Friday, December 18, 2009

The Miserly Swiss - Nestle

THIS is a re-telling of a fairy tale that did not end happily ever after. You read about it in this column before. It is about the biggest food multinational (MNC) in the world and one of its Filipino distributors.

It began thus: Once a upon a time this MNC known for producing milk, cereals, coffee and a Chocó drink that supposedly energized young people, appointed FDI Forefront I1 Trading Corp. (FD12) and Service Edge Distribution (SEDI) as two of its many distributors.

FDI2 and SED1 had common minority shareholders.

Since MNC was one of the most desired companies because its products sold like the proverbial hot cakes, FD12 and SEDI were ecstatic.

They were assured of adequate advertising and promotions support, in-house financing to acquire the goods they would resell to retailers like groceries and supermarkets, and products whose cute ads made them fly off the shelves. In return, while boosting the MNC’s sales, they would make for themselves a handsome profit. Clearly, it seemed to them, to be a win-win situation.

FD12 won MNC’s Distributor of the Year in 2005 and 2006 and the MNC’s Area Sales Manager (ASM) assigned to coordinate with FD12 won company awards and corresponding incentives and bonuses.

But along the way, the MNC prince turned into a beast. MNC increased the sales targets or quotas of goods that FD12 and SEDI had to sell even as MNC reduced its marketing and promotional support. Then it forced these two outfits to service additional retailers that had established reputations of being poor payers or had long outstanding receivables. Then sometime in 2006, MNC transferred distributors’ financing to local banks that imposed higher interests rates and a shorter 30-day maturity period.

Yet despite all these limitations, FD12 soldiered on and even won the two awards from MNC. But despite the accolades, the cash flow was miserable and their bottom line was shrinking.

There was a reason for this. Eventually, an independent audit disclosed collusion between the MNC’s Area Sales Manager and the FD12 operations manager. FDI2 was giving retailers discounts way above what FDI2 allowed, in effect practically giving the goods away. Why? Apparently, they were carrying on an illicit affair since the FD12 manager was married.

When FD12 brought this loss – and the reasons behind it – to MNC’s attention, citing conflict of interest, the Pinoy distributor was told that the company considered the affair as one between two consenting adults. This is despite the fact its Corporate Code of Ethics requires its management and employees to "avoid even the appearance of impropriety in its business relationships on behalf of the company." And, what about the Pinoy’s losses?

To add insult to injury, the MNC illegally and, without warning, terminated its distributorship four days before Christmas of 2007 resulting in 100 employees being laid off.

Not content with this bullying, when FD12 went back to get outstanding claims worth P11 million, it was coerced into signing a Release and Quit Claim on future legitimate claims based on a proposed joint audit by the MNC and FD12 of the latter’s financial records. FD12 signed under duress, believing the promise of the MNC lawyer that the company would honor good-faith claims made against it. Of course, the MNC lawyer later denied making such a ridiculous promise.

I wrote about this evil MNC in April and May this year. Under the glare of publicity, MNC initiated talks with FD12 to settle their differences, but, of course, when one is dealing with legendary Swiss misers, nothing came of the talks.

In fact, it gets worse for the MNC’s distributors. Apparently, five of MNC’s six distributors in Central Luzon were also victimized by one of the company’s employees, a Regional Sales Manager who ordered the distributors to give preferential discounts of 10 to 12% to a particular customer who, in turn, sold the discounted goods to Metro Manila (MM) wholesalers at 8 to 10% off. Manila distributors like SEDI and FD12 could not compete with these in-house cut-throat competitors even as they were being bullied to "hit target at all costs." Everyone – in central Luzon and in Metro Manilas ended up losing more money, even as MNC and its managers were hitting their targets and more.

Things eventually came to a head when the checks that the five CL distributors received from the Metro Manila customer to whom they were giving the preferential discount bounced. The bad checks turned out to be from the joint account of the MNC’s Regional Sales manager who, it turned out to be was the wife of the preferred customer!

When the conspiracy surfaced, the manager’s husband got cash advances from the MM wholesalers, one of which forked out P22M for goods he never got. Apparently this MNC manager became one because she was constantly hitting or exceeding her sales targets and under her watch, Central Luzon won Best Area Award in 2007 and 2008.

What did MNC have to say about this financial brouhaha? Again, they dismissed it as the product of a rogue individual, and will only pay for the legal fees of the distributors when they sue the manager who has absconded with the cash and whose whereabouts are now unknown.

However, according to independent lawyers, the MNC manager by her verbal and written orders (some on MNC official letterhead) bound the company through the doctrine of Apparent Authority. The lawyer may be right but trying to get what is due you from the miserly Swiss may be harder than getting blood from a stone.

My advise to the distributors of this MNC: Get together and sue. This MNC should be booted out of this country. This MNC is the moral equivalent of the Ampatuans or the A(H1N1) that victimizes - even kills off -- just about anyone that has dealings with it.

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1 comment:

  1. What a disgrace that a multi national company could act in this manner. Shame, shame, shame, I hope the executives of Nestle get what they deserve.

    ReplyDelete