The Sweet Taste of Success
Brad Alford MBA'80
Former Chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA
“The kind of people who go to the Kelley School of Business are typically the kind of people we’re looking for.”
As a Kelley MBA student in the late 1970s, Brad Alford had a specific career goal in mind: He wanted to be in top management for a packaged goods company.
Professor of Marketing Tom Hustad told Alford he would need a strong finance background to become an executive. Alford took his advice, graduating from Kelley in 1980 with a double major in marketing and finance.
The advice paid off: Alford became chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, which is part of Nestlé S.A.“The professors at the business school really cared. I was very impressed with the school and with Tom Hustad,” Alford says. “He stayed in touch with me from the day I left until today.”
After graduation, Alford was hired as a sales trainee at Carnation Company. He took on increasing levels of responsibility for the company [which was acquired by Nestlé in 1985], becoming chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA in 2006. In that role, Alford oversaw Nestlé Beverage, Nestlé Confections and Snacks, Nestlé Emerging Markets Division, Nestlé FoodServices North America, and Nestlé Prepared Foods.
The company is part of Nestlé S.A. in Vevey, Switzerland, with $8.5 billion in sales, more than 15,500 employees nationwide, and 20 manufacturing facilities across the country.
While Alford’s responsibilities were far-reaching, he also kept a connection to the day-to-day business of the company. “I like the nuts and bolts of running a company,” Alford says. “I loved being a brand manager and I love being a CEO. I like all parts of the business, whether it’s sales, advertising, talking about a new product, going to manufacturing facilities … I even like to see the trucks leaving the distribution center.”
The importance of marketing for a company like Nestlé is embedded in the fabric of the way they do business.
The marketing focus at Nestlé is on long-term trends, such as people’s interest in weight consciousness, as opposed to shorter-term fads like sugar-free or low carb foods, Alford says. To stay on top of what Americans are eating, Nestlé uses a menu monitoring service and checks in with chefs around the country to learn what new menu items are popping up and saturating the market. This is just one of the many ways Nestlé learns about their consumers.
A current example is Stouffer’s frozen flatbreads, an attempt to combine the taste of a restaurant inspired meal with at-home convenience using toppings including basil, roasted garlic, and red onions.
In July 2007, Alford and Nestlé gave a $750,000 gift to the Kelley School to establish the Nestlé Professorship and Fellowship in Marketing. The faculty chair was named for his mentor and former professor, Tom Hustad.
Alford remains impressed with the quality of students who come from Kelley.“Every school has its own reputation and culture. I’m very familiar with the one at IU,” Alford says. “The kind of people who go to the Kelley School of Business are typically the kind of people we’re looking for.”
- Web sites he visits every day:
- Favorite Nestlé product:
Baby Ruth candy bars. “In Franklin Park, Illinois, where they make Baby Ruth, you can get a fresh Baby Ruth right off the line—it’s unbelievable.”
- Great IU moment:
“The first day I got to Bloomington, they were actually filming Breaking Away. I was walking through the student union and they were filming in the bowling alley!”
- Lunch hour:
When he doesn’t have a lunch meeting scheduled, Alford heads to the company cafeteria and sits with whoever happens to be there. “Today I’m having lunch with three Kelley MBAs who are interning here.”