Why Bonin Bough Left Mondelez To Help Shepherd Small Businesses With LeBron James

The former Mondelez chief media officer is taking his global brand marketing skills to small business, and going deep on marketing’s future in messaging.

Why Bonin Bough Left Mondelez To Help Shepherd Small Businesses With LeBron James
Host Bonin Bough and Executive Producer LeBron James of Cleveland Hustles [Photos: courtesy of CNBC]

On August 24th, CNBC is premiering a new show produced by LeBron James that is like a Shark Tank for Cleveland with a small business twist. Cleveland Hustles brings together local entrepreneurs and investors to open businesses and revitalize neighborhoods, and the host is Mondelez’s now-former chief media and e-commerce officer B. Bonin Bough (and member of Fast Company‘s 2011 Most Creative People). Now, after filming and creating the show’s first season, Bough was inspired to make its underlying concept his mission for small businesses across America.


“What I began to realize was how big of an impact big business thinking can have on small business,” says Bough, who joined Mondelez from PepsiCo in 2012 as VP of global media and consumer engagement, and was named chief media and e-commerce officer last year. He points to the Cleveland Bagel Company, featured in the show’s first episode, as a prime example of what he hopes to do.

“This was two guys who hand-roll bagels in a shared kitchen. They didn’t even have a real space, and one guy was sleeping in his car for a while right next to this shared kitchen space,” says Bough, who saw an opportunity beyond the show. “But because of their constraints they developed a method to freeze the bagels, and it tastes almost as good as fresh. I saw that product, and we’re opening a storefront because it is about helping these neighborhoods. But the frozen bagel market hasn’t been reinvented in forever, so I also asked them if we should look at expanding the business. I flew with them to New York and met with CEO Chieh (Huang), and it looks like they have a national distribution deal. They’re going to go from making a truckload of bagels once a month, to a truckload of bagels every single day.”

Stories like that convinced him to leave the C-suite and take his expertise in a different direction. “Looking at the impact we had on that business, I realized my network and LeBron’s network can provide huge access and opportunity to small businesses and transform them,” says Bough, who this week launched the Pitch LeBron contest, where brick-and-mortar small businesses pitch a 23-second video for a chance to get a 23-second endorsement from James. “There are a lot of us out there working for the world’s biggest businesses and brands, and if we can find a way to bring some of our knowledge down the chain to small businesses, there’s a big impact potential. So your readers out there might be getting a phone call from me, and they better answer!”

But it’s not just Main Street Bough is interested in spending time on. He just released the book Txt Me: Your Phone Has Changed Your Life. Let’s Talk About It and sees messaging as the next big media platform.

Photo: Duane Prokop, courtesy of CNBC

“There is no ad tech, really, around the messaging space,” says Bough. “Everything that exists for social media right now will be invented for messaging. We’re seeing a lot of conversation around bots, but that’s one-third of the marketplace at best. Why isn’t People magazine being delivered through messaging? If you look at it, in 2011 there was only one messaging app in the top 10 downloaded apps, which was Skype. Now, 7 of the top 10 downloaded apps are messaging apps. I believe that it’s the next wave. I’ve taken on advisor roles within four pretty significant plays in the messaging space, and you’ll see more from me there.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.