October 22, 2004

Talk with Kraft Foods CEO Roger Deromedi

Roger Deromedi, CEO Kraft Foods (photo: Peter Rondholz)
Roger Deromedi: "We must accelerate innovation" (photo: Peter Rondholz)
Roger Deromedi, CEO of Kraft Foods, Inc., is a pleasant man with a big task on his hands. Deromedi (51) knows that he has to reorganise the world's second-largest food group (2003 revenues: €25.2bn) in order to create a new growth model and to regain market share. In a sense, Deromedi also has to fight history. Kraft Foods is a huge conglomerate resulting out of General Foods, Kraft, Jacobs Suchard and Nabisco. Now, that's a lot to focus. Since 1998, the Northfield/Illinois-based company belongs to US tobacco giant Philip Morris which was renamed Altria Group, Inc. in January last year. Although Kraft Foods managers will never admit it openly, one could well imagine them secretly yearning to free themselves from the yoke of Big Tobacco. The lawyers, however, maintain that this would constitute fraudulent conveyance. Now, don't they call this being between a rock and a hard place?
October 1, 2004

Imperial Tobacco CEO talks Big Tobacco

Gareth Davis, Imperial Tobacco Group (photo: Imperial Tobacco)
Gareth Davis: "No one wins a price war" (photo: Imperial Tobacco)
Primed with films like 'The Initiative" and 'Thank You for Smoking', one might expect a representative of Big Tobacco to be a mixture between the Godfather and Gordon Gekko. Gareth Davis, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco Group Plc (2008 revenues: €22.3bn), had none of these allures. Under the long tenure of Mr Davis (59), Imperial Tobacco has undergone significant expansion – not least through its acquisition of Reemtsma in Germany. The Bristol/UK-based company's major international competitors have also grown, however, taking the industry to what many observers see as the end-game phase of global consolidation. Meanwhile, Big Tobacco has been hit by a wave of litigation in the US and a huge flourish in international contraband. Tough times for a high-margin industry?
August 13, 2004

Chairman David Reid talks Tesco

David Reid, Chairman Tesco (photo: Tesco)
David Reid: "Don't bet against Tesco" (photo: Tesco)
He would probably be the first to quibble with the characterisation. However, quiet-spoken non-executive Chairman David Reid is generally regarded as one of the brains behind the international success story that is Tesco Plc. Like his board colleague, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Reid also represents a friendlier, kinder side to Tesco than some of the more hard-ball players around CEO Sir Terry Leahy. This doesn't mean that he is any less ambitious for the company though. Reid's pose with hand on globe at head office in Cheshunt, near London, looks significant for the future: Tesco intends to conquer the world. Rhodesian-born David Reid is quietly proud of Tesco's achievements. The 57-year-old top manager clearly feels that the UK's leading grocer has successfully contained Aldi and Lidl at home, while out-competing global retail titans Carrefour and Wal-Mart in South-East Asia. Significantly, he carefully sidesteps, but does not deny an interest in expanding the business to the US. That said, Reid warns against arrogance. This particularly applies to his younger managers "because they have never known hard times or our earlier difficulties".
July 23, 2004

Talk with Irish retail legend Feargal Quinn

Senator Feargal Quinn (photo: Declan Corrigan)
Feargal Quinn: "Respect, service, value and passion" (photo: Declan Corrigan)
Senator Feargal Quinn hasn't changed much over the years. He is still affable and remarkably forthright, and has retained his Irish gift of the gab. Regrettably, his days in a management executive role are now over. But anyone who recalls Superquinn, the innovative supermarket chain he founded in Dublin, will always be interested in hearing his views. His famous book 'Crowning the Customer' has gone a long way to popularising them. This delightful read is surely one of the best books ever written on retailing. In its heyday during the 1980's and early 1990's, Superquinn was a Mecca for retailers world-wide. Quinn even forced suppliers to negotiate with him on the shop floor and got shop staff speeding around on roller-skates. When he ran his own show, Feargal Quinn only ever gave interviews in his stores. "This is where I belong; this is where I should be – with my customers."
March 26, 2004

Talk with Swedish papermaker SCA

Jan Åström, CEO of SCA (photo: Alexander Farnsworth)
Jan Åström: "We've got a good mix" (photo: Alexander Farnsworth)
Jan Åström, CEO of SCA (or Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, if you want the full dose in the local lingo), has that typically Swedish attribute of robust optimism. But it must considerably boost the man's self-confidence that he works for one of the ten largest papermakers in the world with an impressively broad product portfolio. Åström also knows that he can leverage considerable economies of scale with corporate gross revenues touching €9.4bn or play a value-added chain that reaches from forestry to packaging. Small wonder then that the 48-year-old manager looks at ease discussing his ambitious plans for SCA at historic HQ in elegant Stockholm. He says he wants to push growth with own label, the global 'Tena' brand, and international expansion...
December 5, 2003

