Nestle’s new CFO get thumbs up from investors

Nestle’s new CFO get thumbs up from investors

Zurich/London: Investors gave a cautious welcome on Wednesday to Nestle’s appointment of an American female executive from Wal-Mart Stores Inc to be the new chief financial officer (CFO) of the world’s biggest food group.

Nestle shares gained around 1% as analysts said Wan Ling Martello’s experience of the retail industry and emerging markets would be boost for the Vevey-based maker of Nescafe coffee and KitKat chocolate bars.

Martello, 53, a United States (US) citizen of Chinese and Philippine origin, currently at the world’s biggest retailer, will take over on 1 April from the 65-year-old Canadian James Singh who is retiring after 35 years with the Swiss food giant.

“In addition to the further welcome modernization of Nestle’s male-dominated upper echelons, we think the appointment makes sense," said Kepler Capital Markets analyst, Jon Cox. “She comes from Nestle’s biggest customer, she has experience in e-commerce, emerging markets (key growth driver) and obviously brings a female multi-ethnic, emerging-market/Asian face to the world as Nestle’s representative," he added.

The Swiss group has a wide range of nationality across its senior management team and four of its fifteen board members are females. However, Martello will become the first female on Nestle’s 14-man executive committee since Petraea Heynike retired as head of all strategic business units in April.

Nestle made the announcement late Tuesday that Martello, executive vice-president of global e-commerce for emerging markets at Wal-Mart since 2005, will join Nestle next year after a career in which she previously worked for Kraft Foods, Borden Foods, and NCH Marketing Services, a former subsidiary of Nielsen.

Martello follows a string of recent senior female appointments at European consumer goods groups such as Alison Cooper taking over as chief executive at Imperial Tobacco in May 2010, Diageo appointing Deirdre Mahlan as CFO in October 2010, and Liz Doherty taking over as Reckitt Benckiser CFO in January this year.

“The surprise is that the new CFO is from outside Nestle. We believe however that Ms. Martello will bring a breadth of knowledge in finance, emerging markets, retailers and e-commerce, among others," said Vontobel analyst, Jean-Philippe Bertschy.

Bernstein analyst, Andrew Wood, said the fact that Martello came from outside Nestle with emerging market experience were positives, but her profile at Wal-Mart was not too high and she did not appear to be a high-profile CFO appointment like Paul Polman in 2005, who came from Procter & Gamble and then went on to become chief executive at Unilever.

“It is tough to make a fully informed judgment on the news, principally based on a lack of knowledge of Martello. We therefore wish to reserve our judgment although we would certainly say we are not bowled over by this announcement," Wood said.

Nestle shares gained 1% to 49.93 francs by 04:00 pm outperforming a 0.6% firmer European food and beverage sector.