In this month’s edition of the Employee Spotlight, we will be featuring our new CEO – Edouard Spicher as he gives us a brief look into his experiences across different markets and his vision for AIF. Edouard is a Swiss national with an Engineering degree from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and a 25-year-old track record in the consumer goods sector. He has worked with organizations such as Nestlé and Fan Milk International, a joint-venture of Danone and Abraaj.
What was the corporate journey that led you to where you are today?
My whole professional journey has been in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods industry with Nestlé for the main part, followed by Danone and Kinetic Consulting. While I have been working on all continents, emerging markets have been the most important to me with a passionate focus on sub-Saharan Africa. I started out as an industrial engineer conducting productivity projects in manufacturing operations. I then sharply re-oriented my career into sales. Sales led me to marketing and for some time I alternated between the 2 functions. I then capitalized on those multi-functional experiences to take on general management roles with full business responsibilities.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome on that journey?
There have been many challenges, but I’ll mention two that stood out in particular:
The first challenge I encountered was when I took over the responsibility for a Dairy business in Central & West Africa. The business had been declining for years and was losing money. Turning it around and bringing it back to a good and sustainable performance was an adventurous, tough but ultimately rewarding experience for myself and the whole team.
The second challenge I’d like to mention was when I started out as the CEO of Fan Milk, a Danone JV in West Africa. I was faced with 3 challenges simultaneously. In Ghana, the business had just undergone an important set-back in sales and profitability, In Nigeria, the business was broken and had not shown growth for years despite continuous investments and in Ivory Coast, a new regulation was constraining the business and could have led to a stop of 80% of the business. I felt very lonely at the start but we managed to build a very strong team and to find solutions to overcome those challenges. So ultimately, these challenges left me with long-lasting learnings.
What made you join Africa Improved Foods and what excites you about your role as its new CEO?
For a good part of my career, achieving concrete results in terms of performance, sales and profitability had been sufficient but progressively I started to need more than that. I wanted to work for a business with a purpose. Dealing with a Children Health & Nutrition brand like NIDO in Central & West Africa was my first step in that direction. Eventually I joined Fanmilk and its inclusive business model with a unique route-to-market that allowed over 20, 000 people to earn an income despite their lack of professional qualification and improve their livelihood helped me delve deeper in this world and opened my eyes to just how much can be achieved through a socially-conscious business. AIF seemed like the logical next step on my journey. It felt to me as a valuable way to capitalize on past experiences while taking the opportunity to build something bigger.
Being at the helm of an organization such as AIF, where would you like to steer it? Where would you like to see it in five years?
AIF has built its first business leg addressing the needs of institutions for humanitarian aid. Our next step is to grow our second business leg addressing the needs of consumers for nutritious and affordable meals. Building two strong legs will allow us to walk and then eventually run. In 5 years, we will have built a sustainable business across several East African countries with engaged, agile and collaborative teams on-ground.
What message would you like to impart to your new employees as you get to know them better over the course of your work?
My message to them is simple. Share your ideas, reconsider your point of views when being challenged by the ideas of others, combine different ideas to co-build strong solutions and plans, collaborate to make it happen, celebrate small and big successes along the journey. Let’s engage today and build together the AIF of tomorrow.