An interview with new Whirlpool Oceania MD Silvia Del Vitto
They say “all good things come to those who wait”, but Silvia Del Vitto, Managing Director for Whirlpool Corporation and its integrated Oceania business, is proof that the opposite is true – you’ve got to go out and get it.
After 18 years working for the home appliance company, she landed the top job in February and has relocated from Singapore – where she was market director, Far East, – to Melbourne, with a sharp focus on growing Whirlpool and its cooking brands, Ariston and Indesit, across Asia-Pacific and Oceania.
“One thing great about Whirlpool,” she says, “is that if you’re ambitious and you want to grow, and you’re clear what your potential and your aspirations are – and, of course – you deliver results, they give you opportunities.
“When I left university with a degree in marketing I was looking for an experience in an international environment with a B2C consumer goods products, and Whirlpool was the number one global company in appliances. It’s worked out pretty well!”
She started as a marketing assistant for the microwave category in 1999 at Whirlpool HQ EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) in Italy, and has changed roles every couple of years.
With an illustrious career spanning three continents, Del Vitto has worked in all the company’s product categories, as well as various roles in commercial, marketing and development.
Most recently, she led the Asia Pacific operation with full P&L accountability for Ariston and Indesit, which Whirlpool purchased from the Italian Merloni family in 2014.
“At the time, I was based in Italy,” she says, “and there was the opportunity to go to Singapore and run that part of the world. They wanted to send somebody from Europe because all the product that Indesit and Ariston sold overseas was European-based.”
Italian Del Vitto, a long-term Whirlpool employee, was the perfect choice.
“I always wanted an international career,” she reveals. “But also, within the family we always said to each other, ‘if we move, it should be something big’, not to pack everything up and move 500 kilometres to Germany or elsewhere in Europe.
“We’ve always looked to combine professional and personal experience with something really interesting for all of us, so this was the perfect fit.”
For the next 18 months Whirlpool is focused on driving the brand locally around three key pillars: healthy cooking, simple to use and family. Affordability combined with innovation will determine the product range a new cooking product range set to launch early 2018.
“It’s reigniting the actual Whirlpool brand,” she adds, “and there’s a large investment from Whirlpool Corporation globally in this market, which makes it a hugely exciting time.”
One of very few senior female executives in this industry – and the only female head of business in the top 10 major appliances brands in Australia – Del Vitto will play an important thought leadership role in the industry. And she hopes to emulate the success of current Whirlpool president, the Italian-based Esther Berrozpe EMEA.
“Esther is a very strongly driven lady,” she says. “She also started off in Whirlpool in brand and product marketing and grew quite quickly to being president of the region. Esther was, for me, a very key reference person and an inspiration for my career itself.”
Del Vitto also reveals current Maserati CEO, Roberto Ronchi, played a significant part in her early career.
“When you start, the company assigns you a mentor,” she adds. “It’s part of the tools the company provides to people who can grow in the company; that you’re accompanied and supported in your steps by somebody more senior.
“In about 2001 when I was very much a junior, Roberto Ronchi was my MD and he made a huge impact. He was strategic, straightforward and gave me a lot of advice, and that was when I understood what I really wanted to do – to grow within the company.
“He was a reference for me in that sense, meaning I said, ‘okay one day I would like to do a job like this guy’.”
Room for manoeuvre
While Whirlpool’s annual turnover is $28.18 billion, Del Vitto says there is room to grow, especially in the cooking and healthy eating categories.
“For the last few years, Whirlpool as a brand has been really working hard in Kitchen and Cooking,” she explains, “and we’re making a concerted push with it, as well as expanding Refrigeration and Laundry, which are iconic areas in terms of Australians growing up with the Whirlpool brand.
“Over the last 12 months there's been a redefinition of the strategy in terms of distribution, which we relaunched with The Good Guys. It’s a great partnership and works very well. It gives us also the opportunity to be very present in terms of coverage in the market. We've got a great partner that’s very strong and recognised by consumers.
“Same for Ariston, which is a premium cooking brand with a strong Italian heritage. It stands for quality and cooking expertise. We’re very well established in Harvey Norman but there is space to grow further. We also want to work on expanding the range.
“Then if we look at potential future opportunities, we also have great brands like KitchenAid, which is huge in the US.
“It’s all about growth and continuing to offer compelling products and support the brand, support the distribution and we’re already working on the next wave of new cooking products to be available beginning of next year.”
She reveals induction technology is getting more and more important as perceived by the consumers, because it's about energy saving and, therefore, much better performance.
