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Featured ArticlesLeaders on leadership: John Carmichael, president and CEO of Nestle Canada

Leaders on leadership: John Carmichael, president and CEO of Nestle Canada

How do you define success? 

The impact we have and the meaningful changes we make in the world. The concept of impact changes as one defines and redefines their roles over a lifetime. Companies and leaders set parameters around speed and magnitude as appropriate, but ultimately, they’re focused on creating lasting impact and driving change. As my career progresses, I hope my greatest success will be measured by the support and empowerment I provide others.  

What do you do to continue to grow and develop as a leader? 

Leadership as we know it has changed more in the past few years than in previous decades, demanding a more expansive skill set. A continual commitment to personal growth and development is the key to thriving in this dynamic environment. Leadership is rooted in understanding people. I achieve this by conversing with diverse groups of people and reading leadership publications, psychological and anthropological readings, and listening to podcasts.  

What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make as a leader? 

Anything that affects the lives and livelihood of our people. I have made bad business decisions, but we adjust, learn and recover, and the business world can be very forgiving. When it comes to our people, I feel a great responsibility to do well by them and see them grow and thrive. Achieving long-term success often means making sacrifices in the short term, and although these choices may be necessary, they are never without their challenges. Reflecting on the numerous sleepless nights I’ve had over the years, most of them stem from ensuring the best outcomes for our team members.  

What qualities do you look for in new hires? 

I view curiosity and ambition as traits that indicate an individual’s constant drive for improvement. In an ever-evolving landscape, these attributes have become more important than ever. Success doesn’t solely entail solving present challenges; it involves anticipating future ones, recognizing patterns, and adapting approaches for continual enhancement. Instead of “optimism,” I look for “enthusiasm” – a directed passion for challenges.   

What is most important for you and the company – vision, core values or mission, and why? 

Semantics can often blur purpose. What I think is most important is having a purpose for what you do. One of the great things that Millennials pushed into the business culture was advocating for a more profound sense of purpose beyond financial measures. Prioritizing purpose with profit margins has become essential. At Nestlé, we impact the world through the consumption of our products and in our relationships with our suppliers, farmers, the communities we engage with, and our commitment to the planet’s well-being. What truly counts is the overall impact, which matters to me and our entire team.  

What “good” failures have you experienced in your career and what have you learned from them? 

I don’t consider failure to be positive in itself. Instead, I consider learning invaluable and the currency of long-term success. Without encountering failure, the pace of learning tends to lag. It’s our responsibility to learn from these experiences. 

Reflecting on my journey, a significant “learning” moment occurred with a pet food brand relaunch based on complicated science 25 years ago and probably 15 years before its time. It failed – miserably, but its failure taught us that our portfolio was insufficient for the future. This realization prompted senior leaders to execute one of the most successful acquisitions ever made at Nestlé. We learned magnificently from this experience and couldn’t have done so without the failure.  

What advice would you give your younger self starting your career? 

I give everyone the same advice these days: run at the barking dog. Every business offers challenges and opportunities. Success is not usually about spotting them; it’s finding the courage to face and solve them – a metaphor for “barking dogs.” I have found throughout my career that barking dogs that are not dealt with never go away; they only get more difficult to handle.  

My career has often been focused on business turnarounds at Nestlé. I encountered situations where the root problem (or the opportunity not taken) that caused the issue was well-known but not addressed. 

Our world needs courageous problem-solvers who fearlessly go after the tough issues and opportunities head-on.  

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A NESTLÉ CAREER  

2021 – Present    President and CEO, Nestlé Canada 

2018 – 2021      President, Foods, Nestlé USA 

2017 – 2018      President, Beverages, Nestlé USA 

2014 – 2017      President, Pizza & Snacking, Nestlé USA 

2011 – 2014      Vice President, Deputy North America, Nestlé S.A. 

2010 – 2011      CMO, VP Marketing, Dreyers’ Grand Ice Cream, Nestlé USA 

2006 – 2010      Vice President, Sales Operations & Customer Development, Nestlé USA 

2004 – 2006      Director of Market Development, Nestlé USA 

2001 – 2004      Director of Marketing, Nestlé Purina 

1995 – 2000      Marketing Associate/Manager, Nestlé USA 

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