Danone names new CEO – who is Antoine de Saint-Affrique?
Dairy and water giant Danone has announced the appointment of Antoine de Saint-Affrique as Chief Executive Officer, effective September 15, 2021.
On April 22, de Saint-Affrique announced he was stepping down at the end of August as CEO at chocolate maker Barry Callebaut, which sparked speculation that he was front-runner for the top job at Danone. And he was. Following a rigorous selection process led by Danone’s Governance Committee and with unanimous Board approval, the 57-year-old Dutch national was officially named on May 17 Danone’s new CEO.
He will succeed the joint interim leadership of Veronique Penchienati-Bosetta and Shane Grant, who have been in place since the departure of Emmanuel Faber, who left in March following pressure of shareholders who strongly criticised his policy and that Danone’s financial performance lagged behind rivals Unilever and Nestle.
In this new role, de Saint-Affrique will lead Danone's global business, with its more than 100,000 employees, portfolio of branded products available in 120 markets, with sales generation of €23.6bn (2020).
Why de Saint-Affrique is the man for Danone's top job
De Saint-Affrique is the obvious choice. Not just because of his more than three decades in the food industry – his first internship was at Kronenbourg 35 years ago – but because in previous executive positions, including at Unilever, he has managed to focus on sustainability and yet still create profitable growth.
In fact, since taking the reins of high-quality chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut in 2015, the company's share price has more than doubled with Group sales rising by 17% and profit by more than two-thirds pre-pandemic. All this while successfully putting in place high standards for innovation and for the environment and social responsibility.
And prior to this, de Saint-Affrique held a series of senior executive positions at consumer goods giant Unilever over 15 years, where he most notably served as President of the Foods Division, responsible for businesses with a combined turnover of €12.4bn. He also led the consumer goods giant’s Skin category as EVP from 2005 to 2009, leading brands such as Dove, Lux and Lifebuoy across 21 countries.
And his international experience, having previously run Unilever brands across multiple countries, and having himself lived in Africa, the US, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia and the UK, will stand him in good stead with this very international role.
Described by Danone's Board as a “standout leader in the consumer goods world” with a “distinguished track record of innovation and delivery”, de Saint-Affrique will bring to the Danone table “the right blend of strategic vision, international consumers goods experience, and operational execution skills”, according to Gilles Schnepp, Chairman, Danone.
Danone and the future
The company is currently undergoing some upheaval, with the removal of its previous CEO amid investor discontent regarding its under-performing brands highlighting this. For a while, the company has struggled both with lagging shares and profit margins and with a stagnant share price and rising costs for milk, ingredients, packaging and logistics.
Danone has been focused on building its health-focused and fast-growing categories across its three businesses – Essential Dairy & Plant-Based products; Waters; and Specialised Nutrition. And in all of these categories is facing stiff competition from other manufacturers.
With its ‘One Planet. One Health’ frame of action, which considers the health of people and the planet as intimately interconnected, Danone’s aim is to inspire healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking practices.
According to incoming CEO de Saint-Affrique, Danone has a “strong and innovative portfolio of brands” and has “significant potential to continue to shape and contribute to how people eat and drink globally”.
And that’s certainly true with an international portfolio that includes leading brands such as Actimel, Activia, Alpro, Aptamil, Danette, Danio, evian and Volvic, among others, and strong local and regional brands including AQUA, Bonafont, Cow & Gate, Organic, Silk and Vega.
To accelerate this food revolution and create superior, sustainable, profitable value for all its stakeholders, Danone has defined nine 2030 Goals, and paved the way as the first listed company to adopt the ‘Entreprise à Mission’ status in France. With a purpose to bring health through food to as many people as possible, and corresponding social, societal and environmental objectives set out in its articles of association, Danone commits to operating in an efficient, responsible and inclusive manner, in line with the SDGs of the UN. By 2025, Danone aims to become one of the first multinational companies to obtain B Corp™ certification.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.