January 14, 2005

Talk with Carlsberg CEO Nils Andersen

Nils S. Andersen, CEO Carlsberg (photo: Jerry Bergmann)
Nils Andersen: "I don't see myself as a tough guy"
From his office in the historic brewing tower at the headquarters of Carlsberg Breweries A/S in Copenhagen, CEO Nils S. Andersen can look over the Öresund strait to the coast of nearby Sweden. Perhaps it is not without significance that his room faces east towards the new demand for premium beer in traditionally vodka-loving Russia. This modest, polite man at the helm of the world's fifth-largest brewer can afford to make a long-term commitment to developing premium brands without short-term shareholder pressure. Carlsberg is majority owned by a charitably-minded foundation. The world being as it is, however, this doesn't mean that 47-year-old Nielsen, dubbed "the hatchet" by his critics, doesn't have to take some very tough decisions...
November 26, 2004

Talk with Pinault-Printemps-Redoute CEO

Serge Weinberg, CEO Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (photo: Baxter)
Serge Weinberg: "There is no ideal corporate structure"
You can walk to Serge Weinberg's office from the Printemps flagship department store on Paris's elegant boulevard Haussmann. True to form, the CEO of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA (PPR) is an elegant, cosmopolitan Frenchman with great charm. Although he describes himself as a "mild authoritarian", his staff seemed to like and respecte him. PPR, with revenues last year of €24.4bn, clearly wants to increase its exposure to the luxury and fashion business. One only needs to recall its purchase of Gucci. In view of the high margins, this is obviously an enticing proposition. The more PPR moves in this direction, however, the more its current structure as an unwieldy French conglomerate seems out of place.
October 22, 2004

Talk with Kraft Foods CEO Roger Deromedi

Roger Deromedi, CEO Kraft Foods (photo: Peter Rondholz)
Roger Deromedi: "We must accelerate innovation"
Roger Deromedi, CEO of Kraft Foods, Inc., is a pleasant man with a big task on his hands. Deromedi (51) knows that he has to reorganise the world's second-largest food group (2003 revenues: €25.2bn) in order to create a new growth model and to regain market share. In a sense, Deromedi also has to fight history. Kraft Foods is a huge conglomerate resulting out of General Foods, Kraft, Jacobs Suchard and Nabisco. Now, that's a lot to focus. Since 1998, the Northfield/Illinois-based company belongs to US tobacco giant Philip Morris which was renamed Altria Group, Inc. in January last year. Although Kraft Foods managers will never admit it openly, one could well imagine them secretly yearning to free themselves from the yoke of Big Tobacco. The lawyers, however, maintain that this would constitute fraudulent conveyance. Now, don't they call this being between a rock and a hard place?
October 1, 2004

Talk with Imperial Tobacco CEO Gareth Davis

Gareth Davis, Imperial Tobacco Group (photo: Imperial Tobacco)
Gareth Davis: "No one wins a price war"
Primed with films like "The Initiative" and "Thank You for Smoking", one might expect a representative of "Big Tobacco" to be a mixture between the Godfather and Gordon Gekko. Gareth Davis, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco Group Plc (2008 revenues: €22.3bn), had none of these allures. Under the long tenure of Mr Davis (59), Imperial Tobacco has undergone significant expansion — not least through its acquisition of Reemtsma in Germany. The Bristol/UK-based company's major international competitors have also grown, however, taking the industry to what many observers see as the end-game phase of global consolidation. Meanwhile, Big Tobacco has been hit by a wave of litigation in the US and a huge flourish in international contraband. Tough times for a high-margin industry?
August 13, 2004

Talk with Tesco Chairman David Reid

David Reid, Chairman Tesco (photo: Tesco)
David Reid: "Don't bet against Tesco"
He would probably be the first to quibble with the characterisation. However, quiet-spoken non-executive Chairman David Reid is generally regarded as one of the brains behind the international success story that is Tesco Plc. Like his board colleague, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Reid also represents a friendlier, kinder side to Tesco than some of the more hard-ball players around CEO Sir Terry Leahy. This doesn't mean that he is any less ambitious for the company though. Reid's pose with hand on globe at head office in Cheshunt, near London, looks significant for the future: Tesco intends to conquer the world. Rhodesian-born David Reid is quietly proud of Tesco's achievements. The 57-year-old top manager clearly feels that the UK's leading grocer has successfully contained Aldi and Lidl at home, while out-competing global retail titans Carrefour and Wal-Mart in South-East Asia. Significantly, he carefully sidesteps, but does not deny an interest in expanding the business to the US. That said, Reid warns against arrogance. This particularly applies to his younger managers "because they have never known hard times or our earlier difficulties".
July 23, 2004

