Oliver Horn of Swisse’ success formula for creating a world-class brand
by Federico Re
Swisse, a Melbourne-based Australian company of herbal and vitamin supplements, pivots its success story around health, happiness, and well-being. These three core elements are what Swisse Managing Director Oliver Horn describes as the “DNA” of the company. Swisse products include men’s and women’s multivitamins, dietary supplements, sports nutrition, skin care, and other “superfoods.”
World-class brands are not created overnight. Business experts claim the formula to success is about having a clear vision, the right people and expertise, and a good amount of capital. While these factors are cliché, each company has its own unique model or blueprint to making their business grow.
An Entrepreneurial Journey
In a face-to-face friendly interview with Oliver at Swisse headquarter office in Collingwood, Victoria, we discussed the essence and truth behind the accomplishments of this iconic brand. The business was founded in 1969 by Kevin Ring, an entrepreneur. Ring went on a trip to Switzerland in the 1960s to learn about natural medicine. When he returned to Melbourne, he was inspired to develop a herbal and vitamin supplements business, which was started with an organic bakery.
For more than half a century, the business has been growing steadily. However, in 1991, the Swisse brand started taking off exponentially with the release of its first branded product named Ultivite, which was praised as the “Rolls Royce” of supplemental food for women.
From 2000 to 2007, Michael Saba served as the managing director of the company. He introduced the 4Ps (people, principles, and passion before profit) and “health and happiness” principles into the corporate culture. Swisse released 200+ more products into the market during this time.
In 2008, Radek Sali, joined Swisse. Under his leadership, he made Swisse a global brand with millions of customers worldwide and made himself one of the most admired business leaders in Australia. He made Swisse the number one brand in the Australian market and the best brand in China’s online market.
Eight years later, in 2016, Oliver Horn replaced Sali. Horn continues the entrepreneurial endeavor and strong legacy, by combining world-class expertise, passion, and dedication with his talented team members across the globe.
Swisse products are now available in Australia, New Zealand, USA, China, Singapore, UK, