Early grounding paved way for role

By David Porter

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New Comvita chief executive Scott Coulter is driven by a passion for global consumer markets.
New Comvita chief executive Scott Coulter is driven by a passion for global consumer markets.

Scott Coulter loves consumer product marketing. He got his early grounding the hard way when he made an estimated 40-50 trips to China in the 1990s helping develop the UHT milk market for Swedish packing giant Tetra Pak.

"The job gave me a real exposure to consumer markets, looking at how we could capture opportunities - particularly in China as they were developing their retail markets," he said.

It proved to be a great background for his current role at Comvita, where he succeeded Brett Hewlett as chief executive last year after more than a decade with the company.

The Bay of Plenty-based honey and health products company has a significant and long-term presence in China's consumer markets.

Mr Coulter was brought up and went through primary and high school in Tokoroa, where his father worked at the Kinleith mill.

He gained a Bachelor of Technology (Biotech) at Massey University and later completed an extramural Bachelor of Business Studies (Accounting).

His first job was as a sales engineer at Alfa Laval in Hamilton.

He initially worked on replacing heat exchangers, which eventually morphed into selling into the dairy and food industry.

Alfa Laval was acquired by fellow Swedish company Tetra Pak, which pioneered the packaging that made it possible to sell UHT long-life milk, and he moved to Auckland.

He worked closely with the dairy industry as Tetra Pak explored new consumer markets in Asia and particularly in China, where he travelled frequently from 1992-97.

"It was felt that importing quality products in Tetra Pak cartons would set the scene for China's local dairy industry to get its act together and start their own packaging in UHT milk," he said.

Shelf-stable long life products revolutionised distribution in countries like China, he added.

"All of a sudden you could get clean milk in very poor areas that didn't have refrigeration. We grew that very quickly and it became quite a significant business."

However, with the consolidation of the dairy industry that came about as a result of the Fonterra's creation, Mr Coulter began looking for a new challenge.

He moved to Tauranga in 1998 to take up the position of sales and marketing manager for Dominion Salt, New Zealand's primary salt producer, where he spent the next five years.

"It was a great business and we did a lot of work, both in the agricultural area and with consumer products," he said.

The packaging on one of the consumer salt products caught the eye of Comvita co-founder Alan Bougen.

"We got together and talked about our experiences in the US where we shared a distributor," he said.

Mr Bougen was stepping back from day to day involvement in Comvita and the company had a new role opening up.

Mr Coulter joined Comvita as sales and marketing manager in 2003 and has had extensive experience in implementing Comvita's global strategy during his 13-year tenure.

In 2007, he took on additional managerial and operating responsibilities and became Comvita's chief marketing officer.

He was appointed chief operating officer and deputy chief executive in 2012.

In October 2015, he took over the chief executive position when Brett Hewlett stepped down after a decade in the job.

Comvita chairman Neil Craig noted that the board would not have done its job properly if it had not had a deputy in place that could pick up the reins straight away.

"Scott's been working under Brett for 10 years and he absolutely knows the ropes. We know how he operates and we think the company's at a stage where Scott's leadership can really deliver results. We know him and trust him - it's as simple as that."

Mr Coulter was named as winner of the Export NZ Bay of Plenty Achiever award in 2010.

He won the 2013 NZ Prime Minister's Business Scholarship, which allowed him to complete the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School during a two-month stint in 2014.

And he credits the scholarship for providing a crucial boost to his knowledge of global marketing.

"The big challenge for all consumer products companies and for CEOs is how to successfully innovate across your business."

Innovation was the cornerstone of Comvita's strategy, not just in products, but also in the business models we put in place in the supply chain, he said.

"It's all about trying to win in the marketplace - you tell your story and try and do that in a way that consumers understand what you're trying to do. And you need to keep a laser-like focus on quality, which is what people are buying into when they buy a brand. Comvita's in a real strong position from a brand perspective. The next stage is really leveraging that position."

Mr Coulter said it was important that New Zealand companies like Comvita - with revenues of around $200 million - grow to eventually become $500 million to $1 billion enterprises.

"That's what creates the jobs, that's what creates wealth," he said.

Scott Coulter:

* Role: Chief executive, Comvita

* Born: Tokoroa, New Zealand

* Age: 50

* First job: sales engineer

* Currently reading: South: the Endurance Expedition by Ernest Shackleton

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