“We have already one of the best ranges in the market and will continue development on those trends,” Del Vitto adds. “Consumers want innovative products at affordable prices.”
And as a working mother herself – with a five-year-old son and a baby due in August – Del Vitto is exactly the demographic the company is targeting.
“We’re continually developing features that are about simplicity, time management and great results,” she continues. “And providing the right products and solutions that deliver you the best performance for your family in a simple way, so you can take care of your family, and also have time to enjoy quality time with them, instead of spending too much time on chores.”
Whirlpool is also extending in the healthy eating space and in March appointed its first ever brand ambassador, TV chef Scott Gooding. The former My Kitchen Rules chef educates Australians on the simplicity of cooking wholesome meals in the kitchen via his website, Scott Gooding Project.
“It’s a great thing between us and Scott,” Del Vitto explains, “because he's all about delivering healthy food and the right products that provide the best performance for your family in a simple way. These are really important pillars.
“The innovation and the products that we bring in, and the partners Whirlpool works with, are all going to be based on those pillars. It will really resonate with Australians. The last couple of years have been fantastic but it's time to take it to that next level.”
Seo JungJin: Who is EY’s World Entrepreneur of 2021?
Seo JungJin, founder of biopharma firm Celltrion, which most recently developed an antibody treatment for COVID-19, has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2021, becoming the first South Korean in the award’s 21-year history.
Regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year celebrates visionary and innovative leaders from across 60 countries who are transforming the world and fostering growth.
JungJin, who is now honoroary chairman of Celltrion Group, was up against a worthy cast of entrepreneurial competitors, taking the crown from among 45 award winners across 38 countries and territories.
Speaking during the virtual event, JungJin described his own interpretation of entrepreneurship as something that brings together “a group of people toward a common vision, embracing challenges as opportunities and committing oneself to contribute to the greater good”.
Why was JungJin crowned King Entrepreneur?
A South Korean native and now 63 years of age, JungJin founded biopharmaceutical firm Celltrion in 2003. In the nearly two decades since its founding, Celltrion has lived up to its goal of advancing health and welfare for all by developing ground-breaking drugs to treat autoimmune disease, various forms of cancer and, most recently, COVID-19.
The company, which JungJin started with just US$45,000 and five of his colleagues, has since growth to more than 2,1000 employees with sales permits in more than 90 countries and revenues exceeding US$1.69bn.
According to the panel, JungJin’s story is a shining example of the power of an unstoppable entrepreneur to change the world with the pandel moved by both his incredible story and his purpose-driven leadership, innovative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit.
Described by the chair of the EY judging panel Rosaleen Blair as “representing everything an unstoppable should be” from taking on the world’s biggest health care challenges to consistently creating long-term value for his company, JungJin’s story is one of incredible tenacity and perseverance that the judging panel felt most represented the entrepreneurial spirit.
“He’s taken breathtaking risks, both personal and professional, to found Celltrion and grow it into one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies,” says Stasia Mitchell, EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader. “His passion for creating affordable, life-saving health care and flair for tackling global problems has led to many treatments that have helped millions of people worldwide and was especially evident this past year through the creation of a COVID-19 antibody treatment.”
How did JungJin get there?
JungJin's entrepreneurial journey started at an early age when he worked as a taxi driver to get himself through Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea. After studying industrial engineering, he rose through the ranks of Daewoo Motor Co. before losing his job amid the carmaker’s financial troubles following the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
Following this, JungJin started collaborating with colleagues to explore business opportunities in different industries, though none delivered lasting success. The turning point came after he attended a talk hosted by renowned scholars, which inspired him to focus on the biopharmaceutical sector.
And so he founded Celltrion with just US$45,000 of his savings. The launch of Remsima, credited with being the world's first antibody biosimilar, quickly moved Celltrion up the ranks of the country's fairly underdeveloped pharmaceutical sector. Celltrion followed this success with the launch of drugs for breast cancer and lymphoma that today are being used worldwide.
With ambitions to be the world’s first in different areas, Celltrion has pioneered numerous uncharted areas to great success over the past two decades, most recently responding to the global pandemic by successfully developing an antibody treatment for COVID-19 and working to ensure a timely supply of the safe and effective treatment.
“When I first started, my vision was to help patients gain access to safe, effective and affordable medicines and thereby enhance the quality of people’s lives,” explains JungJin. “The success of Celltrion has enabled me to expand on this while finding new ways to fuel my entrepreneurial drive.”