December 18, 2006

Talk with Lego CEO Jørgen Knudstorp

Jørgen Knudstorp, CEO Lego (photo: Lego)
Jørgen Knudstorp: "Wherever we departed from our core proposition, consumers deserted the brand in droves"
Like many Danes, Dr. Jørgen Knudstorp, chief executive of Billund-based Lego System A/S, is refreshingly unconventional. Dressed in jeans, open shirt and rolled up arm sleeves, he gave an interview in a former warehouse converted into an arts centre in a suburb of Copenhagen. Knudstorp had chosen the venue to provide some out-of-office training as well as motivational seminars for his staff. It was also the only slot he could find within a heavy time schedule. Ex-McKinsey man Knudstorp is a strategic thinker who has been instrumental in turning Lego around after the company had got seriously out of kilter by diversifying away from its core proposition. Last year, the Lego group posted annual sales of €1.3bn. During the interview, it was a pleasure to let Knudstorp's analytical mind play over the international toy segment. It was also reassuring to learn from him that children still play with colour plastic bricks in an age of electronic games.
December 1, 2006

P&G's Jim Stengel talks global marketing

Jim Stengel, Marketing Director Procter & Gamble (photo: Die Vision)
Jim Stengel: "Experience the consumer"
The term "marketing guru" is so often misused that one hesitates to apply it. However, the title perfectly fits Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer at fmcg giant Procter & Gamble. Stengel's extremely consumer-oriented approach to the world-wide marketing of fmcg products has taken even the "Proctoids" to a new level of sophistication. Jim Stengel believes in getting close to his customers wherever they buy P&G products. If that means following shoppers around the store or his marketing & product development team living with consumers in their homes in order to understand user behaviour, then so be it.
November 24, 2006

Talk with Leclerc boss Michel-Édouard Leclerc

Dr. Michel-Édouard Leclerc, President of Leclerc  (photo: Les Linéaires)
Michel-Édouard Leclerc: "We put our social and political vision before money-making"
Michel-Édouard Leclerc, president of leading French retailer co-operative E. Leclerc, is a living legend in France. This self-styled Robin Hood of French consumers, who has declared a personal crusade against higher prices in favour of "la vie moins chère", is seldom out of the media. Lebensmittel Zeitung's film team cornered the charismatic Frenchman at the retailer's ultra-modern headquarters in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. This is where all the independent retailer members of "le mouvement Leclerc", which grossed revenues of €35bn last year, are expected to invest a third of their time (tiers temps) helping the collective. But none of them may run more than two hypermarkets or three supermarkets. We therefore asked Dr. Leclerc to explain the exceptional corporate culture created by his father in 1949.
October 27, 2006

Talk with advertising legend Maurice Saatchi

Lord Maurice Saatchi (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Maurice Saatchi: "Just one word"
Interviewing one of the legendary Saatchi brothers is like Mick Jagger asking you for loose change in the car park of some rural English town. Lord Maurice Saatchi (63), in smartly tailored suit and immaculately manicured finger nails, now runs M&C Saatchi plc from his office in Golden Square, Soho, with a good view of the London Eye. Saatchi is polite, but inscrutable – one could just have easily interviewed a sphinx. He looks at you inquisitively through the big heavy glasses which were his trade mark during the heyday of predecessor company Saatchi & Saatchi in the 70s and 80s. This was also when the trendsetter helped Britain's Conservative party back to power. Today's member of the House of Lords still talks affectionately about ex-premier Maggie, now Baroness Thatcher and better known to continentals as "The Iron Lady". Recently, Lord Saatchi has written a number of articles on advertising in The Financial Times. Using an ad man's Occam's razor, Saatchi wants his clients to pare away the sales hype until they promote themselves in the simplest of possible terms. True to form, Maurice Saatchi remains the enfant terrible of the advertising industry.
August 28, 2006

Talk with Danish Crown CEO Kjeld Johannesen

Kjeld Johannesen, CEO Danish Crown (photo: Carsten Milbret)
Kjeld Johannesen: "If you aren't profitable, you can't grow"
Pleasant, easy-going Kjeld Johannesen is the boss of a company which is living proof that a co-operative structure is no impediment to size in the meat trade. Danish Crown's revenues of around €6.3bn make the Randers-based group the world's largest meat exporter and the third-largest pig slaughtering business. In the search for profitability, however, the international meat trade looks very much on the verge of another round of consolidation. This is a man who gives the impression that his people, the environment and animal welfare concerns are not mere ciphers on a management agenda. The need to reduce cost in an increasingly competitive and high-volume environment has inevitably drawn him into conflict with local Danish trade unions. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe, and even Germany, offer sites with cheaper labour. Will Johannesen choose peace at home or a cost-optimised balance sheet?
May 19, 2006

