Louise Cooke

Talking to Parmalat SA’s new chief

On November 4, 2010, Parmalat announced the appointment of a new CEO – and for the first time in South Africa’s dairy history, one of the biggest dairy processing firms in the country is headed by a woman. She was interviewed recently by The Dairy Mail.

Last year’s announcement by Parmalat SpA, the Italian holding company of Parmalat SA, confirmed the appointment of Louise Cooke as director and chief executive officer (CEO) of Parmalat SA.

Ms Cooke has more than two decades’ experience at senior management level in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry and is now also responsible for the executive management of Parmalat’s operations in other African countries, such as Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zambia.

In an official statement, Parmalat SpA described Ms Cooke as an “experienced commercial executive leader with a unique combination of strong strategic development skills, cross-functional operational experience and a passion for driving strategy to action through teams”.

She holds a BSc (Hons) in Management Sciences from Loughborough University in Leicestershire, UK.

Before joining Parmalat she was the managing director: Southern Africa for Cadbury Pty (since 2007) and was responsible for leading the business across six key Southern African countries.

“Ms Cooke has an excellent understanding of all facets of a business functioning in the challenging FMCG environment. She has worked for leading international companies for the greater part of her career in employment positions ranging from managing director, marketing director and business development director, to head of logistics,” the statement concludes.

But what does Louise Cooke say about herself, her role as CEO of one of the biggest role players in the secondary dairy industry and her vision for the company? The Dairy Mail asked her about this and other aspects of the first five months of her tenure at Parmalat.

Dairy Mail: What is your background in the food and beverage industry?
LC: I am British and have been living and working in South Africa since 2007, based in Johannesburg. I moved to the Cape to take up this role in November last year. My career started at Cadbury, and in the last 20 years I have worked across many different areas, including marketing, logistics, finance and strategy. My professional background is marketing and my most recent role was as managing director for Cadbury Southern Africa, including the operations in Kenya, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia.

DM: How did it come about that you are now the CEO of Parmalat SA and what has been the biggest challenge(s) facing you since your appointment?
LC: I was approached for the Parmalat CEO role and the biggest challenge has been getting to know the business – the people, the products and brands, the processes and the overall business model. I have run a business in the same market before though, so I have experience to build on.

DM: Parmalat’s product focus has shifted more towards the high end market. How does this fit in with the long term strategy of Parmalat SA?
LC: Regarding the question on high end products, that is not the way I see our strategy. Rather, we are in the business of providing high quality products from great brands that all consumers can buy with confidence and are available where they shop…..

The Dairy Mail: Read more