Nestlé veteran Garrett bows out from Vevey

Michael Garrett has a soft spot for a brand he helped promote – Nescafé swissinfo.ch

After 44 years working for Swiss food multinational Nestlé, Michael Garrett has said goodbye to a job that’s taken him millions of miles around the globe.

This content was published on May 10, 2005 - 14:44

Garrett, aged 62, has retired as the Vevey-based company’s executive vice president responsible for Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Middle East.

In an interview with swissinfo, Garrett says that China will eventually be Nestlé’s number one market, while his beat as a whole offers enormous potential for the future.

Starting his Nestlé career in 1961 as a management trainee at Cross&Blackwell in London, Garrett began his first major overseas assignment in Australia.

"If anybody had said to me when I joined that I would be more than 40 years with this particular company, I would have said they were totally crazy," he says.

Over the years, Garrett has been a champion of Nescafé granulated coffee. He was product manager for the launch of Gold Blend in Britain, but the brand gave him a nasty shock in Australia.

swissinfo: Michael Garrett, what have been some of the ups and downs that you’ve experienced over the years?

Michael Garrett: The ups are if you get a promotion and greater responsibility. Probably in our company, the job that we all aspire to is the role of market head - that is if you come from a commercial background - so my appointment as market head of Nestlé in Australia was one of the points that I remember. Of course my appointment in Switzerland as a regional director was another highlight.

The first down that comes to mind is when I launched granulated Nescafé in Australia. From a very strong market position we lost 12 points of market share overnight and the company went into crisis and we didn’t know what to do. There are a few occasions like that when you are faced with great adversity and how you come out of that adversity is an important learning experience.

swissinfo: Nestlé is very much a multinational company but is there still a strong Swiss connection today?

M.G.: Yes. I think we are very proud of the fact that we can approach practically any government, particularly in my part of the world where there are many developing countries. You say you are from Switzerland and the company’s origins are in Switzerland. It’s a country that is still hugely respected throughout the world for its values, qualities, for its neutrality in the past and famous institutions like the Red Cross. These are the things where Switzerland is seen to be world leader and I think this is why we are very proud of being a Swiss company.

swissinfo: Tell me about your beat. Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Middle East – that’s pretty big.

M.G.: It’s 70 per cent of the world’s population, probably about 30 per cent of the world’s GDP. It’s a fascinating part of the world with huge differences. You go from probably the most advanced post-industrial society in the world - Japan - to some of the least developed countries like Chad and certain sub-Saharan African countries, or even Papua New Guinea off the coast of Australia. There are tremendous variations between the standards of living, the cultures, the languages and that’s probably one of the things that make it so interesting.

swissinfo: How have you been dealing with strategy in China because you reckon it’s going to be the number one market for Nestlé, don’t you?

M.G.: I'm convinced it will be eventually. With 20 per cent of the world's population, it's just a matter of time. We’ve tried to build a very solid foundation for our group. We didn’t go too fast. We were very careful in terms of selection of the right partners and the business that we should be in. Today we’ve built a very strong platform on which the company will grow in the future.

swissinfo: Do you think that your beat offers the greatest potential for Nestlé?

M.G.: Yes, with 70 per cent of the world’s population I think we should be probably representing around a third of the world’s sales for Nestlé. That should be our ambition in the next few years. At the moment we are under 20 per cent.

swissinfo: What are your personal favourites when it comes to Nestlé products? Are you a Nescafé fan or a KitKat cruncher?

M.G.: I’m both actually. Most of my career has been with Nescafé. It’s a great, great product and I feel I’ve made a contribution to that over the years. KitKat, where we’ve innovated particularly in Japan, is also one of my favourite products. The others are in Nestlé’s Italian brands because I’ve always had an affinity towards Italian food.

swissinfo: Would a Nestlé man admit he buys products from the competition because he likes them better?

M.G.: I buy Japanese soups that are not made by Nestlé. We don’t have any in our range. And so there I do go and buy regularly from the competition. Whether that’s really competition or not, I don’t know.

swissinfo-interview: Robert Brookes in Vevey

Key facts

Michael Garrett was born in India of British parents but has Australian citizenship.
He was responsible at Nestlé for Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Middle East.
In the mid-1990s, he received a letter from the chairman of Swissair congratulating him on his 1,000,000th air mile with the company.
He has residences in Switzerland and Australia and feels at home in both.
Garrett was elected a non-executive director of Britain’s Prudential in September 2004. He is due to become a director of Switzerland’s Bobst Group in May.

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