Bringing the heat

June 2020

Maura Mottolese at Cholula's offices in Stamford, Conn.

Photo: John Emerson

Throughout her career, Maura Mottolese, BS ’89, has proven she can stand the heat of a hypercompetitive industry.

Since graduating from the School of Management, Mottolese has spent most of her career in the consumer packaged goods industry and today serves as CEO of Cholula, a beloved hot sauce brand that’s made in Mexico and enjoyed around the world.

“The food and beverage categories are invigorating because the competition is grueling, spanning the spectrum from entrenched marquee brands with huge budgets and classically trained executives, to scrappy, brilliant startups run by aggressive and courageous entrepreneurs,” Mottolese says. “And these days, the Davids win a lot of battles over the Goliaths, which is a testament to our ever-changing consumer landscape.”

Mottolese started her career in marketing, working at both nimble, young brands and Goliath, legacy companies, including terms as vice president of marketing for Snapple Beverage Group and, later, Cadbury Schweppes, which acquired Snapple in 2000. But she singles out one of her earliest positions, as associate brand manager at Cadbury Beverages in the mid-1990s, as her most influential.

“I became a more effective marketer and business leader,” Mottolese recalls. “I was the liaison between the marketing and field sales teams, which taught me to put my brand plans through the filter of various constituencies—our sales teams, distributors and retailers—because if those customers didn’t buy into it, the end consumer would never see it.”

In 2006, she shifted into executive leadership when she was named president of The Switch Beverage Co. Widely credited with the company’s turnaround, Mottolese took the carbonated juice brand from bankruptcy to the top of its category during her eight-year tenure.

“My role required me to toggle back and forth between big-picture strategic thinking and hands-on execution every day—and I absolutely loved it,” she says. “We relaunched the business in the schools channel and, within a couple years, became the leader in a category dominated by big companies. It was rewarding and demonstrated that with a good plan and a lot of determination the seemingly impossible can happen.”

Next, as CEO of Tate’s Bake Shop from 2014 to 2019, Mottolese oversaw the company’s $500 million sale to Mondelez International, while also ensuring the sacred recipe, ingredients and baking process for its cookies—named No. 1 in America by Consumer Reports—stayed consistent.

Today, Mottolese is working to take another company with high consumer affinity, Cholula Hot Sauce, to the next level. After coming on board last June, she quickly identified opportunities to enhance the brand’s value, including streamlining its supply chain, exploring new distribution channels and evaluating its assortment of flavors.

Mottolese says she loves what she does and relishes the challenges ahead—and encourages current School of Management students to find a career that makes them feel the same way.

“My time in the UB School of Management ignited my passion for business and marketing and laid the foundation for what has been a very fulfilling career,” she says. “Do what you love. And, you may not necessarily know what you love right out of the gate, so tweak your career as needed until you find what energizes you.”

Written by Matthew Biddle