March 14, 2008
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
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
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
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?
September 14, 2007
Alan Clark: "I'm a purist when it comes to beer"
Like most South Africans, Dr. Alan Clark (50), Managing Director of SABMiller Europe, is a no-nonsense type of person with an intriguing accent. Tall and lanky, he looks like a winger for the Springboks rugby team. Posting 2008/09 group revenues in excess of €17bn, the London-based brewery, which originally hailed from the Republic of South Africa, stands like a tower in the global beer industry. SABMiller has been one of the largest buyers on the European market and now runs domestic brewing operations in eight European countries. Given Germany's long heritage in the amber nectar of the Gods, it is strange that the company has never entered the country to date. An anomaly or simply a lack of opportunity? We wanted to know why from the man running the show.
July 27, 2007
Larry Pope: "As Americans we have learned that, although the EU may call itself a Common Market, there is not one Europe"
C. Larry Pope of Smithfield Foods, Inc. is eminently a family man from Virginia and a strong local patriot. The boss of the world's largest pork producer and processor (2008/09 revenues: $12.5bn; €8.8bn) is optimistic with a typically American "can-do" attitude. Pope (54) was quite humorous about the trade, but, regrettably, deleted his jokes when authorising the text. Perhaps this was because he doesn't have an exaggerated trust in journalists. "I hope you are going to write what I say and not what you think I said." Unusually for a Chief Executive, Larry Pope wasn't afraid to talk politics. But perhaps this isn't so surprising when it comes to the international meat trade. After all, it has always had a political dimension and one which could well grow, given the increasing tensions in global economic trade flows. The Americans are a pragmatic business people. Some of the tax-heavy regimes built up in the EU must look petty and smug when viewed from the other side of the Pond. But how would our polite Virginian phrase this?
June 29, 2007
Jef Colruyt: "Big retailers don't always have small prices"
Founder-son Jef Colruyt is so shy and self-effacing that one could almost forget that he has a very exciting turnaround story to tell. The offices of the quietly spoken, 50-year-old chairman and director at Colruyt headquarters in Halle are so modest and functional that one wonders if one has not wandered into the porter's lodge by mistake. In fact, price-aggressive supermarket operator Colruyt is the comeback story of Belgian retailing. After international discount giant Aldi entered the tiny market in the mid-70s, the family-run company began to lose its footing. When fellow German discounter Lidl and French hypermarket heavyweight Carrefour followed, Colruyt looked positively punch-drunk. It was essentially Jef Colruyt who got the company off the ropes to make it a local hero in Europe. Now things are looking up again. In fact, the company posted 2006/07 revenues of €6.3bn. How did he do it, and where does he go from here?
June 22, 2007
Erling Jensen: "We are one big family"
The headquarters of Dansk Supermarked Gruppen in the sleepy provincial Danish town of Højbjerg take some reaching. However, it is well-worth the effort if you are going to meet Erling (EJ) Jensen at the end of your travels. Jensen (61) is the soft-spoken managing director of Dansk Supermarked. The company's Netto discount stores rival those of Aldi and Lidl in the UK and – somewhat cheekily – also in Germany, the motherland of hard discount. At the modern corporate head office of this low-profile operation everything exudes the easy-going perfection which the Danes excel at. Perhaps this serenity is also due to the fact that Dansk Supermarked, with annual net revenues last year of €7.8bn, is organised as a trust within the A.P. Møller-Maersk shipping-to-oil conglomerate. Thus, Dansk Supermarked doesn't have to plan for the short-term, and Erling Jensen can take a broad strategic view of how to expand Netto in western, eastern and northern Europe. Rivals please take note.
January 26, 2007
Steve Esom: "It's not what you take, but what you keep"
Steve Esom is nothing if not courteous. The CEO of UK supermarket operator Waitrose Ltd. escorts his visitors to and from the reception area at head office, just opposite London's Victoria Station. Perhaps this considerate behaviour ought not to surprise, as Waitrose is a subsidiary of John Lewis Partnership plc (JLP). JLP has founded its business ethos on respect for staff, customers and suppliers. Mild-mannered and unassuming, Esom (46) managed to discuss the Waitrose success story – based on quality, trust and transparency – without sounding smug. This regional multiple with only 4.5 per cent of the UK food retail market certainly punches above its weight. Its margins are the highest in the trade. But can any ethics and organic-oriented retailer assert itself as a national multiple against the likes of Tesco, Aldi and Lidl?
December 18, 2006
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.