Perspectives

Corporate View: Alexander Seelmann-Eggebert, Nestlé

Published: Oct 2022

Alexander Seelmann-Eggebert, Deputy Regional Treasurer, Asia Pacific, Nestlé

Adapting to the local market

Alexander Seelmann-Eggebert, Deputy Regional Treasurer, Asia Pacific at Nestlé, has adapted to living in various countries throughout his career. As he discusses the lessons he has learned so far, he explains how patience and sacrifice can go a long way in building a successful career.

Alexander Seelmann-Eggebert

Deputy Regional Treasurer, Asia Pacific

Nestlé logo

Nestlé is the world’s largest food and beverage company and has a purpose of unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come. The company focuses its energy and resources where unlocking the power of food can make the greatest difference to the lives of people and pets, protect and enhance the environment, and generate significant value for its shareholders and stakeholders alike. The company has more than 2,000 brands ranging from global icons to local favourites and are present in 186 countries worldwide.

Nestlé is the producer of major brands you have probably heard of but didn’t realise came from the same company. To name just a few, the company creates KitKat chocolate bars, Carnation evaporated milk, Felix cat food, Maggi instant noodles, Nescafe coffee and Perrier water. The list goes on, and it is surprising – and impressive – to think that one company can do so much.

When looking at the profile of Alexander Seelmann-Eggebert, Deputy Regional Treasurer, Asia Pacific at Nestlé, it is also surprising to see how one person can do so much. His LinkedIn profile lists his experience and almost every entry is in a different country. Before he had even embarked on a career in treasury he had studied in Germany, Spain and Mexico, with work experience in Thailand. And then his professional working life has taken him to Spain, Panama, Switzerland and Singapore – where he is now based.

Seelmann-Eggebert studied Business Administration at RheinMain University in Germany – his home country. From there he went to Spain to attain a Master’s in Finance from EADA Business School in Barcelona. There he developed an interest in Latin America, which led to him studying an additional trimester at Tecnológico de Monterrey Business School in Mexico.

Like many treasury professionals, Seelmann-Eggebert started his career with an interest in finance and markets. Initially, he wanted to work in a bank in markets, but he started looking for an entry level job at the peak of the financial crisis. “It was a terrible time to look for a job in finance!” He secured a place on the graduate scheme of the Spanish automaker SEAT, which was recruiting graduates who spoke English, German and Spanish – a perfect fit for Seelmann-Eggebert’s profile – and there he landed a role first in the treasury team and later became a financial controller.

From there he took a role at a smaller company, also in Spain, where he was exposed to working in all areas of finance, including tax, accounting and treasury. And then, one of his former colleagues who was working for Nestlé in Panama, contacted him about an opportunity that had come up. “They knew I was interested in markets and treasury and there was an open position – they encouraged me to apply,” he says. He did apply, and he was successful. And so, he relocated to Panama. “I was always keen to have an experience in Latin America,” he explains.

He stayed in Panama for three years, during which time he was a Treasury Advisor for Latin America and was then promoted to the position of Foreign Exchange (FX) and Risk Manager for the region. During that tenor he also had a placement in Singapore for six months, which was part of a job rotation scheme at Nestlé. Then a job came up at Nestlé in Europe and he moved to Switzerland to be the FX Manager for Europe.

During this time, Seelmann-Eggebert has become adaptable and learned how to relocate effortlessly from country to country. Are there certain skills that are needed to be able to move countries? “You need to be open minded, and after a while of having similar experiences of moving you get better at it,” he explains. The first time he moved from Spain to Panama, the decision was easier – he was quite young and didn’t have too many possessions or personal attachments in Spain.

In giving advice to others who are likely to lead a life of frequent locations, he comments, “You need to take your time to settle in. It will take a while – you won’t get to sleep in your favourite bed, and it’ll take a while to work out what gym to go to or which supermarket is best. In Panama, I think I tried to settle in too quickly,” he says. One mistake he made, was to try and implement the same habits he had in Spain and transplant them to the new country. One habit he tried to adopt was to go without a car in Panama, and despite the advice of his new local friends, he insisted that he could manage without one – just like he had in Spain. “It took me one month to realise that my new life would be impossible without a car,” he says.

In giving advice to others who may be settling into a new country, he says, “You have to step back and realise you will not have the same habits and routine that you were used to. After a while you will get to know how things work and then you can adapt your personal style of living to the new location.”

This is somewhat similar to the approach that Nestlé has in adapting to the local markets where it has a presence. The products are not exactly the same – they are familiar but are adapted. On its website, the company explains, “Nestlé encourages its markets to adapt products locally, in order to respect the local, regional and national habits and the tastes, cultural and religious backgrounds of consumers as well as their purchasing power. While all products must correspond to our quality requirements, they vary extensively in composition, recipe, packaging and branding.” In Japan, for example, it is possible to buy green tea KitKats, as well as dozens of other local flavours such as wasabi and sake KitKat.

Adapting to the local market has become second nature to Seelmann-Eggebert, and he is now based in Singapore. “I started my career with the most challenging move – to Latin America – and each move since has got easier. I’m still very grateful for my experience in Panama – it shaped my character, particularly in knowing how to get along by myself,” he says.

