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Awakening the Food Giant

Topic: Looking back

Peter Brabeck: I was born in an Austrian city that was one of the heaviest bombed during the Second World War. My first memories are of a city that had been burned down and that there was basically no house standing. But at the same time there was a magnificent surrounding of lakes and mountains. My parents, since I was able to walk, took me out to the mountains and at two and a half years I was standing on a pair of skis. Since then I have not stopped skiing and I have not stopped climbing mountains.

It was somehow this contrast between a broken down city and the perfect nature, which would somehow form to certainly part of my character, no doubt about it. The other thing was that it was a time where nothing could be worse, only things could be better. Therefore, there was an embedded optimism in the people in general. Everybody was optimistic; everybody was thinking that tomorrow will be better than it is today. I think that's another part that has certainly formed my character. I’m very optimistic about things in life and I always look forward to see how you find solution to problems.

Question: How did you end up at Nestlé?

Peter Brabeck: The beginning was very agonistic if you want. I was just coming back from the first Austrian Hindu Kush expedition where we tried to climb these high mountains in Alpine style, which was at that time quite revolutionary. Coming back, I had to confront reality that I needed to work and that I had to make my own living. On the other hand, I really wanted to continue to be able to climb mountains and I knew that Latin America would be one place where I combine both things. So I presented myself to multi-national companies and I always said, “Is there any possibility to go to Latin America one day?” Until I came to this ice cream and frozen food company, which was called Findus.

As I said, I didn't know it belonged to Nestlé. It happened that I also spoke Swedish. Findus was a Swedish company. And my question was answered positively in the sense that it was said, “Look. We engage here in Austria but if you really do very, very well there might be a possibility for you somewhere in Latin America.” That's why I started with Nestlé and that's how it all came about.

Question: How has Nestlé changed through the years?

Peter Brabeck: I started to mention that in the sixties, of course '68, you know very well what the public opinion was. From a political issue, it was the area of socialism, it was the area of anti-capitalism, it was the area of against multi-national companies which then led to policy-making that said that the future would be joint ventures. In many parts of the world, you were not allowed to have a 100 percent foreign owned company if you wanted to be in the food or if you wanted to be in the retail sector.

State intervention was extremely important. Import substitution was very important, so if you wanted to sell something, you had to produce locally. You were not supposed to import. The usage of local raw materials and so on and so on. So it was a very heavily state intervened society at that time.

Like in most everything, things change. In Latin America the biggest change factor was Pinochet who really introduced a more open society, a freer economy. With this fantastic economic success of his regime, many, many other Latin American countries followed afterwards, opened up their markets, freed the economy, and suddenly the state intervention became much less. We were allowed to have 100 percent companies in countries like Venezuela or Ecuador, where I also lived and worked as a CEO for quite some time. This opened up and brought more competition into this market, more competitiveness, more productivity in this market. I think it was good for the local population.

Again, things change. While Latin America started to move backwards, other parts of the world moved up. The fall of the Berlin Wall, of course, was a very important event, which then basically opened up more than 2.5, almost 3 billion people to a market-oriented economy. Those were great opportunities for Nestlé. We were very early on participating in this opening up of new markets and new economic opportunities, taking advantage of the experiences we had in many other parts of the world and very easily in Africa, for example.

Africa is really just opening up very recently and opened new opportunities for us and we are very active now working in Africa or in the Middle East. The Middle East was another region which was very state controlled and is only opening up very recently.

If you look at it from a global perspective, what you are seeing is that you have in one part counter-movements, on the other part you see movements which are opening up and it's, like always, a small roller coaster. It goes up and then it comes back and then it will come back again in some parts. And some other parts will be more state intervened.

I think, as a company, you have to understand, first of all, the political, social, and cultural contexts in which you will be working. I think this is extremely important. You cannot suppose that you can take your model, your cultural model, even your ethical model and your economic model and try to export this to the rest of the world. What you have to do is to take the basics -- your basic fundamental principles-- and then see whether a given country, a given region, allows you to adapt to your model to the reality of this country or the region without violating the fundamentals of your belief.

I think that's basically what you have to do. This is an ongoing process and demands a lot of cultural understanding and political understanding of what is going on in this world and when these things are happening. Timing becomes an incredibly important part of this.

Recorded on August 25, 2009

Peter Brabeck, Chairman of Nestlé, reflects upon the evolution of the company and its culture, and how he came to spend his career there.

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Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
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The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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