Fernando Mercé (MBA ’98), president of Nestlé Purina, Latin America and Caribbean, grew up with a global perspective. The son of an expatriate, Mercé lived in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Switzerland and the United States. Back then, he never imagined leading in a corporate setting. Today, however, Mercé doesn’t direct employees from his headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. Instead, he collaborates with associates.
“There is a fundamental difference between associates and employees,” said Mercé. “An associate, as we define it, works for the vision and the mission of the company. An employee works for his or her boss. I constantly seek to create an environment where people are treated and expected to behave like associates.”
Together, Mercé and his colleagues set out to appeal to a growing customer base throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They didn’t just introduce American pet food brands into different cultures; they created new brands tailored to individual tastes and customs.
“Until recently all pet food brands in Brazil were based on North American concepts,” Mercé said. “We had the opportunity to create something that captures the essence of being Brazilian and that resonates at a deeper level with pet owners from that country.”
So Mercé and his team developed Purina Revena, a brand manufactured in Brazil, and represented by colors found in the Brazilian flag. Revena also contains Brazilian ingredients, such as jabuticaba (a tart, grape-like fruit) and acerola (a small, cherry-like fruit).
“The brand has been incredibly successful,” Mercé said.
Mercé decided to attend business school after working for four years as an industrial engineer in various Nestlé factories throughout the world. His work experience taught him that strong leaders are willing to challenge the prevailing logic (even if it is their own) and encourage open dialogue from and with their teams. “Darden was a perfect place to develop these skills,” said Mercé.
“I knew I wanted a different style of teaching for my MBA,” continued Mercé. “I completed a few joint classes with Kellogg in my engineering program at Northwestern University, so I had a flavor of what the case method was like. Darden is well-known for its case study method, which is not an add-on, but a central component to its program.”
Upon visiting the School’s Grounds, he quickly fell in love with UVA and its Jeffersonian tradition. Once a student at Darden, he found working within a learning team quite valuable.
“The challenge for good leaders is to lead successful innovation with the majority of the people in your organization.
Rarely do you get the chance to change the players,” Mercé said. “In my learning team, we had to make things work.”
Mercé joined Nestlé USA after graduating from Darden and became the director of marketing for Nestlé Purina’s Frisky Cat brand in 2001. By 2007, he had worked his way up to deputy vice president for North America.
During his journey, he developed his own personal philosophy, which includes living life to the fullest and understanding that the best days are still ahead. Mercé’s biggest passion is spending time with his wife, Kelly, and their two young sons, Sebastian and Coleman.
Through it all, he maintains a positive outlook.
“Be excited for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” said Mercé. “Every day will keep getting better, and you have to keep your eyes open for that.”
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