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EF: You’ve been with consumer goods for most of your career and with Nestle for quite some time. Could you describe your journey as to how you became the head of Nutrition for Nestle Mexico?
LM: I studied Hotel Management for my degree. I happened to start working as a marketing trainee in Unilever where I learned that marketing and sales is something that I love. I left Unilever to work in Nestle where I’ve been working for 18 years. During this time, I held many different positions in many different divisions, from being brand manager for Cereals, marketing manager for Infant Nutrition, and creating the Nestle Innovation Lab. I was promoted to President of Chilled Diary where I had 6 months to determine the direction and even existence of the division, We ended deciding to make a licensing agreement with Lala. It was funny because historically Lala and Nestle were competitors. During that time I also got married and became pregnant. After my maternity leave, I was promoted to head of Dairy and Culinary Business in Nestle Mexico. After 5 years in that division, I took up the helm for Nestle Nutrition which I think is a good business to help out the Mexican population. Everything in my history has led to different experiences.
EF: What was your mission when you were appointed as head of Nestle Nutrition?
LM: From a business perspective, we have the opportunity to impact the infancy of Mexico. There’s a lot of room for change and improvement for Mexican nutrition in particular. There’s a significant correlation between nutrition at infancy and the health and opportunities available later in life. I believe, as a business, we can make a meaningful positive impact on the Mexican infant population. I take it very personally, because I am in love with this country. Now that I can contribute to the kids in Mexico, I am very delighted. The other part is from an executive perspective - that is my commitment towards gender balance. Women empowerment is my passion, and I believe both sexes bring their own vital and unique business perspectives to the table. However, it’s essential to be proactive in producing the necessary changes. One cannot wait for a receptive manager or a conducive corporate climate. We must prepare in order to bring about lasting transformations. For my part, I have taken a variety of female executive programs with the most recent one hosted at Harvard Business School. My two missions are to nourish Mexico’s infant population and to empower Mexican women.
EF: Regarding nutrition, what trends do you notice in Mexico and what impact would you like to impart on those trends?
LM: My team and I have been studying the nutritional trends of Mexico’s population. Only 20% of kids from 1- 4 years old have vegetables as a consistent staple in their diet. 80% of kids drink sugary soft drinks over milk. If I can change those statistics a little bit through education and healthcare advocacy, that would be a substantial difference in moving towards the right direction. We have the portfolio to provide the necessary nutrition, so it’s more of a matter of education and public outreach on the long term effects of poor childhood nutrition. I believe it’s crucial that we provide better education on the consequences of a poor diet.
EF: Nestle is a unique case in that it’s a food and beverage company that is investing heavily into healthcare. Do you think other companies in different industries should do the same, and if so, what advice would you give?
LM: Encouraging companies to invest more in healthcare falls under a few different fields. First, there’s the emphasis of corporate responsibility. As a corporation, we have a responsibility to give back to society all that society has given to us. With this, there’s also the notion of a virtuous cycle wherein we do good while making a profit thereby providing the opportunity to re-invest more into social causes. In the end, it comes down to the values companies are sustained by.
EF: What kind of message would you like to send to other aspiring young women that might be reading this?
LM: There are a few main messages I want to communicate to other women. First, you should always be true to yourself. Throughout my career, there have been people telling me to behave in a certain way. However, the only way you can find passion in your work by being true to your values, beliefs, and who you are. Related to this is that we don’t have to become men. There’s this notion that in order to be successful in business, you need to behave like a man, to act, dress, and talk in a certain way. However, in doing so, that takes out any advantage of being a female leader. As women, we should lead through our femininity. Secondly, we, as women, need to prepare. Although there’s a movement to “level the playing field” so to speak, the fact is that we are still working in organizations with cultures created by men. It’s not to say that men are good or bad, but if our goal is to balance the working culture, studies suggest that we need 35-40% of top management to consist of women and minorities. We still have a long way to go. Because of this fact, we need to prepare ourselves to enter such a culture while not only maintaining our femininity but allowing it to transform our environment. Third, I want to stress the importance and responsibility of role modeling at a leadership position. Our work-life balance is an essential part of that. If I were to arrive at the office at 7 am and leave at 12 am, no one would want to live that sort of life. We need to observe how we behave in all aspects of our lives, and be aware of the kind of message that sends to young women. Roll-modeling is a 24 hour job. However, all of it must come from a true part of yourself because people will see through any pretense (which relates back to my first point). The last message I want to send is that women empowerment is more than a good social cause. Over 50% of college graduates are females. If a company is not conducive towards recruiting, maintaining, and developing women, that company will lose out on the majority of future talent. Employment numbers need to match the graduation rates or else future human resources will become less and less sustainable.
EF: What is Nestle Nutrition's role in the broader Nestle company?
LM: Nestle was created by Henri Nestle who created the first product, Farine Lactée, which was the product that launched the company. This was an infant product to feed babies that were becoming malnourished when their mothers were unable to feed them. Infant nutrition is at the heart of Nestle. It’s where Nestle started. Today, we are involved in 3 major fields. There’s infant formula where we have more than 50% of the total market share. In that area, we have Nan that is a market leader and an essential product in public healthcare institutions. Another area is the milk business where we also have over 50% of total market share with Nido as the market leader. We are also very active in baby food where we have over 90% of the total market share. In terms of infant nutrition, we have a very strong portfolio. We are the only player in Mexico that provides supplements for the “first 1000 days” of pregnancy. We offer our Prenatal Materna that provides the mother with a nutritional supplement to support her from pregnancy to when the child is 3 years old. We’re even launching probiotics for breastfeeding mothers to provide further health benefits. We have a very rich portfolio for all kids, no matter the socioeconomic level or health needs. We have a big responsibility in this country.
EF: What is the state of infant nutrition in Mexico today?
LM: 30% of mothers in Mexico are unwilling to breastfeed due to complications with mastitis, inflammation of the breast caused by blockages in the milk ducts, for which we offer medication. 40% of 3 month old infants are given inadequate substitutes for breastfeeding. Many of the problems are actually related to issues during pregnancy like pre-diabetes and obesity. Especially crucial is the first 1000 days. Whatever happens to the child during the first 1000 days, starting from conception, will impact the rest of that child’s future from dietary tastes and preferences to even cognitive development. I cannot stress how important it is to take care of infant nutrition in this country because it will determine the future of this country.
EF: In 2 and a half years, you will be celebrating 20 years in Nestle. When you raise your glass of champagne, what achievements would you celebrate and what future impacts would you set your eyes upon?
LM: From a personal perspective, I would celebrate an empowered team that believes in the difference they can make in the country. I would like to see them recognized as the best team in Nestle Nutrition worldwide. I would also like to see Nestle Nutrition as the state of the art institution for infant nutrition from consumers, healthcare professionals, and both public and private institutions. I would like to see Nestle Nutrition as the go to regarding infant nutrition in this country. Currently, we are the only ones with the portfolio and credentials to accomplish this in Mexico. Last but not least, I would like to see signs of change in Mexico’s nutritional education which would be measured by a change in nutritional habits. It would indicate a shift in health trends which means a brighter future for Mexico.