May 22, 2009

Talk with McDonald's Western Europe President

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Bane Knezevic: "Consumers socialise more in a crisis"
Branislav (Bane) Knezevic, President Western Division of McDonald's Europe, is a man you can steal horses with. There is something pleasantly roguish about him, and he likes to tell a joke with a captivating twinkle of the eye. Perhaps it is the same optimistic animal spirit which allows the US fast-food giant to invest anti-cyclically in the current economic turmoil. In this interview, Lebensmittel Zeitung wanted a fast food and global brand's view of food retailing in order to gain some cross-sector insight. A polyglot Serb, Bane Knezevic (pronounced: knee-za-vitch) represents the world's largest fast-food company in Germany, Austria & Central Eastern Europe (Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia). Knezevic sees the current crisis as a chance.
April 30, 2009

Talk with Reckitt Benckiser CEO Bart Becht

Bart Becht: (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Bart Becht: "We don't punish mistakes"
Bart Becht, CEO at Reckitt Benckiser, can look back with satisfaction over a formidable record of achievement. Under his aegis since 2000, net revenues have doubled and market cap quadrupled at the household cleaner products giant. Yet, talking in Slough headquarters, just west of London, the 52-year-old Dutchman seemed more like a shy rocket scientist than the leader of a global brand manufacturer with a legendary "take-no-prisoners" corporate culture. The interview got off to a cautious start as Becht felt that he had been misquoted in the UK media recently regarding statements he had about Tesco. However, once Becht realised that he wasn't going to be pinned down to trade marketing topics, he was more than happy to analyse the success machine that is Reckitt Benckiser (2008 revenues: €7.1bn).
April 15, 2009

Talk with Fyffes boss David McCann

David McCann, CEO Fyffes (photo: Declan Corrigan)
David McCann: "Banana consumption holds up well in a recession"
It took several years of coaxing to persuade Fyffes boss David McCann to agree to an interview. A lawyer by trade, this 50-year-old Irishman plays his cards close to his chest and seldom gives interviews. Once tracked down, however, the Chairman & CEO of the Dublin-based fruit group proved courteous and extremely modest about his achievements in the international trade. Growth was strong on all markets, and particularly so in Continental Europe. Thus, the company has increased its ebit forecast for 2009 from €14m-€18m to €16m-€20m despite a hefty 20 per cent hike in costs. How long, however, can the family company's strong international growth compensate increasingly onerous legislation and a volatile cost base? And what will happen if the so-called "banana wars" flare up again?
January 16, 2009

Talk with Staples CEO Ronald Sargent

Ron Sargent, CEO Staples (photo: Staples)
Ron Sargent: "For the first ten years in Europe we probably made every mistake you can make"
An interview with Ronald L. Sargent, Chairman & CEO of Staples, Inc., is probably about as uncomplicated as you can get: "Just call me Ron, and let's do some straight talking." That's not bad coming from the top dog of the world's largest office products & services retailer with revenues last year of $23bn (€16.1bn) in 27 countries on five continents. The US giant has shifted into even higher gear since its $3.2bn (€2.2bn) acquisition of Dutch specialist wholesaler Corporate Express, better known in continental Europe as Buhrmann, in July 2008. Among other things, the move has made the Massachusetts-based company market leader in Germany. Staples started in this country ten years ago under the "Maxi Papier" banner when it also purchased Metro Group subsidiary "Sigma". Ron Sargent (53) frankly admits that mistakes were made while trying to internationalise a successful US concept. But in his typically American way he accepts these without neurosis and says he has learned from them.
October 24, 2008

Talk with Best Buy International CEO

Bob Willett, CEO Best Buy (photo: James Mackenzie)
Bob Willett: "Our blue shirts are our secret weapon"
Robert (Bob) Willett turned up late for a breakfast interview at London's swanky Landmark Hotel on the Marylebone Road. But the busy CEO & CIO of Best Buy International apologised profusely for the delay. The world's largest consumer electronics retailer from Richfield/Minnesota seems a little breathless after its recent joint-venture with the UK's Carphone Warehouse. Bob Willett is unpretentious, easy-going and a delightful talker. He is also blessed with a wicked sense of humour. But make no mistake; his bonhomie serves a strategic purpose. Best Buy's US management is convinced that service is an underdeveloped art in Europe and that it will be their trump card on the other side of the Pond.
July 18, 2008

