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Peter Noszek joined Nestlé 30 years ago, and in those years, he’s worked on three continents, in six countries and in 11 different positions. After 26 years in finance, he became CEO of Nestlé Hungary, as well as CFO for the Central European region. His main agenda for Hungary was a simple and direct one. “To grow the company,” he says.
“Hungary is not too big in the Nestlé world, but when you look at our footprint in the country, it’s big. So we are the largest food company in Hungary. We have a very large export turnover, which is coming from local factories, and my aim was really to keep growing the business in Hungary, locally, but also amend the large export position within Nestlé.
We are not going to stop growing, it’s still the main aim, to increase our footprint, both locally and export wise.
“When I arrived in Hungary, we had a turnover of HUF127 billion [€363 million], and I wanted to reach HUF150 billion [€429 million] by 2020. By the end of last year, we were at HUF164 billion [€469 million].”
And for the next few years, the focus will remain exactly the same. “We are not going to stop growing, it’s still the main aim, to increase our footprint, both locally and export wise,” Peter says.
Innovation in new categories such as plant-based foods is one avenue, while tapping into new opportunities in the Central European region will be another. “There are, of course, differences between the consumers in different countries, but there are also a lot of similarities,” Peter explains. “So I believe this is going to be a big opportunity.”
Like all businesses at the moment, digitalisation will be another focus. “How we access our consumers, how we can improve with higher-quality data, so we can address their needs better,” Peter says. “And obviously ecommerce is growing, and this is where I see several opportunities, so that’s another important element.”
Third on Peter’s to-do list is the important topic of sustainability. “We are launching projects for regenerative agriculture,” he reveals. “Eighty per cent of our suppliers are local farmers and one of our aims is to have more collaborative work with them.
“There are also important elements for sustainability in Hungary, thanks to our manufacturing capabilities. We launched the first recyclable paper-pack Nesquik All Natural cocoa powder here, which is now produced for many countries within Nestlé worldwide. By 2025, 100 per cent of our packaging will be recyclable or re-usable and we want to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hungary, in the manufacturing sense, can play a very big role in that.”
Peter also used his years of experience to help negotiate the threat posed by COVID-19. His number one priority was the safety of his 2,400 employees. “As one of the largest food producers in Hungary, it was our duty to ensure the continuous supply of food and pet food products to all our consumers, but we also took all action to ensure the health and financial safety of our employees during this crisis,” he says.
“We implemented measures to protect them and introduced exceptional wage benefits: on top of the 10 per cent wage supplement on average for employees in production and the supply chain for three months, all employees were granted a wage guarantee, a moratorium on company loans as well as an additional wage supplement for any sick leave that had to be taken as a result of the virus.”
The company also felt an immense social responsibility to help mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic. “So we delivered significant donations to the Hungarian Red Cross, Hungarian Food Bank and healthcare professionals,” Peter points out. “We need to make sure that we support the communities we are working in and working with.”
COVID-19 also reinforced Peter’s calm approach to leadership. “I learned even more that you should never panic,” he says. “You should always stand back a little bit and look at everything that’s happening and not make hasty decisions.
“I’ve been an expatriate for 30 years and, for me, the most important thing is to be open – to be open to whatever may come. If you are focused only on the things you know, then you will miss a lot of things.
“And with these changes I’ve had between countries and continents, I’ve learned that you should not be prejudiced; you should approach everything with an open mind. That’s valid for business, for networking, for business relations and even for family.”
If Peter has a lot of experience in business, then Nestlé itself has even more – 150-plus years of building a culture that translates globally. It is a culture that Peter believes balances the conservatism of being compliant to rules but of being open to new ideas. And a culture that is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, and gender balance.
In terms of supplier relationships, Peter’s equanimity also translates well. “I believe strongly in partnerships with suppliers because we are big, so there is no other option for us than to have long-term relationships,” he explains. “We also need to have a plethora of diverse suppliers, because if we don’t have that, we can really have supply issues.
We focus on making a difference to the lives of people and pets, on protecting and enhancing the environment.
“I also believe that if you don’t have a long-term partnership and you don’t do things together, it’s not going to be as successful as it could be. An example is developing sustainable packaging material, so one of the things we started doing about two years ago is investing in startups and all packaging material ecosystems to make sure that we can address the issues that the environment is facing. We also created the Nestlé Institute of Packaging in Switzerland.”
One of the key business messages Peter wanted to convey is that profit alone is not enough. “Nestlé is the ‘Good food, good life’ company. We believe in the power of food to enhance quality of life,” he stresses. “We aim to push the boundaries of what is possible with food to contribute to a healthier future. We focus on making a difference to the lives of people and pets, on protecting and enhancing the environment.
“With big investment companies, it’s going to be about sustainable investment in environmental, social and governance, because nowadays you need to take care of the environment – and I think this is going to be the underlying message for the next decade at least.”