How Emmanuel Faber is reinventing Danone as a purposeful business, with “manifesto” brands, and a unique style of leadership

May 8, 2020

Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, believes that people want to have a vote in the world they live in.

“Each time people choose a brand they exercise their right to vote. They want that brand to be transparent, meaningful and responsible. Still, they also want the brands they choose to be playful, innovative, relatable, emotional and engaging. As a result, there is a new paradigm at play today: brands only exist through the power of people” he says.

Danone is a $25 billion food business, founded in Barcelona and now based in Paris, and serving 120 markets. It has transformed itself in recent years with a purpose “bringing health through food to as many people as possible” and has also become a Certified B Corporation, challenging itself, and the world, to do better. It says, “we expect more from our food”.

The food (health) business has been transformed under Faber’s leadership, putting sustainability at the core of its strategy and innovation. As a result, “how” the business works, matters as much as “what” it does. This includes how its leaders lead, Faber saying breakthrough results can only be achieved when people dare to express and demonstrate their leadership potential.

Danone describes its unique style of leadership using “CODES” which describes the five behaviours that shape everything in its culture, from recruitment to development, performance and rewards:

  • C … Create a meaningful future: challenge the status quo and generate breakthrough ideas, every day can be a fresh adventure, full of new possibilities and real excitement, demanding a sense of purpose for yourself, team and colleagues.
  • O … Open connections inside and out: open to new thinking and fresh perspective, developing networks inside and outside, interacting at all levels and building trust to understand all stakeholders, and design products of the future.
  • D … Drive for sustainable results: a culture of speed and agility, where individuals are free and express their talents, anticipating and driving progress in a way that sustains value creation for the business, consumers and the community.
  • E … Empower yourself and diverse teams: leadership not micromanagement, releasing the power of the team with the right mix of support and freedom, enabling people to express their uniqueness and foster collective performance.
  • S … Self-aware: being aware of your own strengths and development needs is essential to learn and grow, maintaining self-balance at work by recognising when to step back and when to reach out to others.

Danone wants to change the way the entire food system works, to “nourish lives and build a healthier world”.  It believes that the health of people and the health of the planet are interconnected. It issues a call to action for all consumers and everyone who has a stake in food to join “the food revolution”, a movement aimed at nurturing the adoption of healthier, more sustainable eating and drinking habits.

Danone’s “manifesto brands” are the means by which the business practically goes about this. Each brand – like Activia, Delice, Gervais, Volvic – is guided by a framework which defines and activates a specific cause, aligned with the company’s overall purpose. This starts with a focus on people, identifying the tension between a relevant consumer insight and the current reality, defining a legitimate gap to close, or paradox to resolve.

As a result, each brand has a strong point of view, a purpose, that justifies its existence in the world and relevancy for people, supported by a commitment to help improve the health of people, as well as to help protect our planet. With over 40 manifesto-driven brands in its portfolio, Danone sees this as a more engaging and sustainable model to driving profitable growth, that is aligned with broader society and environment.

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Business Recoded, out in September 2020.

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