The guiding light to success in the business world is an unwavering commitment to change, said Nestle USA President and CEO Joe Weller in Branford College before about 50 attendees on Wednesday afternoon.
The talk, entitled “Nestle USA: A New Business Model,” centered around the approaches the company has taken recently to develop its business model with a sharper focus on marketing and manufacturing.
Over the course of its 100-year history, Nestle — a foods manufacturer known best for making chocolate products as well as nutritional items such as Lean Cuisine and the Power Bar — has assumed several paradigms for the company that brought its leaders less than optimal profits. But its current model, in place since 2003, is an “effort to take performance to the next level” for the company of 22,000 employees, Weller said.
Nestle’s recently established corporate ties with Wal-Mart are a positive move for the company, Weller said. Wal-Mart, he said, can arouse extreme sentiments for consumers, but Weller views the retail giant as a motivator for businesses.
“We are better just by being with Wal-Mart,” Weller said. “They’re either the devil or the angel. They’ve helped all suppliers be more efficient.”
Weller said Nestle does not consider its role near the top in its market as an excuse to be complacent. Change, both in business models and product lines, is essential for the company to continue to grow, Weller said. Still, he said, such change is by no means easy.
“Change is a painful process,” he said. “It is clear that without the pain of change, organizations and individuals cannot grow.”
The traditional image of Nestle is that of the producer of candy items such as the Crunch bar, Kit Kats and Smarties, but such sales represent a mere fraction of Nestle’s products, which include an array of items ranging from pet brands Purina and Fancy Feast to baby food and ice cream.
“I’m really surprised how large and diversified Nestle is,” Jessica Nachman ’07 said. “I thought they were only a chocolate company.”
Weller gradually ascended the corporate ladder in his 37 years at Nestle, beginning as a salesman and later serving in management positions throughout the United States and in Sydney, where he was chief of Nestle Australia.
Todd Kaplan SOM ’06 said he found Weller’s career path inspiring.
“I thought it was interesting to see a leader who has risen through the traditional, old-fashioned ways of succeeding in business,” Kaplan said.
While some companies have opted for outsourcing of labor, Weller said that he intends to hold out for Nestle until circumstances change.
“We will only do this when the benefits outweigh the costs,” he said.
Nestle has succeeded, Weller said, because of a host of factors, most importantly a corporate culture in which employees have a sense of being valued. Some students said Weller’s approach to management seems to be a successful one.
“It’s about being a people person,” Karan Rai SOM ’06 said. “It’s all about the people.”
Weller concluded his remarks by advising each audience member to “be an agent of change.”
“Look at change as a positive thing,” he said.
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