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Nestlé’s no-drama leader

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership,Team Building

Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke is a quiet guy, the engineer father of two engineer sons who describes his family as “boring.”

He loves working behind the scenes. Most of his career has been spent simplifying processes, building teams and slowly scaling the ranks in Latin American obscurity.

For Nestlé, this was perfect. The company, which sells 1.2 billion products every day in every country except North Korea, is wary of prima donnas. After all, it manufactures Gerber baby food. It doesn’t want any drama.

So when the time came to choose between two Nestlé insiders—Bulcke, the boring engineer who’s been with the company since age 25, or a chatty charmer who was the “obvious” choice—Nestlé went with the low-key guy.

As Bulcke characterizes it, his company reflects the Swiss persona of one who’s trustworthy, does good things on his own and keeps mum about it. Much of Nestlé's steady success can be attributed to its focus on the long term – the company is well-known for its 50-year planning meetings.

The focus will stay on trust because it will become harder for multinational food companies to keep tabs on food safety as they have to source ingredients from all over the world. Consumers’ trust is “hard to build up, and you can lose it in the flash of a second,” Bulcke notes.

Being in charge of Nestlé’s North American operations came with plenty of responsibility, he observes, but in a way, that position was sheltered. Now, at the top of the corporation, “that’s where the buck stops.”

And that’s where you want a solid individual.

Bottom line: The company’s choice of leaders appears to be working.  Nestlé pulled ahead of rivals such as Unilever and Danone in profits and growth. Pretty dramatic for a no-drama boss.

— Adapted from “Belgian rock who scaled a Swiss peak,” Haig Simonian and Jenny Wiggins, Financial Times,

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