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Big Plans on Tap for Danone

From left, Joe McCoy, Region Manager, Commercial Lending at People’s United Bank; BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon; Sergio Fuster, President, USA Yogurt for Danone; and White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach

As part of its ongoing series on leadership, the Business Council of Westchester hosted a wide ranging conversation with Sergio Fuster, President, USA Yogurt for Danone at the People’s United Bank Conversation Series held Tuesday at the Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown.

The interview, which was conducted by BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon, comes at a time when Danone has been making headlines locally and internationally. The company recently announced plans to move its offices and accessory food laboratory from its current location in the Town of Greenburgh to a former retail space at 100 Bloomingdale Road in downtown White Plains. More than 400 Danone employees will be working at the new location.

Fuster said the move made sense for the company on many levels. In addition to receiving financial incentives to remain in the county and state, he said the company wanted to be in a dynamic downtown location with easy access to transportation. “There is a lot going on in White Plains,” he said. “We’re still very close to I-287 but at the same time the commute to the city will be easier for our people.” He also said employees can enjoy the nearby restaurants and shopping at The Westchester.

The other big news about Danone is the announcement last week of its $10 billion acquisition of soy milk producer WhiteWave Foods. Under its new name, DanoneWave, it becomes the country’s largest dairy entity, outside of cheese, and the largest public-benefit corporation in the U.S. The combined company employs more than 6,000 workers and has more than $6 billion in annual revenue. “This is a very exciting time. We’re both looking to transform the world in different ways. We are going to be the biggest organic food company in the world,” he said to applause from the audience.

Asked about the significance of being the largest public benefit corporation in the U.S., he said that DanoneWave will be “making commitments that are not only about business, but they are going to be about people, they are going to be about the ecosystem, they are going to be about the planet and many other things.” He noted that the company will launch its first non-GMO brand in July.

One of the hallmarks of Danone is its focus on innovation which Fuster described as the “fuel for our business.” He added, “Despite being a big company, we operate in very much entrepreneurial mode. We empower a lot of our people to make things happen way more than many other big companies.” Asked about the company’s leadership style he said, “We don’t penalize anyone for failure. We believe you learn much more when we fail than when we succeed.”

Concluding the program, Gordon thanked Fuster and added, “You are a transformational company and you are a transformational leader. We’re so pleased to have you here in Westchester County and White Plains.”

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