Talk with Albertsons CEO Larry Johnston

Larry Johnston, CEO Albertsons (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Larry Johnston: "No sacred cows" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Larry Johnston, Chairman, President & CEO of US retail giant Albertsons, Inc, is a lanky ex-marine with mild manners. Likeable and comradely, he turned up late for the interview in a Paris hotel, but was honest enough to say: "Sorry guys, I simply forgot." In fairness, the man was heavily jet-lagged, and it was 3 a.m. by his biological clock. Johnston was groomed at General Electric under the legendary Jack Welch. He was called in to troubleshoot at Albertsons at the end of 2000 after a merger with American Stores turned sour. The deal catapulted the new enlarged Albertsons to the number two spot in US grocery retailing behind Kroger. But a crushing legacy of debt and intractable integration problems were the price. Johnston freely admits that, when the head-hunters approached him for the job, he had never even heard of Albertsons. German discounter Aldi North has, though — they own part of the company.
September 5, 2003

Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck gets nutritious

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestlé CEO (photo: Wildbild)
Peter Brabeck: "Do I look fat?" (photo: Wildbild)
"So you've come to see our film star?" asked a helpful, but somewhat overripe lady assistant, brandishing a New York business magazine with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe on the front cover. At the head office of the world's largest food supplier in Vevey on delightful Lake Geneva, one is ushered in to the CEO of Nestlé with fitting reverence. Peter Brabeck (59) looked lean, fit and deeply suntanned with the slightly reddish hue betraying a passion for mountaineering at high altitudes. Speaking with a Schwarzenegger-type Austrian accent, slightly at odds with his immediate Swiss linguistic environment, Brabeck exuded the supreme confidence of a manager with success, power, and a broadly diversified shareholder base. This has enabled the man to steer the Swiss powerhouse away from its former sweets bias towards a nutritional health company. It is also refreshing not to hear a supplier fawn, cringe, and grovel at the mere mention of his major retail customers.
June 13, 2003

Talk with Procter & Gamble CEO Alan Lafley

Alan G. Lafley, Chairman & CEO Procter & Gamble (photo: Peter Rondholz)
Alan Lafley: "We also talk with discounters" (photo: Peter Rondholz)
With the acquisition of German haircare company Wella fresh under his belt, Alan G. Lafley, Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble, paid a lightening trip to Germany on his global rounds. Modest almost to the point of shyness, Lafley seemed remarkably relaxed for a man who has turned around the world's second-largest fmcg manufacturer. Following in the footsteps of a controversial predecessor nicknamed "Dark Vader", mild-mannered "A.G." has successfully refocused the US consumer goods giant on its core brands, countries and markets. To do so within less than three years is nothing short of a feat of arms. Following the controversial restructuring and cost-cutting programme "Organization 2005" P&G is now a meaner and leaner animal. As Alan Lafley spoke about marketing billion-dollar brands to a hundred-or-more countries, the quiet American projected the tone: "Nothing much really, all in a day's work." Don't they call this "laid-back" on his side of the Pond?
May 9, 2003

Talking chips with McCain CEO Howard Mann

Howard Mann (photo: Liz Rehm)
Howard Mann: "People still eat French fries in a recession" (photo: Liz Rehm)
Howard Mann is the English President & CEO of Florenceville/New Brunswick-based McCain Foods Limited. The Canadian frozen food and appetizer-cum-snacks manufacturer is the world's largest supplier of frozen potato products. Depending on which size of the Pond you live, you'll call these chips or French fries. Last year, the family-owned company, which claims never to have lost money since 1958, posted revenues of around 6.1bn Canadian dollars (€3.9bn). Under Mann's leadership, McCain Foods has shown itself adept at anticipating and/or initiating food trends. With a dry London humour reminiscent of actor Michael Caine, Howard Mann (56) seems happy discussing global expansion and further diversification of the brand portfolio. But, he doesn't dodge such thorny issues as acrylamide and industry consolidation.
March 28, 2003

Patrick Ricard talks Pernod Ricard

Patrick Ricard (photo: Pernod Ricard)
Patrick Ricard: "We never dilute our brands" (photo: Pernod Ricard)
There are worse fates than going to lunch in Paris with the charming and beautiful niece of the largest shareholder in a global drinks company. Regrettably, this was purely for business purposes as the lady is head of press at Pernod Ricard and simply doing her job. Afterwards, and equally regrettably, uncle and CEO Patrick Ricard only offered coffee at the group's elegant headquarters in the City of Light's well-heeled 16th arrondissement. Ricard is nothing if not a man of business. The interview kept strictly to theme and subject: the consistent global positioning of brands – and no price dumping. Under his aegis Pernod Ricard has pursued an aggressive acquisitions strategy and risked high gearing levels on the way. But the group has always managed to reduce these over time...until the next buying opportunity comes along.