Nestlé USA CEO: 3 Career Lessons from My Unpredictable Path
Nestlé USA’s Chairman and CEO highlights his biggest learnings for each career level
When I began my tenure as Chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA in 2018, I wrote about my vision for the culture of our company. That vision was all about building an organization of empowered, collaborative teams that would transform our business to own the marketplace. With a relentless focus on our consumers, we’d adapt to a changing landscape and drive our products forward.
In 2019, that vision is already becoming a reality. We’ve seen our teams embrace these ideas wholeheartedly, and we’ve kicked innovation into high-gear through internal crowd-sourcing initiatives, rapid prototyping, and new delivery models. I’m proud of what our teams are doing, and it has personal meaning to me as a leader. As I look back over my career, three big lessons have come out of my experiences at each phase.
Early Career: Bring the passion of an entrepreneur, but don’t forget to tap into capabilities around you.
When we talk about an entrepreneurial spirit, I feel a gut connection. That’s not something you’d expect to hear from a guy who has been with a large company for 23 years. But when I think of entrepreneurs, I connect with their intensity, passion, and commitment to achieving the mission regardless of any obstacle.
My first job was as a paperboy in the fourth grade. Every day, I’d get up at 4am with my two brothers to set out on my paper-route before my school day. For a young person getting their first taste of working life, it was (literally) a wake-up call — the routine of getting up and having the commitment to grind it out daily was a great learning experience that I’ve carried with me throughout life.
A few years later, my job would be with a larger (well, much larger) team. Bringing an entrepreneurial spirit and hustle doesn’t mean you should insist on taking every challenge alone, especially at a company like ours. Especially early in your career, it can be tempting to sprint on your own, but you’d be missing out on what collaboration can bring you. If you join Nestlé as a marketer, you’ll benefit from working with the best product developers in the industry. Coming into our sales organization? Your success will be closely linked to the stand-out teams you work with in Supply Chain. All striving towards the same goal, we can completely change the market and raise the bar for our industry. Be tenacious, but don’t be isolated.
Mid Career: Run toward the fire. Big problems create big opportunities.
My Nestlé career began more than 20 years ago at a factory in Suffolk, Virginia. I know first hand what it’s like to work in the manufacturing field, and work my way through our company, learning as I go.
A great piece of advice I was once given was “run toward the fire” — if there’s a large challenge, I see it as a huge opportunity. That’s helped me in my career, and I want my employees to have the courage to do the same. When there’s a business or team that’s struggling, or where the unknown feels vast and insurmountable, don’t run the other way out of fear. Embrace those challenges and find solutions.
In rapid succession, we’ve undertaken big changes with integration projects under our Nestlé-Starbucks Alliance, welcoming teams from Chameleon Cold-Brew and Sweet Earth Foods, and even building out new teams internally in areas like analytics and design. None of this work has been easy — we take on these collaborative efforts because they have incredible long-term business impact and help us deliver consumers a wide range of top-quality options. Whether human resources, technology, marketing, supply chain, or product development, the folks who have faced this challenge head-on have brought enormous talent, created sustainable impact for the company, and gotten a master class in building a business of the future. I know for sure that there are many more great things ahead of them because of that hunger to take on challenges and step outside their comfort zones.
In Leadership: Prioritize a culture for talent to thrive.
The business growth we need requires transformational change — it takes a mindset shift. It takes every one of us to think and act differently. When you take on a role as a leader in your organization, it’s not just about you any more. The absolute best thing you can do is empower your team to reach new levels of achievement.
As CEO, I see my biggest goal as creating a culture where talent at every level of Nestlé can thrive. That takes work from me and my leadership team, as well as every employee across the organization. As a leader, it won’t always be easy. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be challenged. You’ll get feedback you don’t want to hear or expect. But ultimately, you’ll come out of your journey a different and better leader. Starting that process requires real humility in leadership and a continuous focus on being a better leader than you were the day before.
When I was a paperboy, I never thought I’d end up as CEO of the largest food company in America. I want everyone who works with me to know they can build a great career at Nestlé — at every stage, there’s always more opportunity to learn and grow. That’s what a great culture should be all about — not just maintaining a status quo, but pushing forward to the next great success for our company.
I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in such a short time, but the work is not done yet. Keep an eye on our progress, we think you’ll be surprised just how far we can go!
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