WPP boss Martin Sorrell talks retailing

Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP (photo: Tom Campbell)
Martin Sorrell: "Retail brands have to be communicated"
Given his omnipresence in the international media, an interview with WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell is like déjà vu. Sorrell runs the marketing services group and world's largest advertising company by revenue (2008: €8.3bn) from a headquarters in London's classy Mayfair district. This 64-year-old powerhouse sets himself big goals and even larger bonuses. His current potential pay package is a whopping €70m, but this isn't a soft option for bankers. After investing €22m of his own money, Sorrell only gets the dough if he meets a specific goal: WPP must be the top performer by market capitalisation within a peer group of nine over a five or 10-year period. In between striving for his bonus, he gave his view as an international ad man of mass market retailing & the fmcg industry.
April 28, 2006

Talk with Rémy Cointreau CEO Laborde

Jean-Marie Laborde, CEO Rémy Cointreau (photo: Bert Bostelmann)
Jean-Marie Laborde: "The Chinese love cognac"
Just one glance at the business card of Jean-Marie Laborde betrays where his main interest lies: the front is in English and the reverse in Chinese. In fact, the eyes of the urbane and cosmopolitan CEO of Rémy Cointreau S.A. light up at the mere mention of the Middle Kingdom. Small wonder when business in the People's Republic of China is powering the global growth of this highly-profitable spirits & champagne group (2008/09 revenues: €714m). Warming to his subject with evident relish, Laborde (59) gives an enthusiastic tour d'horizon of the potential he sees in South-East Asia and reveals how the French family company intends to harness it.
February 17, 2006

Talk with Campari CEO Enzo Visone

photo: Campari
Enzo Visone: "We are hunters"
If Enzo Visone, CEO at Gruppo Campari, wants to celebrate a 40 per cent rise in the share price over the last year, he doesn't have far to go. A few strides along the corridor from his office and he can fix himself a drink at the company bar. Should he wish to relax, he can take a stroll outside Milan headquarters. There he can choose from any number of glamorous coffee shops and restaurants in the famous La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. And if ever he feels the need for inspiration, he could always visit the opera at nearby La Scala or say a prayer in the cathedral. After all, Enzo Visone has a hard act to follow. He succeeds statesman-like Marco Perelli-Cippo who enjoyed the confidence of the Garavoglia owner-family. Visone intends to pursue the acquisitions trail mapped out by his illustrious predecessor. But will he also be able to grow the spirits group in a disciplined way that will continue to create value for shareholders?
January 13, 2006

gardeur fashion man Hiltrop talks food retail

Klaus Hiltrop, CEO gardeur ag (photo: Ludwig Heimrath)
Klaus Hiltrop: "Customers want a story"
Sometimes it is worth looking over the fence of one's own industry in order to gain cross sector insight. When food retailers meet, all too often it is only to commit intellectual incest. For this reason, we asked Klaus C. Hiltrop, sales & marketing director at Mönchengladbach-based fashion company gardeur ag, how he views food retailing. Hiltrop (57) has been active in the fashion industry since the 1970s and is an eloquent commentator on retailing and brands. The charismatic manager was one of the first to predict the demise of Marks & Spencer when it came to Germany in 1996. He was bitterly disappointed after a visit to their first store on the Schildergasse in Cologne. Klaus Hiltrop is also no friend of the factory or designer outlet centre. He sees this distribution channel as a dangerous dilution to brands. As a brand manager who has always lived by the power of labels, his comments on retail brands are doubly instructive.
October 21, 2005

Talk with Tesco International CEO Philip Clarke

Philip Clarke, Tesco International CEO (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Philip Clarke: "We don't just plant flags"
Philip Clarke, Asia, Europe & IT director at Tesco Plc, works for a global retailer which arrived relatively late on the international playing field. Since the mid-90s, the UK's leading grocer has more than made up for lost time with multiple entries in eastern Europe and south-east Asia. Last year, international operations in Asia and Europe were added to Phil Clarke's managerial responsibilities. The 45-year-old Tesco veteran first started work for the company in 1974. After college, he rose through the ranks to become a store manager, product buyer, marketer and, as from 1998, a board member responsible for the group's supply chain and IT operations. Recently, this down-to-earth Liverpudlian has exited Taiwan. Could this be the harbinger of a major realignment overseas?