A “catalyst” leader acts as “a weaver of a tapestry of other peoples excellence”

Eve, Le Blog Best Practices, Gender Gap, Leadership, Personal development, Role models

An encounter with Lorna Davis, Chief Manifesto Catalyst – Danone




Eve le blog: Would you tell us about your professional background ? What are the highligths of your career, before you became Chief Manifesto Catalyst?

Lorna Davis: I have nearly 35 years’ experience in the food industry, living and working in 7 countries.

Prior to my current role, I was the President Biscuits, North America of Mondelēz International (commonly known as Nabisco, previously part of Kraft) and previous to that, I was President of Kraft Foods in China, based in Shanghai for 6 years. I have been the  President/GM for Danone Biscuits Company in China, Jacobs Bakery in the United Kingdom, and Griffins in New Zealand. 

I also did a project called ‘Growth Too’ to encourage best practice sharing across the businesses in Danone. I have worked for Danone for more than 10 years (1997-2007) in strong international markets, including China, New Zealand, Scandinavia and UK. Prior to joining Danone, I was marketing Director at a Bank in Australia, did marketing and manufacturing at Smiths Snackfood Company in Australia (now part of Frito Lay). I also had marketing roles at Unilever in South Africa and Procter & Gamble In Australia.



Eve le blog: You had very diverse experiences, also beyond the professional life. Does it make a specific asset for your current mission?

Lorna Davis : Well, I guess my travelling has added to my experience of life. I think it’s really interesting to travel and move to different countries in the world because it forces us to rethink things we may take for granted. I also think, that after all these countries, I dont think anyone is bad or wrong (like I used to!). I can understand almost every perspective.

I love sport – I used to play it a lot as a youngster and now I love to follow rugby, cricket and soccer – mind you I like almost all sports, and I am fascinated by how sport tells you a lot about a culture. I also think it’s a great way for people to ‘win’ in a harmless way !

I love to cook and have learned a lot about food and about nourishment of people I love by cooking. I also love country music and the words of that music reminds me that people all over the world are the same, suffering the same heartbreaks and challenges, just with a different flavour.



Eve le blog:  Can you brief us on Danone 2020 Manifesto ? What are the main axes, the main principles and the major challenge?

Lorna Davis: Danone has always been purpose driven, from the double project of Antoine Riboud to the ‘Bringing health through food to as many people as possible’ of Franck, and now, ‘the manifesto’.

The way that I describe it is that we are moving from ‘mechanical’ to ‘organic’ as a system – and I dont mean ‘organic’ in the technical sense of food but the sense of ‘an organism’.

There are 3 streams that will ensure Danone’s relevance to the challenges of our time :

> beyond traditional organization structure and process

> beyond buying materials

> beyond selling food and beverage products

 Our job is to transform these streams to create the new world.



Eve le blog:  What is the everyday job of a “Chief Manifesto Catalyst”?

Lorna Davis: I spend a lot of time listening to peoples points of view – I describe myself as a ‘weaver of a tapestry of other peoples excellence’.

I also spend a lot of time with outsiders looking for inspiration and for partnerships to help us to achieve our goals.



Eve le blog: You are part of the Executive Committee of Danone Group, which has also a second woman, Cécile Cabanis. Do you feel like being part of a minority in this Committee? Do you think that more women in the governance of business would accelerate performance?

Lorna Davis: I feel more like a minority as a non french than as a woman.

I am interested in diversity of all kinds (like intovert/extrovert and educational backgrounds, as well as the obvious gender and race) but I am very interested in ‘inclusiveness’.

I have seen many situations where the diversity ‘boxes are ticked’ but the white, male, european view of the world still dominates and all the apparent ‘diversity’ just means that the people who are different have to learn the code.



Eve le blog: What are your visions on the theme of gender equality and female leadership ? Are you personnaly committed to improve the empowerment of women? How do you act concretely to contribute to this challenge?

Lorna Davis: I think there are 3 things I can and should do, and I like to think I do.

> I mentor many women personally and advocate for them to get new jobs and to develop well in the business world. I can name and number many examples.

> I make sure women learn early how to speak in public. It has been well documented that men are more likely to make speeches in public early in their careers and its a critical skill that women should learn. I actively encourage all the women I come in contact with to practice.

> I make sure that in all my day to day dealing with women of all types, that I am inclusive and encouraging so that shyer, less ‘loud’ women have their say.



Eve le blog: You participated in the EVE International Seminar 2015. What are your impressions of the EVE Program?

Lorna Davis: I loved that seminar.

The things that stood out for me were the Tal Ben Shahar talk and the negotiation session.

I really love the networking with likeminded people.



Eve le blog: In your speech, you explained that “feedback is always a gift”. Do you consider that the art of giving & receiving feedback is the first and main quality of a leader? Besides this, what are the good skills for the leadership of the future?

Lorna Davis : I did a course many years ago called ‘why should anyone be led by you?’ and the 4 elements of great leadership have stuck with me – I keep the page from that course with me all the time. The guy said that a leader should ‘make her/his CASE’ to deserve to be your leader and the 4 elements of CASE are :

> Community – establish one

> Authenticity – to be ‘real’

> Significance – people should know they matter

> Excitement – people should be inspired by you to do the job.

Its the best summary I have found !




Interviewed by Valérie Amalou and Marie Donzel for the EVE blog.