When asked if the decision to move becomes harder as he gets older and more experienced ie is there more at stake and more to lose professionally if it doesn’t work out? “Definitely. I am more hesitant now than I would have been earlier in my career. I’m happy with the stability I have with my life in Singapore – but I’m not saying I’m not open to change. I’m just not as open as I would have been ten years ago. At the moment, I don’t see the necessity to jump and change from my current role as I feel there is a lot I can still do,” he says.

Seelmann-Eggebert comments on the lessons he has learned so far in his career: “I think patience is important, especially when you are younger. It’s not good to jump too fast into the next role or job,” he says. Also, he has had the benefit of working for supportive bosses. “In my case, all my previous managers were very good – I was lucky – and it’s important that you have a supportive manager. They need to give you opportunities, and if you are given them you need to take them. Even if it’s not related 100% to your interests, once you have shown you are capable of doing things then you will be given more responsibilities.”

I think patience is important, especially when you are younger. It’s not good to jump too fast into the next role or job.

Seelmann-Eggebert believes it’s necessary to make sacrifices during the earlier stages of one’s career. “You have to suffer a bit when you are younger. You have to make sacrifices by moving out of your comfort zone. If you do it when you are younger, it is easier and will benefit you when you are older and in a later stage of your career.” And in another piece of advice, he says, “Look out for good managers.”

In his current role, Seelmann-Eggebert explains that he is mostly focused on risk management and compliance, and part of those responsibilities includes managing FX risk, counterparty risk, as well as the country risks associated with the markets that Nestlé has a presence in Asia Pacific.

As the deputy treasurer in the region, part of his role is also overseeing the other aspects of the corporation’s treasury centre. Another team handles cash management and corporate finance, so he is not too involved in those areas, unless someone is on leave. “I have more of an advisory and consulting role – I try to support the team and deliver what the treasurer needs,” he says. This involves having the bigger picture of the operations and reporting to the central treasury in Switzerland, as well as supporting the business in Asia Pacific.

The size of Nestlé is a defining feature that influences how its treasury is run, especially when compared to other companies in the region that have a regional treasury centre in Singapore. “Nestlé is one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in the world – simply the size of the operations puts us in a different situation to some of our peers,” says Seelmann-Eggebert. This might make managing – and negotiating – banking relationships easier, for example, than smaller companies. Also, he notes, the business is not cyclical. “People always need food so our business is not like commodity houses or air carriers – which may have peaks and troughs in their demand – our business is quite stable,” he says.

In commenting on his work style, he says, “We are a bit conservative – not in a negative way – but we focus a lot on risk management and compliance. We are always keeping an eye on that and ensuring we are not running any unnecessary risks – the reputation of our business is very important for a company like ours,” he says. “Everything is managed by guidelines, and everything is very process oriented and defined in how we work. From a treasury perspective, the standard operating procedures are clearly defined. Other companies of a different size might not be so organised,” he comments.

Seelmann-Eggebert comments that what he likes most about his current role is the breadth of experience that is possible in working in Asia Pacific. “This region is by far one of the most interesting I have worked in; it is a mix of developed and emerging countries – such as Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka and Myanmar – and there are major differences between them,” he says. Also, he notes, “The region itself has high GDP growth expectations – it is very dynamic, even with a slowdown in China.”

Also, in his current role, he is fortunate to be working with good people. “I have a great boss – she’s always looking for opportunities to improve the status quo, and she is constantly encouraging us the rest of the time to evolve and improve, to be better than yesterday,” he says. Also, he says, “The people I work with in Singapore are very highly educated – the team is very professional and there are young people who can take on responsibilities. It is a pleasure to work with these people.”

“The collaboration with the teams and stakeholders is solid – there is respect on both sides. It is a nice work environment,” he comments. The treasury team at Nestlé has about 150 members worldwide, and he has a good working relationship with them. “It is like a family – we know each other well and are in constant touch; we are talking with each other frequently, even across the regions. It is like a company within a company,” he says.

During his career so far, Seelmann-Eggebert has witnessed the mega trends that are affecting treasury. “Automation and digitalisation are quite clearly major trends and the operational work in treasury is declining. Artificial intelligence can help us with that – a lot of work that is currently being done is not creating much additional value and that can be reduced by these new tools. We are seeing a lot of development in this area – with lots of companies with various solutions – it is obviously not new, but it is an ongoing trend,” he says.

There are also other developments affecting the world of treasury, such as the proliferation of fintech companies and cryptocurrencies. For larger companies, he comments, the issue is how to incorporate the latest thinking in a way that does not put the company at risk. “I think bigger corporations need to decide how to work with these companies, and how to incorporate them in a way that is compliant and does not introduce any unnecessary risk. We cannot ignore crypto forever – we need to keep an eye on it – but we need to be careful,” he says.

In general, he notes treasury has become much more important for organisations, and in particular for the chief financial officer. This was demonstrated clearly during the pandemic, when many companies – such as airlines, for example – experienced a liquidity crunch and the role of the treasurer came to the fore, he comments. Another hot topic, Seelmann-Eggebert notes is environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Like many of the other trends it still remains to be seen how it will be embedded into the life of the treasury, and how guidelines will be developed so that ESG can be incorporated into their operations.

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