February 2, 2010

Talk with sherry dynast Tomás Osborne

Tomás Osborne, CEO Osborne Group (photo: Osborne)
Tomás Osborne: "I am open to anything" (photo: Osborne)
Rarely are journalists paid for having pleasure. A visit to Grupo Osborne in the sun-drenched Andalusian region of Jerez from the depths of a German winter surely rates as such. Nestled snugly in Spain's "sherry triangle" is the town of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) from where Columbus set out on what also proved to be quite an interesting business trip. Since 1772 this has also been the home of the Osborne family, purveyors of sherry & wine, brandy & spirits, ham, water and juices. As soon as you arrive at Jerez airport, you know this is Osborne country. Imposing metal signs of "El Toro de Osborne" (the Osborne bull) loom over roundabouts and roadsides or from hill tops. Grupo Osborne (2008/09 net revenues: €270m) is, after all, a local hero. With orange trees flowering under an egg shell blue sky, the locals were unlikely to be grim. There were smiles from rough-looking taxi drivers to hotel receptionists, all astonished to meet a visitor in December. At Osborne headquarters, laid out in classic hacienda style, guests are greeted cordially by family Chairman, Conde Tomás Osborne Gamero-Cívico.
January 22, 2010

Tesco CFO Laurie McIlwee talks money

Tesco CFO Laurie McIlwee (photo: Tesco)
Laurie McIlwee: "Aldi and Lidl were our greatest threat" (photo: Tesco)
Laurie McIlwee, Group Finance Director at UK grocer Tesco since February 2009, is a rare breed among CFOs. This down-to-earth Northerner can actually discuss financial strategy without talking Persian. Despite his unfazed attitude, 2009 must have been something of a baptism of fire for McIlwee (47), the youngest member on the Tesco board. After all, it was nearly the year of global financial meltdown and the worst recession on many national markets, including Tesco's core UK one, since 1945. Admittedly, the former distribution director and ex-PepsiCo man is steering a pretty big ship to ride out the heavy seas. As per the business year to the end of February 2009, Tesco posted group sales, including VAT, of £59.4bn. This makes the British market leader the world's third-largest food retailer. With a pre-tax margin of 5.5 per cent, Tesco is also one of the most profitable mass market retailers. Probably, Tesco today is the most exciting kid on the block.
January 15, 2010

Professor Simonetta Carbonaro talks retailing

Professor Simonetta Carbonaro, REAL_ISE (photo: Matthias Richter)
Simonetta Carbonaro: "Less, please, but of the best" (photo: Matthias Richter)
It is perhaps unusual for an interviewee to kiss the photographer. This is easily explained, however, when one remembers that Professor Simonetta Carbonaro is not only a leading academic, but also a warm-hearted Italian. Carbonaro probably knows more about consumers and their psychology than anyone on this planet. It is this insight which leads her to believe that most retailers, brand manufacturers and marketers are barking up the wrong tree. And when the lady offers a direct challenge to trade group think her views carry weight. The researcher and co-founder of the Karlsruhe-based marketing and design consultancy REAL_ISE is a world-leading analyst of consumer behaviour and an expert in innovation management and strategic design. Among her many intellectual surprises, there was even some praise for much criticised US supertanker Walmart.
January 8, 2010

Visit to food temple Eataly in Turin

Eataly in Turin (photo: Eataly)
Mecca for Slow Food lovers: 8,000 customers a day visit Eataly in Turin to buy, taste and learn about natural Italian food specialities
Visitors who admire the spacious piazzas and baroque facades of Turin's elegant city centre do not usually stray into its grey urban sprawl and commercial zone. Since January 2007, however, they have a very good reason to do so: Eataly. This shrine to good and healthy food was founded by local entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti. When the CEO arrives at his office every morning, he passes "Saturn", the entertainment electronics subsidiary of German Metro Group, and a "PAM" superstore on the other side of the road. He ignores them both for they remind him of two worlds he no longer wishes to be associated with. Farinetti sold his majority holding in the family consumer electronics (CE) business in 2002 for the modest sum of €500m, but says it wasn't for the money. Instead he is convinced that the whole segment has lost its creativity and is racing down the price-driven, low-margin, mass commodity route to nowhere very fast. Thus his new business venture, Eataly, can also be seen as a form of philosophical protest.
January 8, 2010

Food talk with Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti

Oscar Farinetti, Eataly (photo: Lorenzo Piano)
Food philosopher: Oscar Farinetti, founder and CEO of Eataly, gives Slow Food a good name (photo: Lorenzo Piano)
There was a time when only fashion icons had philosophy. Over the past decades, the Armanis, Saint Laurents and Versaces of this world pepper their brand-speak with Zeitgeist and Weltanschauung. By contrast, most German food retailers have remained strangely reticent on any message they may have, except, of course, for the hard discounters who permanently praise their own low prices. Recently, this has begun to change — at least among an avant-garde of food philosophers. What unites this disparate bunch is their stand against the global fast food or food-as-fodder industry and their preference for local, seasonal, and/or organic produce. These new thinkers criticise the utilitarian approach which typifies our mass consumer markets. They defend local food traditions, crop varieties, artisan methods of production and sustainable agriculture. They also see good food as neither elitist nor frivolous, but as a collection of nutrients and an essential component of human culture. Eating to them is pleasure, conviviality and social communion. One should certainly count Oscar Farinetti, the owner and founder of Turin-based Eataly (eat + Italy), among their number.
December 30, 2009

