Nestlé Chief Fails to Impress at Womens Conference

12 October 2006

DEAUVILLE, France: The chairman/ceo of food giant Nestlé was given a vocal and highly critical reception when he addressed a group of female movers and shakers at this year's Women's Forum.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe admitted to the 800 strong audience during a question and answer session that the company - whose customers are mainly women - has no female managers on its 13-strong executive board.

The fact that two female non-execs sit on its main board of directors cut little ice with the heckling crowd who jeered him after his initially popular speech.

His original remarks welcomed the increasing influence of "female values" because "[women's] way of thinking and acting fits well with new societal and business requirements, such as flatter hierarchies".

But Brabeck-Letmathe was then accused of paying lip service to diversity, a charge he denied. He said he believed it was important to create an environment where women could take advantage of opportunities to develop their careers.

The three-day forum/conference, aimed at promoting women's vision of the economy and society, also heard from Carlos Ghosn, ceo of automaker Renault-Nissan, and Patricia Russo, who is about to assume the mantle of ceo at Alcatel Lucent when the French and US telcos merge.

She told the audience: "In truly global companies, a meritocracy is alive and well and women's achievements are related to their capabilities."

Sam DiPiazza, ceo of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, told the forum that about 15% of his firm's 8,000 partners were women.

He added: "Our objective is not to have 50-50, it's to have the best people in the leadership of our organisation, but I know that the best balance is closer to 50-50 than to 85-15."

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff