The most important things this chief executive has learned after 20 years running a $200 million business

The most important things this chief executive has learned after 20 years running a $200 million business


Garry Browne has worked for Stuart Alexander for almost 40 years. The business imports, markets and distributes some of the world’s best known confectionery and snack food brands including Chupa Chups, Mentos and Pringles.

Browne has been chief executive of the company for 20 years, having worked his way up from a position as sales and marketing manager. Stuart Alexander has around 160 employees and turns over around $270 million a year.

SmartCompany spoke to Browne in order to find out the key things he’s learnt while in the top job.


While you might have ambition and a goal for yourself in business, the path isn’t always a straight one.

There can be quite a few speed bumps along the way and I don’t mind admitting that, at times, I was wondering whether I was in the right role.

But if you don’t understand how the guy on the ground feels, it is incredibly difficult to lead and get your people to reach new heights.

What we’re seeing now is many younger people starting businesses and in a short period of time – not 20 years, but maybe 20 months. They’ve grown a business and know what it’s like to be on the ground floor.

Am I envious? At the end of the day, the only envy I have is probably how it’s taken a little bit longer for me to get where I am.

You’ve got to want to be a CEO and it’s got to be the right time and place.

Have a mentor or a confidant you can talk to about absolutely anything from a business perspective. Don’t be shy, because no-one is an island.

At Stuart Alexander we do a lot in terms of community involvement and our people are involved in that.

It makes for a well-rounded, holistic view of life in which business is part of the community.  

It’s one thing to provide funds for a project in the community; it’s another thing to get the staff involved.

I’ve had experiences where many corporates just don’t get it. It’s got to filter through the whole organisation, not just its pockets.

At the end of the day businesses are part of the community. We rely on the community not only for revenue but for its resources – which are people.

Leadership starts at the top. It’s not what you say; it’s what you do that matters.

Empowerment is absolutely imperative. You have to let people be in control of their destiny with the appropriate parameters.

Failure is fine, as long as you learn.

When you permit failure, it allows for better communication.

People are going to be far more open to giving you good news and bad news.

Organisations that don’t deliver bad news are the ones that have a culture which is not conducive to good business.

The first thing you learn when working with big brands like Chupa Chups or Pringles is you have to be able to build relationships, collaborate and have an adaptable approach to whoever you are dealing with.

When you can stretch your mind, body and soul you are in a better position to help others do the same. In this environment, you are stretched in your mind, body and soul every day.

The day you stopped getting stretched is when you lose the impetus to keep doing the job successfully.

You’re only as good as your last sale.


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