Country Delight Manager Benelux at Nestlé, Nespresso S.A.Belgium Area, Brussels
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your studies, and the beginning of your career?
When I was 18 years old, I hesitated about the path I wanted to follow towards the future. As a matter of fact, I wanted to join the army to become a fighter pilot... But this was not possible at that time, so finally I decided to become an airline pilot and to do the exam. I wasn’t successful, so to avoid losing one year, my father advised me to enter a Business School and I selected ICHEC. I graduated 4 years later, in June 1988, in Marketing. Thanks to the reputation of this school, I very quickly found a job in an IT starter (software house) where I joined a team of 2 people. My job was very polyvalent: from accountancy to advertising. I was even the translator of the software in French, Dutch and English.
Two years later I joined a Compaq computer dealer, located in Uccle. This was the start of a real Marketing experience. I achieved many nice projects like the Corporate brochure of the company, a newsletter for customers, and small scale advertising campaigns. I remained in this company for 4 years and then looked for a new challenge. I wanted to quit the IT world, which was actually not really my cup of tea.
As a marketeer, I sent a mailing towards 50 recruitment specialists to sell my professional skills. All of a sudden I had the opportunity to choose between 3 new challenges in 3 major companies. One of them was Nespresso…
How did you venture into the world of coffee “Nespresso”, and what attracted you to such a business?
Nespresso was looking for a HORECA Manager (Foodservice Manager).
One of my hobbies at that time was going to Michelin star restaurants in order to spend an evening tasting the Chef’s specialties. Once a month, I used to go to a top restaurant with my best friend. We would have liked to test more restaurants but we were limited by our budgets!
The country Manager of Nespresso at that time (1994) strongly believed that top Chefs could become real sponsors and could recommend the Nespresso coffee for its high quality. He was looking for someone passionate and dynamic who would be able to launch the product. When we met we talked more about taste and meals than about my profile! And he liked it. This was the start of my career within this nice company.
I thought to myself, working for a company that sells coffee in little capsules, that’s weird… but it can be a first step towards the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods FMCG sector I was aiming at.
Three years later, I became Marketing Director, than Sales Director Benelux and Boutique Network Director Benelux. Today I am Country Delight Manager Benelux.
After twenty years working for Nespresso, I have never found my different jobs boring. On the contrary, the more I discovered the business, the more I found it exciting.
Can you explain your experiences at beginning in “Nespresso” and how difficult was it to promote such an original product to Belgian consumers?
Nespresso Benelux, sister company of Nespresso in Switzerland and Nestlé, was born in 1992.
At the beginning, the Nespresso coffee was very well known by a very restricted number of people! This “niche” product was really a revolution in terms of quality and freshness. Each capsule delivered the perfect espresso in a cup.
This lack of notoriety was a real challenge. In my job, the only way to sell Nespresso was to let the coffee “speak” in my place: tasting was the key.
At that time, the Belgian team was made up of 7 people. The tailor made service and the tasting were the two drivers to generate a positive word of mouth about the brand. And I must confess, during my 20 years of experience within this company, I have never heard one single customer complaining about the taste and the quality of Nespresso. And for someone working in Sales and Marketing, this is invaluable.
Step by step Nespresso became a “top of mind” brand. Two out of three new consumers were buying Nespresso thanks to the recommendation of a friend or a member of their family.
…Later on, George Clooney came on TV as an ambassador of the brand… Today everybody knows and uses “what else” as a slogan !
What was the marketing strategy to convince potential clients to purchase the machines and capsules?
Being present close to the consumers with tasting has always been part of the strategy.
Ensure that our consumers remain loyal is of course very important today. Thanks to Nespresso the way we are consuming espresso has been a revolution. Now there is a market for this kind of consumption and a lot of coffee brands want a piece of the cake.
As leaders, we have to be even more cautious and listen to the customers’ needs. This is why I started in July 2013 the Delight initiative. All customer feedback is gathered by our customer facing employees and actions are undertaken to increase their satisfaction. This is part of our business continuous improvement plan. It is a mindset change in our company. A new way of working …
How many “Nespresso” outlets are there in Belgium today? And do you foresee further expansion?
There are 4 Boutiques in Belgium (Brussels-the flagship, Antwerp, Ghent and Liege) one in Luxembourg and 10 in the Netherlands.
The strategy about expansion is reviewed each year but one thing is sure, we are going to open more Boutiques in the coming months. Hasselt and Woluwe (shopping) are two very serious options.
Did you make a lot of personal sacrifices by devoting so much time an effort into the job?
Well, being part of MANCOM in a fast growing business is very time consuming. What is important on such a level of decision is to deliver results. You are working between 50 and 60 hours per week, knowing that, when you close the door of your office, you don’t close it in your mind. You often take your work with you at home. So, it demands a lot of comprehension and support from your partner and your family.
Even more, when you talk to your partner in the same way as you would talk to your assistant, scheduling an evening in a restaurant like you would do for a meeting… Then you know you really need to take a break !
What has made you so successful as a business woman, what advice would you give to PWI readers?
In the Gallup’s talent I am a learner. I love learning new things, and what is more important for me is how to build up this knowledge and not only the knowledge itself.
When I started to study Japanese, I was one of the oldest students! I know I will never be fluent in Japanese, but I love learning this language because it explains a lot about the Japanese culture itself.
If you are willing to grow, you are flexible and open minded and you want to achieve goals, there is a place for you in a company like Nestlé/Nespresso.
The leadership skills that are really basic within the group are: practice what you preach, result focus, initiative and proactive cooperation. If you “live” these skills and deliver what you have promised, you are on the right way.
And if my family situation had permitted it, I would probably have added to my CV the lead of a hub in Asia!
Now I’m going to ask the most important question, have you met George Clooney? Tell us all!
Well, I should have dinner with him one of these days …
Seriously, not yet but one of my colleague did. His feedback was that George was very charismatic, humble and funny. But too late ladies, he’s going to get married
Graduate in Marketing from I.C.H.E.C., postgraduate in Human Resource Management.
Sonia has worked for many years in Nestlé Nespresso and has gained expertise in the following areas: marketing, sales, leadership, retail management and country retail management.
She has been Country Delight Manager Benelux since 2013 in Nestlé Nespresso.
Fluent in many languages including Japanese.
Sonia.firstname.lastname@example.org or Sonia.email@example.com
Boutique Country Delight Manager at Nestlé, Nespresso S.A.Belgium Area, Brussels
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nestlé Nespresso, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.