Talk with Système U boss Serge Papin

Serge Papin, President Système U (photo: CIES)
Serge Papin: "Retailer cooperatives are the future, not the past"
Serge Papin, CEO of French retailer co-operative Système U, is a heavy smoker who wants to quit because his favourite hobby is long-distance running. The 54-year-old has made a start by switching to organic cigarettes. Papin is an eloquent communicator and freely admits to giving a lot of interviews "in order to make Système U a national brand". The Frenchman is genuinely convinced that the co-operative represents a superior organisational principle. He also believes that our current global business model, based on Gordon Gekko-type greed, is doomed to failure. Posting annual gross sales in 2007 of €18bn, Système U is France's sixth-largest retailer. Its "Hyper U" hypermarkets and superstores as well as its "Super U" and "Marché U" supermarkets are well-known landmarks in the provinces and particularly in western France. But, apart from minor investments in French overseas colonies, Système U has remained a purely local force. Unlike rivals Leclerc or Intermarché, it has not chosen to expand within Europe. Is this wise or foolish?
July 11, 2008

England, Tescoland?

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco HR & Legal Affairs Director (photo: Davis Plas)
Lucy Neville-Rolfe: "95 per cent of consumers love Tesco"
When Corporate & Legal Affairs Director Lucy Neville-Rolfe agreed to an interview, her suggestion to meet at Tesco's legal offices in London's Fleet Street gave pause for thought. Were we about to receive a subpœna from the retail giant's principal legal eagle? This nervous introspection was not without a certain irony. After all, Lebensmittel Zeitung had come to ask, whether the UK's leading grocer felt under attack by the media? Over the last few years, the retail giant (2008/09 group sales: £59.4bn) has been accused of a growing multitude of sins. But recently there has been a veritable orgy of public Tesco-bashing. Is the former star pupil of Cool Britannia being savaged by a vociferous minority only, or is there some deeper malaise within the company?
June 20, 2008

Talk with Alliance Boots Chairman Pessina

Stefano Pessina (photo: Alliance Boots)
Stefano Pessina: "I like creating value through mergers"
Stefano Pessina, Executive Chairman of Alliance Boots, the UK pharmaceutical wholesale & drugstore giant, is impeccably polite. In common with Scrooge McDuck, the 67-year-old is also a personal billionaire, but, there the comparison with the famous Walt Disney character must end. Far more tellingly, in City circles they call this international private equity expert "the silver fox". For a man pushing $2.7bn (€1.9bn) in corporate net debt, he looked remarkably unfazed. During the interview, Pessina was never happier than when number crunching and talking about the synergies and costs of scale to be gained via mergers. In 2008/09 Alliance Boots posted revenues of £17.2bn (€20bn), so he already has a lot of material to play with.
May 16, 2008

Talk with Jim Beam global whiskey ambassador

Fred Noe, Jim Beam (photo: Bert Bostelmann)
Fred Noe: "I get invited to a lot of parties"
Frederick Booker Noe, III – or Fred Noe for short – is the global ambassador of the Jim Beam whiskey brand. Jim Beam belongs to the portfolio of Deerfield, Illinois-based Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. Annual revenues of $2.5bn (€1.7bn) make it the fourth-largest spirits company in the world. Beam Global Spirits & Wine belongs, in turn, to Fortune Brands, Inc. But these are mere figures. The human touch is provided by this seventh-generation descendant of the founder whose face is pictured on every bottle of Jim Beam whiskey sold throughout the world. Fred Noe (52), (pronounced "no"), has such a strong Kentucky drawl that an Englishman needs to strain his ears to understand what he is saying. But this captivating personality repays the effort by being immensely entertaining. Cheers!
May 9, 2008

Talk with Californian wine dynast Joseph Gallo

Joe Gallo, founder son E. & J. Gallo Winery (photo: E. & J. Gallo Winery)
Joe Gallo: "I get nervous if I don't see a business opportunity"
Joseph Gallo is the son of the founder of Modesto-based E. & J. Gallo Winery, the largest exporter of wine in the United States. Today's representative of the Gallo dynasty was eventually tracked down for an interview in the sun-drenched vineyards of California. This goes a long way to explaining the taste consumers buy on European supermarket shelves – the grapes didn't have to work hard to flourish. Regrettably, this didn't turn out to be a sensuous wine-tasting affair with a devotee of Bacchus. Joseph Gallo appreciates wine, but wants to avoid the pitfalls of excessive connoisseurship. This is because, in the true American tradition, he considers himself first and foremost a businessman.