Paolo Arancio

Global Head Strategic Innovation Partnership, Nestlé

1. Why did you choose a career in the food industry?

Most of the important moments celebrated in people’s lives can be associated to a special taste or flavour. Food becomes the way to share quality time with family, enjoy a break or achievements at work with colleagues and be our reward after an exciting sport session.

In the early ‘80s, I could see on the news the echoes of famine in Ethiopia and its impact on kids of my age. I was moved and I wanted to share with them the traditional food prepared by both my grandmothers during our happy family re-unions. Working in the food industries allows me to create nutritious food that brings moments of joy to many kids and families around the world.

2. What are your main responsibilities in your role?

The title “Strategic Innovation Partnership Global Head” summarizes my responsibilities:

  1. Identify new opportunities and define strategically which insights to focus on.
  2. deliver innovative benefit-centric solutions across the company businesses
  3. leverage the internal and external expertise through effective partnerships

As part of R&D, my role is to be at the interface between business, R&D and operations, ensuring that the “business pull” and the “technology push” translate into integrated and aligned commercial pipelines and R&D roadmaps.

In simple words I lead high performing cross functional teams to develop innovative solutions (product, processes and new business models) that start new business ventures or expand established ones. Every day is different, moving from financial and business decisions to marketing campaigns, from hard core science to manufacturing but with one common denominator: an excellent and passionate team to work with!!

3. What are your three biggest challenges on a daily basis?

Having a personal and professional life with a broad and diversified scope, the big challenge is to find and keep myself in the sweet spot between focus, high motivation, company ambition and people’s needs. Self-awareness and de-stress through meditation, as well as being surrounded by positive individuals (starting from our beloved), is my approach.

4. With regards to your session, how can a balance be drawn between risk-taking and being an effective leader?

In my opinion there is no “100% risk free” situation.

Being an effective leader is all about acknowledging the risks and taking the team through uncertainties whilst providing a clear direction/vision and being ready to adapt to new circumstances.

While there are many plans to reduce/avoid risks, I use them only as guidance, focusing instead on developing in the team a “Can Do attitude” way of working.

There is the tendency to confuse “risk taking” with “breakthrough innovation” and “unstructured approach”. I talk with my team about using an “educated gut feeling” in decision making, being diligent in our work and persistent in finding solutions.

5. What is the best way to create a sense of ownership across your team during new product development?

High performing teams are eager for independence, mastership in what they do and a sense of purpose. Creating and nurturing this mind-set leads naturally to a passion for innovation that is expressed in the endorsement of the mission, commitment to the journey and ownership of the final results.

If you want to boost people’s sense of ownership, focus on nurturing talents and let them express their potential with a clear goal.

6. What key innovation or trend do you see as having the largest impact in the food industry in 2018?

The world is evolving under the eyes of everybody at different speeds: on one side we talk about human colonies on Mars with specific nutritional needs and on the opposite side we see migrations of entire populations to escape conflicts, poverty and hunger.

The food industry has the responsibility to address both scenarios, defining for each circumstance which are the benefits to offer, the key driver of choice and the product attributes for preference and pleasure.

During the creation of a new factory in a remote region of the north of India. Every morning on the way to the plant, we were driving by a small slum where few young kids were out on the street since the early hours.

The day of the release of the first commercial lot, I took a box of the healthy cereal snack to offer it to the kids I saw on my trip.

I will never forget the joy in the eyes of the small girl when she took her first bite. It is the mission of the food industry to improve the quality of life of people going to Mars and living in the most remote parts of our world.