October 21, 2005

Talk with Tesco International CEO Philip Clarke

Philip Clarke, Tesco International CEO (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Philip Clarke: "We don't just plant flags" (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Philip Clarke, Asia, Europe & IT director at Tesco Plc, works for a global retailer which arrived relatively late on the international playing field. Since the mid-90s, the UK's leading grocer has more than made up for lost time with multiple entries in eastern Europe and south-east Asia. Last year, international operations in Asia and Europe were added to Phil Clarke's managerial responsibilities. The 45-year-old Tesco veteran first started work for the company in 1974. After college, he rose through the ranks to become a store manager, product buyer, marketer and, as from 1998, a board member responsible for the group's supply chain and IT operations. Recently, this down-to-earth Liverpudlian has exited Taiwan. Could this be the harbinger of a major realignment overseas?
February 4, 2005

Beer talk with InBev CEO John Brock

John F. Brock, CEO InBev (photo: InBev)
John F. Brock: "The challenge is to be the best with the highest ebitda margin" (photo: InBev)
John F. Brock, the American CEO of Belgian brewery giant InBev S.A., is never happier than when talking figures. More than just bits and bytes flow through the man's blood, however. He's also a surprisingly good sport. Merely to oblige our photographer, he climbed with astonishing agility up a fire ladder onto the corporate roof in the snow and ice of a Belgian February. Our newspaper went to corporate HQ in beautiful Louvain (Leuwen) in order learn more about Brock's global strategic priorities after the recent jumbo-marriage of Interbrew and AmBev. The tankard-sized brewer is such a prolific deal-maker that its name grows longer and longer as the years go by. We therefore wanted to know from sprightly John Brock whether the challenges arising from all this relentless merger activity are merely orthographical...
January 14, 2005

Lager talk with Carlsberg CEO Nils Andersen

Nils S. Andersen, CEO Carlsberg (photo: Jerry Bergmann)
Nils Andersen: "I don't see myself as a tough guy" (photo: Jerry Bergmann)
From his office in the historic brewing tower at the headquarters of Carlsberg Breweries A/S in Copenhagen, CEO Nils S. Andersen can look over the Öresund strait to the coast of nearby Sweden. Perhaps it is not without significance that his room faces east towards the new demand for premium beer in traditionally vodka-loving Russia. This modest, polite man at the helm of the world's fifth-largest brewer can afford to make a long-term commitment to developing premium brands without short-term shareholder pressure. Carlsberg is majority owned by a charitably-minded foundation. The world being as it is, however, this doesn't mean that 47-year-old Nielsen, dubbed "the hatchet" by his critics, doesn't have to take some very tough decisions...
November 26, 2004

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute CEO talks luxury

Serge Weinberg, CEO Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (photo: Baxter)
Serge Weinberg: "There is no ideal corporate structure" (photo: Baxter)
You can walk to Serge Weinberg's office from the Printemps department store on prestigious boulevard Haussmann in the centre of Paris. As one might have expected, the CEO of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA (PPR) is an elegant, cosmopolitan Frenchman with considerable charm. Although he describes himself as a "mild authoritarian", his staff seem to like him. PPR, with revenues last year of €24.4bn, clearly wants to increase its exposure to the luxury and fashion business. Think the purchase of Gucci in 2001. In view of the high margins involved, this is obviously an enticing proposition. The more PPR moves in this direction, however, the more its unwieldy structure as a conglomerate seems out of place. This most obviously applies to furniture retailer Conforama. But, if one pursues things through to their logical conclusion, then even consumer electronics retailer Fnac doesn't look a good fit. Of course, all this is taboo when PPR talk with the media, but who knows what its managers think when they sleep in their bed at night? At any rate, Weinberg doesn't strike one as a man without imagination.
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.