Celebrate life every day. That’s the philosophy behind one of Australia’s largest health and wellness brands, Swisse Wellness. The company works on the belief that to achieve lasting happiness and wellbeing, you should balance mindfulness, movement and nutrition. And every day at Swisse Wellness, workers are encouraged to balance those three pillars.
Each morning, healthy breakfast options are served to employees, including fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereal. To encourage movement, Swisse has an onsite gym, which hosts running and yoga groups as well as boxing classes. Plus, staff have the option of walking meetings and do one minute of exercise every hour. In terms of mindfulness, the company encourages daily meditation sessions every afternoon, where employees have the chance to meditate for 20 minutes with no interruptions, including two guided sessions a week.
“Those three pillars are able to lift up employees every day,” Swisse Managing Director Oliver Horn says. “It creates really engaged people. What I’m so excited about when I come to work is knowing that everybody who works at Swisse is better off because of it. They’re healthier and happier and that is so incredibly motivating.”
“Everybody who works at Swisse is better off because of it.”
Oliver worked in a number of roles and industries prior to Swisse. He began in finance, working for Deutsche Bank in Germany, before moving on to L’Oréal in Madrid and then London to work in marketing. He then spent 13 years with the world’s largest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates. There, he climbed the ranks to become General Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America. He later made the switch to Swisse.
“I really wanted to join Swisse because health and wellbeing are part of my persona and something I cherish,” he says. “I wanted a place where I could take that to work every day and inspire other people to do the same. It was such a unique opportunity that Swisse allowed me to do that. It was looking to internationalise the business and needed someone who had international experience and who believed in those health and wellbeing values.”
A natural origin
When it comes to health and wellness, Swisse has it covered. It provides everything from vitamins, supplements and skin care products, to sports nutrition and superfoods. The company was founded in Melbourne in 1969 by Australian entrepreneur Kevin Ring. The idea came to him after he travelled abroad to learn about the latest developments in natural medicine, and he began making vitamins. The first Swisse product produced was pollen tablets and, in 1991, the company unveiled its flagship product, Swisse Women’s Ultivite. It was dubbed the Rolls-Royce of women’s multivitamins at the time.
Over the years, the company continued to grow and, in 2015, it was acquired by Biostime, a global producer of baby food, formula and care products. This opened several opportunities for Swisse. “The former leadership team always knew that Swisse had huge potential internationally,” Oliver says. “In 2013, it launched in the US and signed a deal with PGT Healthcare, a joint venture between Procter & Gamble and Teva Pharmaceuticals, to internationalise the brand.”
PGT Healthcare markets more than 200 healthcare brands worldwide. Its partnership with Swisse allowed it to distribute Swisse products in Europe and Asia, as the brand’s products at the time were only available in Australia, New Zealand and the US. “But it became apparent that to make Swisse a global brand, we needed to have a more robust investment structure, access to capital markets, and a bigger footprint. And that’s when the team decided that it was best to put it up for sale and get it into an ownership structure that had financial stability and global reach.”
There were a number of companies interested in Swisse but the management chose Biostime, which was later renamed Health & Happiness Group (H&H Group). This was not because it offered the best price, Oliver says, but because it was culturally aligned to Swisse’s values. “Since then, our business has been going from strength to strength,” he adds. “It’s been a great two and a half years. We have recently reclaimed the number one position in Australia and are expanding our lead.”
Another major benefit of the H&H partnership was that it provided greater access to the Chinese market, a strategic asset for Swisse.
“Coming together with H&H Group has been a massive highlight,” Oliver says. “There are other brands in its portfolio and it has really put us on a global stage. Part of my responsibility is facilitating the integration of Swisse into the global H&H business structure and supporting our teams in Asia, Europe and North America with their expansion plans.”
When it comes to other milestones Swisse has achieved in recent years, Oliver mentions the US$100 million buyback in 2017 of its sales, marketing and distribution rights from PGT Healthcare, meaning it now has control over all global territories. “We have taken back ownership of them and that opens a huge opportunity for us,” Oliver adds.
Tapping into China
China is an enormous market for Swisse, and one of the things Oliver is most proud of is the brand’s adoption among Chinese retailers and consumers. “We’re doing some phenomenal work with Chinese ecommerce platforms Alibaba, JD.com, VIP and Kaola.com,” Oliver says. “We’re the number one wellness brand online in China and on important selling days like Alibaba’s 11/11 (Single’s Day) – the world’s biggest sales day – we were the number one imported consumer brand. We were selling ahead of Nike and Apple. It’s one of those things that gives you a glimpse into the future and of where we can take our brand.”
Oliver further emphasises the influence of Chinese consumers on the Australian market, something he says has exploded over the past three to four years. “There are more than 1.2 million Chinese people living in Australia and another 1.4 million coming to visit each year,” he explains. “And those 2.6 million Chinese are probably spending over A$20 billion in local stores. That influence is a huge trend. You see Chinese consumers with different health needs and they also send products back home to their families.