Talk with Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn

Senator Feargal Quinn (photo: Declan Corrigan)
Feargal Quinn: "Respect, service, value and passion"
Retail legend Senator Feargal Quinn hasn't changed much over the years. He is still affable and remarkably forthright, and, like most Irish, he has the gift of the gab. Regrettably, his days in a management executive role are now over. But anyone who recalls the innovative way he used to run Dublin-based supermarket chain Superquinn will always be interested in hearing his views. His famous book "Crowning the Customer" has gone a long way to popularising them. This delightful read is surely one of the best books ever written on retailing. In its heyday during the 80s and 90s, Superquinn was a Mecca for retailers world-wide. Quinn even forced suppliers to negotiate with him on the shop floor and got shop staff speeding around on roller-skates. When he ran his own show, Feargal Quinn only ever gave interviews in his stores. "This is where I belong; this is where I should be – with my customers."
March 26, 2004

Talk with Swedish papermaker SCA

Jan Åström, CEO of SCA (photo: Alexander Farnsworth)
Jan Åström: "We've got a good mix"
Jan Åström, CEO of Stockholm-based SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget), has that typically Swedish attribute of robust optimism. SCA is among the ten largest papermakers in the world and has an impressively broad product portfolio. The Hygiene Products division accounts for roughly half of group revenues, Packaging for a third and Personal Care (ladies' hygiene, nappies/diapers, incontinence products) for the remaining 15 per cent. At SCA's historic headquarters in elegant Stockholm, Åström (48) sketched out his plan for growth via own label, the global "Tena" brand, and international expansion. While doing so, Jan Åström knows that he can leverage considerable economies of scale with gross 2003 revenues touching €9.4bn. He can also play on a value-added chain that reaches from forestry to packaging.
December 5, 2003

Talk with Albertsons CEO Larry Johnston

Larry Johnston, CEO Albertsons (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Larry Johnston: "No sacred cows"
Larry Johnston, Chairman, President & CEO of US retail giant Albertsons, Inc, is a lanky ex-marine with mild manners. Likeable and comradely, he turned up late for the interview in a Paris hotel, but was honest enough to say: "Sorry guys, I simply forgot." In fairness, the man was heavily jet-lagged, and it was 3 a.m. by his biological clock. Johnston was groomed at General Electric under the legendary Jack Welch. He was called in to troubleshoot at Albertsons at the end of 2000 after a merger with American Stores turned sour. The deal catapulted the new enlarged Albertsons to the number two spot in US grocery retailing behind Kroger. But a crushing legacy of debt and intractable integration problems were the price. Johnston freely admits that, when the head-hunters approached him for the job, he had never even heard of Albertsons.
September 5, 2003

Talk with Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestlé CEO (photo: Wildbild)
Peter Brabeck: "I'm no slave to the retailers"
"So you've come to see our film star?" asked a helpful, but somewhat overripe lady assistant, brandishing a New York business magazine with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe on the front cover. At the head office of the world's largest food supplier in Vevey on delightful Lake Geneva, one is ushered in to the CEO of Nestlé with fitting reverence. Certainly, Brabeck has been instrumental in developing the Swiss power house away from its former sweets bias towards a nutritional health company. And it was refreshing not to hear a supplier fawn, cringe, and grovel at the mere mention of his major retail customers.
June 13, 2003

Talk with Procter & Gamble CEO Alan Lafley

Alan G. Lafley, Chairman & CEO Procter & Gamble (photo: Peter Rondholz)
Alan Lafley: suaviter in modo, fortiter in re
With the acquisition of German haircare company Wella fresh under his belt, Alan G. Lafley, Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble, paid a lightening trip to Germany on his global rounds. Modest almost to the point of shyness, Lafley seemed remarkably relaxed for a man who has turned around the world's second-largest fmcg manufacturer. Following in the footsteps of a controversial predecessor nicknamed "Dark Vader", mild-mannered "A.G." has successfully refocused the US consumer goods giant on its core brands, countries and markets. To do so within less than three years is nothing short of a feat of arms. Following the controversial restructuring and cost-cutting programme "Organization 2005" P&G is now a meaner and leaner animal. As Alan Lafley spoke about marketing billion-dollar brands to a hundred-or-more countries, the quiet American projected the tone: "Nothing much really, all in a day's work." Don't they call this "laid-back" on his side of the Pond?