuable? Since then, I have seen that microlearning has become best practice – if you want to really have that consistency in development, microlearning is the way forward.”

Ronit expanded this further by saying: “I love the potential that Mygrow has to create a common language and space for people to discuss and share. Often we don’t necessarily have the words for what we are experiencing and Mygrow helps us find them.”

Mygrow has helped to bring people back to the centre of the work experience.

The results

In reflecting on the last few months Ronit’s response was that although it’s still early days many of the Smollan Mygrow users have shared very positive growth stories from their EQ development journeys. She observed: “A very meaningful and interesting outcome was that our senior leaders clearly want Mygrow and find value in it.”

Michelle has noticed significant growth in her team and beyond. For example, she said: “ I had shared part of my story of improved self-perception with a colleague who is incredibly hard on herself. She is now also on Mygrow and recently phoned me to tell me she now understands what I was talking about. I have also noticed more openness in people.”

Reflecting on her own leadership growth Michelle explained, “Previously I would go onto a call to discuss objectives and rush through the ‘how are you, I am fine’ bit, to just get on with the procedure. Now I take at least 10 minutes to hear how everyone really is, how their kids are and to connect with them. It has brought us closer, especially in the remote environment where we are no longer sharing a coffee station or bumping into each other in the hallways.”

Team perspective

Michelle reports: “From a team perspective difficult conversations are happening more often and I am seeing greater vulnerability than ever before”.

She shared that:

  • Mygrow has sparked curiosity and started people thinking and questioning about their development, their lives, and what really matters to them.
  • One person in our team realised she is always giving and giving and pouring out and not looking after herself.
  • Some people have realised that the way they are doing things has to shift and that they can’t continue going the same way they have in the past. They have recognised the need for change.

Input from the team – We asked the Smollan team to share the positive impact that Mygrow has had on them and this is some of what was shared:


“I have grown in how I view myself. I forgive myself more than before and I am far more accepting of my mistakes and flaws. This has helped me to grow and be open to different feedback and discussions.”

– Michelle Bignall, People Specialist


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