“In China, for example, fresh milk is not readily available, so calcium supplements have seen a boom as a consequence.”
China has historically had a low dairy consumption rate, which was further hampered by the milk scandal of 2008. At the time, powdered milk was found to have been adulterated with the toxic chemical melamine, which caused thousands of babies to become sick as well as six fatalities.
As a result, demand for powdered milk, particularly from Australia, has soared. And this growth has also been bolstered by the abolition of China’s one-child policy. Rothamsted Research indicates China will need more than three times as much milk by 2050 than it produced in 2010.
To further capitalise on its presence in China, Swisse appointed Chinese actor Fan Bingbing as its brand ambassador. She is among a strong line of other well-known brand ambassadors, including actor Nicole Kidman and cricketer Ricky Ponting. “The great thing about Fan Bingbing is that she’s an authentic Swisse user and that’s how we became aware of her,” Oliver says.
“Our strategy is very clear; China is a major market for us. One thing we know that works for us is creating brand aspiration, and we use A-class celebrities and ambassadors to make brand aspiration real and give it a face. We’ve been using Fan Bingbing in both our Chinese and Australian advertising quite a lot and creating events with her. It gives us reach and relevance with the global Chinese consumer at a premium aspirational level.”
“One thing we know that really works for us is creating brand aspiration.”
Something else Oliver is quick to point out, is that Swisse was one of the pioneers in making preventive healthcare a modern lifestyle choice. “It wasn’t aspirational before because it was seen as a bit alternative,” he explains. “It was only people in the know who embraced it. But we brought it to the masses and made it attractive as a lifestyle proposition to everyone who looks after their health.
“And that’s what people like Fan Bingbing help us do, they’re reaching people who are not into the hardcore science of natural preventive health. This marketing presents good health as more achievable for the everyday person who aspires to be healthy and performing at their best.”
Addressing growing trends
There are a number of trends Oliver highlights as having seen an upward trajectory in the preventive health sector. These include products for an ageing population and the gut–brain connection. “People are just living longer and there are more of us,” he says. “Whether it’s joint health or brain health, we have products for it.”
The gut–brain is a bidirectional pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain, which, when affected, can impact body function.
“The gut–brain axis is about understanding that microbiomes, the bacteria you have in your gut, can influence your entire body; from your cognitive performance to the immune system,” Oliver says. “So we are working on products that give you a good gut health to then support your overall health.”
Another trend Oliver indicates is the faster product life cycle, which means Swisse has to become more agile. “Some of our bestselling products have a two- or three-year life cycle, so we need to move faster,” he says.
“Maintaining that entrepreneurial agility is paramount, because if you’re not moving fast enough when you access markets like China, you’re losing out. There are three, four, five people who are moving just as fast and might be smaller or more agile, and you need to be able to compete with them.”
As Swisse continues to grow, Oliver wants to ensure it keeps up with consumer needs and faster product cycles. And to do so, he wants to empower his team to make decisions for themselves, to “make gut-feel, intuitive decisions quickly” rather than constantly waiting for permission before carrying out a plan.
“That, for me, is the biggest challenge,” Oliver says. “But we manage that through our culture. Two of our company values are bravery and trust. We ask people to make brave decisions and trust them to make the right decisions. We don’t spend much time looking back, preferring to be forward focused, so we don’t talk about mistakes – just learning, growing and improving opportunities (LGIs). That has really helped us tackle those challenges.”
[img alt="Oliver Horn, Managing Director of Swisse Wellness" src="https://static.theceomagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/04153226/Oliver_Horn_A_8476473_MOD.jpg"][/img]
Oliver Horn highlights the three things business leaders cannot be without:
“I’ve seen too many leaders who have egos that need feeding every day,” he says. “Egos always get in the way. I know I’m imperfect, so I need a strong team around me to complement all the gaps I have.
“Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, admitting where your shortcomings are and listening to and taking the lead from other people, I think that’s what makes a great leader.”
For the love of the job
It doesn’t take long for Oliver to think of what he loves most about his role as Managing Director of Swisse, pointing to two factors straight off the bat. “I just love coming to work,” he says. “I cycle to work every day, we’ve got great exercise facilities and I run with my team. I can look after my health and wellbeing during the normal working day, not just for an hour. Being myself at work is, at a very personal level, great.
“I can live my wellbeing philosophy at work not just for an hour, but for eight hours a day.”
“The other thing is seeing employees flourishing. I know people who started with us only a few months ago who are already better versions of themselves.
“When you go deeper into that, you see the impact this culture has on people’s happiness and wellbeing. That’s really inspiring. It makes you do so much more and gives you permission to do great things.”
But it’s not just in the office that Oliver finds joy in his work. “Our mission is to make millions of people healthier and happier,” he continues. “There is what happens in the office, how people get healthier and flourish, and when you can then do that to millions of people around the world with your product, your philosophy, and your culture, that’s just the most exciting environment that anybody could possibly work in.”