Jeroen Mustert, GM Wessanen Benelux

Interview with Jeroen Mustert, General Manager at Wessanen Benelux Amsterdam, 10-06-2016



Jeroen Mustert had one main goal: to be a General Manager at forty. He pulled it off. He now works at Wessanen Benelux, an organization with a mission he fully supports and gives 100% to. Wessanen backs several initiatives, such as the AchterBio campaign. A good reason for us to have this talk.

You are in favor of organic?
“Definitely. For me organic is the only way to go forward in the food chain. And that doesn’t just apply to me, the entire Wessanen team is behind me on AchterBio.”

What is it, AchterBio?
“It’s a campaign we launched in May 2016, which will run for two years. Its goal is to create more support for the EU certification of organic products. At this point, they only comprise 3% of the Dutch market.  Our ambition is to increase this market share, a lot. That’s why we’re a member of Bionext, the branch organization for organic products and the initiator of this campaign. There are so many quality labels and parties involved that it is hard for consumers to discern what exactly is organic. It is not a campaign for Wessanen or for any of our products, it is really all about making it easier for consumers to be able to make a decision to pick organic products. We focus on the ‘light green consumer’ who just shops at Jumbo, Albert Heijn or Plus.”  

Who are involved?
“All of the Bionext members back the AchterBio campaign. And we also receive financial backing from the European Union. Moreover, anyone is free to join in, you simply download the material off the website. The more coverage, the better, it will become a real movement.”

How is Wessanen involved?
“We support the campaign financially and use AchterBio’s material in all of our exposure. 70% of our products meet all the criteria of the quality label and it is clearly visible on our wrappings. We use the logo on our website, in our e-signature and on our LinkedIn page. Actually, everything we put forward shows our support for AchterBio.”  

Why this label in particular?
“For a number of reasons. It is a genuine organic certificate. You cannot use it as you please, you need to meet strict criteria. Its name is even protected by law! It applies to the whole chain, which means production, processing, wrapping, transportation and so forth. Its checks are carried out by Skal, which take their orders from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Moreover, it really matches Wessanen’s mission statement ‘healthier food, healthier people, healthier planet’. All of our products are vegetarian, fair trade, organic or nutritious. 70% of our range is organic.”
* Skal Biocontrol: supervisor for the trustworthiness of organic products.  

An added bonus is: when the market grows, so do you. “The campaign is not focused on Wessanen’s best interest, but on the entire organic industry. But there’s nothing wrong with improving the world and benefitting from it in the process.”

Wessanen wasn’t always organic.

“That’s right, a few years ago we turned things around. We always had organic products, but it wasn’t our main market. Actually, we had no focus at all, we had organic tea on the one end and unhealthy snacks and soda’s on the other end of the spectrum. A lot of brands in our portfolio weren’t growing or making profit. Which in turn resulted in a lot of complexity, because there was absolutely no overlap in running the soda factory in the US and the one producing ‘kroketten’ (a Dutch meaty fast food snack) in the Netherlands. The previous management team initiated the transition, but radical steps were taken by the current MT. With the results to show for it.”

 Can you keep this up?
“The market is growing. We made a conscious decision to be part of it. If you look at the consumer, the trade, the agriculture as well as the politics - in all of those domains, attention for organic is on the rise. This market will continue to grow, because consumers are eager to eat and drink more organically. So you bet we can keep this up. But of course it’s all on us to make it work. Wessanen is on the brink of a new chapter, we need to position our company and brands in an active way. Now CEOs of conventional multinational companies are talking about health and sustainability on conferences, when really it should be us up there. “  

And how does that affect the company?
“At the office, our mission is abundantly clear. Our lunches are organic, when we have a meeting somewhere else we try to eat organically and every year we organize an Organic Day. We really incorporated this into the DNA of our company. We don’t just want Wessanen to improve the world, we also expect our people to join in. That is why one of our goals for our employees is to decrease the carbon footprint of their personal lives as well. That can be done by eating more organically, consuming less meat, having shorter showers and using green energy or carpooling. It is all up to you personally, but at the end of the day it does affect your pay check.”

