Kilchberg, Switzerland is a long way from Kansas City. It’s even quite a distance from San Francisco or Stratham, N.H. for that matter. But that’s where Russell Stover Candies is located. And when the Lindt & Sprüngli Group decided to acquire Russell Stover Candies from the Ward family, almost two years ago, they did so knowing it would make them the third largest chocolate manufacturer in North America.
For Andreas Pfluger, it signaled a return to the United States, away from Kilchberg and to the plains of the Midwest. Not that Pfluger is a stranger to living in foreign lands. The head of Lindt North America and president and ceo of Russell Stover Candies has had stints in Australia, France and California before accepting his latest challenge. (I know, California isn’t a nation, but it sometimes a world onto itself).
In sitting down with Pfluger to do this month’s cover story, I gained a little more insight into the man that Ernst Tanner, chairman of the Lindt & Sprüngli Group, chose to head up its latest acquisition.
First, I sensed that the 22-year Lindt & Sprüngli veteran felt blessed to have an understanding wife and daughters. Moving is never easy.
But as he told me during the interview, he feels right at home in Kansas City and its Heartland roots. In speaking about the culture at Russell Stover Candies, Pfluger cited the fact that there’s a Midwestern attitude at the company; one that’s grounded in substance, one where people value content over noise.
He talked about a “Get things done” mentality, one that he compared to the Swiss. And that wasn’t just marketing sweet talk, although that is Pfluger’s background. How do I know this? Well, I’ve interviewed more than my share of chief executives over time, and you do develop a sense for the genuine.
Besides he indicated that he couldn’t join us for dinner that night because he was going to his daughter’s high school musical. Sounds like someone who’s vested in both his family and the community, doesn’t it?
Then there’s Marjolaine de Claviére, Russell Stover’s new v.p. of marketing. This charming Lindt executive who’s last home was in South Africa but hails from France, is also a globetrotter. Yet, she expressed real delight in discovering the joys of Kansas City, which has everything one needs while being more manageable.
Granted, these two professionals are staking their reputations on making the integration of Russell Stover Candies as successful as Lindt & Sprüngli’s Ghirardellli acquisition, which goes back to 1998. And that didn’t happen overnight as Pfluger can tell you. Oh yeah, did I mention that he ran the Ghirardelli operation from 2005 to 2011.
As Pfluger points out in the article, Lindt & Sprüngli is in this for the long-term; it wants to build the business.
“Bernie, I want you to come back 10 years from now and sit down with me so I can show you what we’ve done to expand the business,” he said.
Not sure I’ll still be around then. Nonetheless, it’s great to one, be re-invited, and more importantly, to see such commitment to a legendary company in the industry. Methinks Russell Stover Candies is in good hands.