Rumbol and Sleight departures flag up threat to UK-centric marketers

April 28, 2010

Are the imminent departures of high-profile marketers Phil Rumbol and Cathryn Sleight, from Cadbury and Coca-Cola GB respectively, by any chance related? In one important respect they most certainly are: both are casualties of globalisation. The corporate circumstances may be different, but the underlying cause has been the same.

Cadbury had its destiny decided for it by the deus ex machina of corporate takeover. A successful global company with a premier-league set of brands and high-octane growth prospects in emerging markets, it nevertheless had significant vulnerabilities – particularly in Europe – which Kraft was able to exploit with the seductive promise of greater efficiencies and economies of scale should the two companies “merge”.

Coca-Cola has reacted to similar cost inefficiencies in its mature European operations by embarking on an internally generated “rationalisation” programme which will reduce its ten existing European business units to four. Coke is in no way a potential takeover target, but may well be reacting to investor pressure.

In the words of Dominique Reiniche, president of Coca-Cola Europe: “The changes we are making will simplify the way we operate in all areas of the business. This will drive efficiency by enabling us to be faster to market and to increase the scale of our activities across Europe.” He does not mention shareholders, but we can be pretty certain they will be gratified by the extra margins generated. Perhaps coincidentally (given his hostility to the Cadbury bid), Warren Buffett – near enough the world’s wealthiest man – is a significant investor in both Kraft and Coke.

One side-effect of both company restructures has been to subordinate national marketing units to a new pan-European marketing management team. As will be seen, that has implications for ambitious UK marketers – not all of them positive.

In the Kraft/Cadbury case, things could have turned out well for Rumbol had he chosen to toe the new corporate line. Far from being made redundant (unlike many senior colleagues), he was slated for promotion to a new pan-European marketing role. The only problem was (so we are told), Rumbol’s new job would be based in Zurich and he did not wish to relocate his family there. So, he hasn’t… What may also have troubled him was that the new role was in some ways more narrowly defined than his present one. Its remit was chocolate (now under the auspices of former Cadbury executive Tamara Minick-Scokalo), to the exclusion of the gum and boiled sweets sectors.

As for the role of Coca-Cola GB marketing director – Sleight’s fiefdom since 2006 – it has been axed. The function will now be folded into a broader role operating out of NWEN, the new pan-European unit consisting of Iberia, Germany, North West Europe and “Nordics” headed by Sanjay Guha. Guha will assume the title marketing and Olympics director, NWEN; currently he is Coca-Cola GB president. Sleight is expected to leave the company.

As it happens, I don’t think either casualty will have much difficulty finding another job. Sleight has been credited with the UK launch of Coke Zero, the company’s most successful piece of carbonates new product development in over two decades; and has also superintended the fortunes of Glaceau Vitamin Water (which, for all my reservations about its positioning, has done quite nicely thank you).

As for Rumbol, he had already made a name for himself as the Stella client, at a time when that brand still produced great advertising. What he has since done at Cadbury will, however, have immeasurably increased his credit. He helped to launch the confectionery giant’s first foray into chewing gum (ironically, one of the reasons that margin-hungry Kraft began showing an interest). And he has been the impresario behind some of the most noted advertising in recent times, to wit Fallon’s “Gorilla” and “Eyebrows”. Move over Simon Thompson (who presided over a run of great advertising at Honda, a few years ago).

I’m less sanguine about the prospects of home-loving UK marketers in general, though – especially if working in large corporations. The tide is against you, unless you’re prepared to wield your passport more freely.

PS. Rumbol may have opted out of a new life at Kraft Cadbuy, but Ignasi Ricou, president of Cadbury Europe, is to stay on. He will be president of sales, Kraft Europe, with special responsibility for gum and candy.


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