Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Punt - A chocolate genius passes

Michele Ferrero was the patriarch of the eponymous family empire best known for its Nutella spread and Ferrero Rocher chocolates (AP)
Michele Ferrero was the patriarch of the eponymous family empire best known for its Nutella spread and Ferrero Rocher chocolates (AP)

The Greek question has undoubtedly been discussed in depth at ambassador's parties in embassies across Europe in recent times, so The Punt was saddened to hear of the death of the man behind Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, Kinder Eggs, and a host of other chocolate treats.

Michele Ferrero, who was Italy's richest man, died on St Valentine's Day after a long illness.

Mr Ferrero, who was 89, sounds like a business journalist's nightmare.

A reclusive man, he never gave an interview in his professional life. That is remarkable enough if we were talking about a small businessman these days, but Mr Ferrero headed a food giant of the same name that had revenues of some €9bn in 2013.

Described by the 'Financial Times' as a real-life Willie Wonka, the Italian spoke in the dialect of his Piedmont region.

His company was originally set up by his father, who latched on to the idea of making a chocolate-like sweet using hazelnuts. This was at a time when hazelnuts cost about a fifth the price of cocoa.

He was one of those few executives who truly immersed themselves in what they did. He reputedly spent hours in his lab trying to bend the wafers in his Ferrero Rocher sweets to the angle he wanted. Ultimately, he got the angle right, but it took him five years to do it.

His special talent, though, was understanding the needs of children. "Never patronise a child," he said. It was a mantra that made him a fortune.

Greece and the Eurogroup talk

Another day, another Eurogroup meeting. The Punt covered the first round of the Greek crisis from Brussels a few years ago and while there was a palpable sense that a possible 'Grexit' could lead to the end of the euro, that doesn't seem to be the case this time.

Still, it does feel like we are approaching a denouement of sorts on the Greek issue.

Talks between the Greek government and the country's creditors continued through the weekend ahead of today's Eurogroup meeting and while Greece isn't willing to discuss the continuation of its current bailout programme, it was notable that prime minister Alexis Tsipras told Germany's 'Stern' magazine his government needed "time rather than money to put into effect [its] reform plans".

"In six months, Greece will be a different country," he added. That claim is perhaps hard to fathom, but most analysts agree that the Greek question needs to be settled one way or another now. However, the fact that Greece and its Eurogroup colleagues couldn't even agree a closing statement at last week's Eurogroup is not a good sign.

An evening drink with Mr Ricard

If Michele Ferrero was a reclusive executive, then Alex Ricard - the incoming chairman of Pernod Ricard - definitely isn't.

The 42-year-old is well known in Ireland, having run Irish Distillers for several years, where he helped oversee a dramatic expansion in sales of Jameson whiskey, to the point where it has become the fastest-growing brown spirit in the US.

The Punt has interviewed Mr Ricard several times, so we took a strong interest in a rather odd piece from Agence France Presse on the drinks mogul.

Under the headline 'An aperitif with Mr Ricard', the piece compares having a drink with Mr Ricard "to going on a shopping spree with Karl Lagerfeld, or playing football with Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]".

The article is different because it picks up on the kind of detail that you do not usually see in a "normal" profile of a business leader. From the "AR" initials on the doorbell to the fact that the France-Scotland rugby match is on in the background.

One detail that does stand out though, is Mr Ricard's bar.

"It's 40 centimetres wide - 40 degrees being the alcohol content of most spirits," Mr Ricard explains. The bar lamps are shaped like copper stills, with the wooden floor meant to evoke the oak barrels used to mature spirits. Finally, the stone countertop is made of Zimbabwe granite, as a reference to "our final frontier - Africa."

We'll watch Pernod Ricard's focus on Africa with interest.

Irish Independent

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