And sports, you were in the Dam-tot-Damloop last year, right?
“Of course maintaining your health is hugely affected by what you eat. Our products create a healthy alternative - for you as well as your loved ones. But exercise is essential too. Last year we did join in with the Dam-tot-Damloop. That’s how we raised up to 4,500 euros for a tree project in Bolivia which we support. By planting trees, we compensated Wessanen Benelux’s CO2 emissions. This year we participate in the Amsterdam Triathlon. It hasn’t been announced what goal we will support yet, but we do know our entire team is joining in and we are training hard!”

Is it all mandatory?

“No, our people get to decide how to reduce their footprint individually and it is up to them whether they want to join the sports activities. However, our experience is they are eager to participate. We have a Green Team for instance, of five people which organize all sorts of activities to keep our mission alive inside our company. Well, I don’t need to go around asking people to please do something. No, I get lots of people joining in. The Green Team organized a sports day recently to train for the Triathlon and nearly everyone was there! You become more conscious of your environment and more motivated to improve because you work at Wessanen. You are an ambassador for our company.“  

Does that also come out in interviews?
“Definitely, it’s a standard question.“  

You were General Manager at Reckitt Benckiser Netherland, was this a reason to switch to Wessanen?

“I was looking for more depth. I asked myself: can I look at myself in the mirror? In terms of our society, myself and my children.  Well, not always of course. At Wessanen, we are not only commercial, we are also really improving things. We are trying to leave the world a little better than we found it. We do so through our products, which are all vegetarian, organic, nutritional, or fair trade. And also through additional activities, such as planting trees in Bolivia. The story I get to tell my children, of how I sell organic and sustainable products is more responsible than when I used to sell soda, cigarettes and cleaning fluids.”  

When looking back on your career, what would you have done differently?

“Whether I have any regrets? No. I always take stock at Christmas. Have I had any success? Have I learned something? Did I have any fun? If one of them is negative, it is time to move on. A career is driven by you, by the things you seek in life, for me these three principles are most important.”   Have you always known you wanted to be General Manager? “I wanted to be a General Manager at forty.”  

And how did you go about that?
“In order to become General Manager, you need marketing- and sales experience. As well as preferably some involvement in supply chain and management. At the beginning of my career, I was in marketing. By 2003 I was able to jump ship from Coca-Cola to Reckitt Benckiser to be in Trade Marketing and expand my commercial experience. I could also have gone to Nike, becoming a Global Marketing Director for the Michael Jordan brand. Going to a great ball game every weekend, working with Michael Jordan. Yes, I did have to mull it over. If you’d ask my boys, they would say my switch to Reckitt Benckiser was the stupidest thing I ever did, haha. But at Nike, I would have been in marketing again. The decision to pick Reckitt Benckiser was a rational one and a more meaningful one towards reaching my goal of General Management.”  

What’s your career advice?
“To me it’s all about three principles: results, learning and having fun. Building a career can only be done based on results. Only results will land you the promotion or will get you the invitation from other companies to bring the same results to their table. It’s your ticket to a career. Learning is more personal, I would advise everyone not to focus on more money, a great job title or more of that shallow stuff. You need to stock up on knowledge, experience and skills. Especially in the beginning of your career. And then add fun. I have always had a lot of fun and passion for what I did. Don’t take everything too seriously. The crux is: if you do something passionately, you will probably achieve better results and the money will come anyway.”  

But if you want to be General Manager, you do need to take things seriously, right?
“I think it helps when you have a clear final goal in sight. It allows you to design the steps towards reaching that goal. It helped me in making the decision between Reckitt Benckiser and Nike for instance. What I would recommend to anyone too is a mentor. It could be a coach to discuss ideas with every once in a while. Your boss, or manager or a friend could also help you decide. For me it was Bart Becht, the former CEO at Reckitt Benckiser. Even though he hired me, he never knew. I never told him. But it has helped me to understand his business model and principles, his way of working and doing things and to look into which steps he had taken. So if we sum it up, it comes down to these three principles, formulating a final goal and mirroring a mentor.”  

By: Vivian Videler
This interview was originally published on http://www.topofminds.com/interview/jeroen-mustert/
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