Harvard, Insead & Nielsen talk global retailing

Professor Marcel Corstjens, INSEAD (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Insead Professor Marcel Corstjens wanted to know why retailers internationalise and why they fail or succeed in foreign countries (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
An invitation from Marcel Corstjens to a transatlantic videoconference on the globalisation of retailing is a challenging proposition. Corstjens (60) is Unilever Chaired Professor of Marketing at INSEAD. Among his best-known publications is the retail classic "Storewars: The Battle for Mindspace and Shelf Space", co-written with his wife Judy, on strategies in the consumer goods industry. Corstjens' intellectual sparring partner on the other side of the pond was Rajiv Lal, the Stanley Roth Senior Professor of Retailing at Harvard Business School, where he supervises the retailing curriculum. Among other things, Professor Lal is a recognised expert on India. The teleconference was ably flanked by Jean Jacques (JJ) Vandenheede, senior retail industry analyst for ACNielsen Europe.
December 18, 2009

Talk with John Lewis Chairman Charlie Mayfield

Charlie Mayfield, Chairman John Lewis Partnership (photo: Mackenzie Photos)
Charlie Mayfield: "Management is accountable to all associates" (photo: Mackenzie Photos)
Polite, modest, cogent – take your pick which positive attribute best characterizes Charlie Mayfield, the 42-year-old executive chairman of John Lewis Partnership (JLP). Mayfield's general courtesy to visitors and staff is not a modish fad jetted in by management consultants from New York. He is the figurehead of a most unusual company owned by just under 70,000 employees, called 'partners'. Although the origins of the company date back to 1864, the Partnership was founded in its present form in 1929 by John Spedam Lewis, a believer in 'industrial democracy' who strove to combine commercial acumen and corporate conscience" in a company where staff "share knowledge, power and profit". In 2008 this equated to a £290m return to partners in the form of a bonus, pensions and other benefits. Hallo Charlie, have you got a job?
November 4, 2009

Rinascente investor Borletti talks Karstadt

Maurizio Borletti, CEO Borletti Group (photo: Borletti Group)
Maurizio Borletti: "There is space for a pan-European department store operator" (photo: Borletti Group)
For months local media has sizzled with speculation that the investment consortium behind Italy's leading department store chain La Rinascente could also bid for failed German department store group Karstadt. Vittorio Radice, CEO at Milan-based Rinascente, doesn't buy into the logic of any such deal, but declined to speak for its investors. On the other hand, managing investment partner Maurizio Borletti has very clear views on the subject. Admittedly, Borletti Group only has a 4 per cent stake in the new limited company that is La Rinascente (2008 revenues: €900m). But Maurizio Borletti's influence within the investment consortium allows him to punch above his weight. This is essentially due to his impeccable retail credentials.
October 23, 2009

Schlecker threatens to delist suppliers

Anton Schlecker, founder Schlecker (photo: Schlecker)
Congratulations: German drugstore baron Anton Schlecker is now a senior citizen — suppliers are cordially invited to join the birthday party celebrations (photo: Schlecker)
As Anton Schlecker begins to celebrate his 65th birthday, the founder and CEO of Germany's largest drugstore discount chain shows no sign of wanting to retire. True to form, Schlecker is already demanding better terms & conditions from suppliers for the company's 35th anniversary in 2010. They claim that the drugstore king is demanding 3 to 5 per cent of their annual revenues and threatening to delist them in the event of non-compliance. Our newspaper's request for clarification, elicited a prompt response from Schlecker headquarters in Ehingen: "Suppliers have grown with Schlecker for 35 years and have greatly profited from the company's success...However, a full listing has been called into question for those suppliers who no longer wish to participate in this extremely positive joint development." Sounds like a really fun party. So another year older, but nothing has changed: Few retailers polarise opinion as strongly as Anton Schlecker.
October 20, 2009

Tengelmann's long implosion

Tengelmann head office in Mülheim (photo: Tengelmann)
How green was my valley: Tengelmann HQ in Mülheim as it would like to see itself (photo: Tengelmann)
Like a dark star in Germany's retail cosmos, Tengelmann continues to implode – slowly, surely, inevitably. As per 2008, TradeDimensions could still rank Tengelmann Group as Germany's sixth-largest food retailer with annual sales of €14bn and a market share of just over 6 per cent. But after the sale of many of its German "Plus" soft discount outlets, the Mülheim-based company is certainly a fair deal smaller today. Apparently, the family-run company is also near selling the "Plus" store networks in Austria, Rumania and Bulgaria. German hard discounter Lidl could be interested in the company's Bulgarian outlets and Delhaize Group subsidiary Alfa-Beta is believed to lust after the Rumanian ones.