Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Breaking with Tradition

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Breaking with Tradition

Article excerpt

Andrew Cosslett, chief executive, InterContinental Hotels Group, is bringing FMCG skills to bear on hospitality. Interview by Jemima Bokaie.

Andrew Cosslett laughs as he mimics the sultry voiceover that cooed 'One slice is never enough' in the ad for Viennetta, the ice-cream dessert that replaced the Arctic roll as the Sunday after-dinner treat of choice for British families.

Cosslett, 53, helped to launch the innovative brand in 1982 - a time when owner Wall's was seen as the weaker sibling of the newly-merged Birds Eye Wall's business, and when ice-cream was being sold in supermarkets in four-litre tubs for 80p - at a loss.

'They gave me this thing that was being made by hand in the back of a factory and told me to do something with it,' says Cosslett, who had previously spent seven months driving around Liverpool in a Ford Fiesta, attempting to sell Wall's ice-cream to shops - and receiving answers he says were 'usually impolite'- as part of Unilever's graduate training programme.

'The launch was the first time anyone had added premium values to take-home ice-cream. The height of innovation before then was raspberry ripple flavour. It was also my first taste of marketing,' he says. 'It was an outlandish success and we were lucky we patented the concept early on.'

Cosslett, who studied economics and an MA in European Studies in his home city, at Manchester University, seems to put a lot of his career down to luck, including his appointment as chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the world's biggest hotel operator by number of rooms, ahead of Wyndham Worldwide and Marriott International.

Unlike some of his industry counterparts, he did not start off as bellboy or inherit the job through family ownership of the brand. In fact, rival operators saw his appointment in 2005 - following the ousting of predecessor Richard North - as something of an odd move.

It was Cosslett's high-profile marketing background, which encompassed a stint in Birds Eye's 'elite squad' during the heyday of frozen food in the mid-80s and 14 years at Cadbury Schweppes, that led to him being hand-picked for the job.

Since its de-merger from Six Continents, formerly Bass Breweries, in 2003, IHG had been busy transforming itself from a hotel owner into a hotel management and franchise company. The FMCG marketing expert was signed up for his skills in brand development and international operation, not to mention his expertise in innovation.

'Old-style hoteliers were still running the big operators, but the industry had begun to change,' says Cosslett, in an accent that retains the merest hint of his northern background. 'Bosses realised that they needed to sell the bricks and mortar to build brands, and they couldn't rely on internal promotions supplying the right people to lead this.'

He has stayed true to his Mancunian roots, despite three years of travelling as Unilever's marketing director for global agriculture - during which he discovered that 'fish markets at 4am are interesting places' - and a six-year spell at Cadbury Schweppes in Australia.

'I went to Ladybarn primary school in Manchester, which was close to Noel and Liam Gallagher's house. It's such a great city,' says Cosslett, who plays the guitar in his spare time, if he is not playing golf or tennis. He also runs and swims.

Ladybarn must seem a far cry from his responsibilities today. IHG's fee-based model, in which it owns the brand rather than the hotels themselves, and owners pay into a central marketing fund, is the envy of many marketers. …

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