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.
March 14, 2008

Talk with Delhaize boss Pierre-Olivier Beckers

Pierre-Olivier Beckers, Chairman, President & CEO Delhaize Group (photo: Anne-Maria Barten)
Pierre-Olivier Beckers: "We look for future growth"
Pierre-Olivier Beckers looked cool, calm and collected at the head office of Delhaize Group in a commercial estate area of Brussels. The 49-year-old Chairman, President & CEO speaks good English with a slight American accent – a reflection of the importance of the United States to his family business which posted consolidated revenues of €19bn ($27bn) in 2007. So, given the complexity of doing business on both sides of the Pond, why has the family company also expanded to a number of tiny Balkan countries and far-away Indonesia? Beckers seems to have no problem explaining the logic behind this ambitious internationalisation strategy.
March 7, 2008

Talk with Tetra Pak President Dennis Jönsson

Dennis Joensson (photo: Martin Bichsel)
Dennis Jönsson: "The boom in PET shows that some consumers are prepared to pay more"
Dennis Jönsson, President & CEO, seemed perfectly at ease talking at Tetra Pak headquarters in Lausanne. This agreeable, quietly-spoken Scandinavian provided an intelligent review of the packaging industry, but that was the easy part. The world's largest manufacturer of packaging materials (net revenues: €8.8bn) stands at a strategic crossroad as it tries to satisfy conflicting consumer demands. Jönsson reveals how the Swedish family-owned company tries to square the circle. One of the tricks in his magic tool box is cost efficiency. With a view over Lake Geneva, not far from the hotel where Lord Byron stayed on his travels, Jönsson (52) must have one of the most pleasant offices in Europe. He may well need such a serene retreat. Retail customers in Germany, Tetra Pak's third-largest market, are obsessed with low prices.
December 21, 2007

Talk with BIM boss Jos Simons on Turkish retail

Jos Simons, CEO BIM (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Jos Simons: "Sometimes Aldi and Lidl are too far ahead of their time"
Former Aldi manager Jos Simons is the likeable Dutch CEO of BIM, Turkey's largest discounter. BIM's revenues of €2bn also make it the second-largest retailer in this dynamic threshold country. This Turkish version of German discounter Aldi has expanded aggressively in its home country from the mid-90s. Since its IPO on the Istanbul bourse in June 2005, BIM went into overdrive and now runs more than 2,500 stores. Obviously, the company's Germanophile Turkish owners have been doing something right. Is their success attributable to the consistency with which they have adhered to the Aldi system, or to their flair for adaptation to local circumstances? This is clearly an international manager who understands the local mentality and how to do business there.
December 7, 2007

Talk with Jones Lang Lasalle CEO Colin Dyer

Colin Dyer, CEO Jones Lang Lasalle (photo: JLS)
Colin Dyer: "We are often on the ground before the retailers get there"
It took a three-way conference call with Chicago and London as well as a lot of juggling with time zones to set up this interview. But it was worth the effort for some cross sector insight. Colin Dyer (56) is CEO & President of Jones Lang Lasalle Inc., the world's leading real estate services firm, and is based at the group holding in Chicago. He was assisted by fellow Englishman Richard Bloxam, Director European Retail Capital Markets, who works from corporate headquarters in London. Can these guys really help retailers achieve good returns on their commercial real estate base and leverage the latent profitability within a property portfolio? Or does becoming a tenant in your own store just create long-term costs? Is there still hope for department stores? And where are the global hotspots for commercial real estate?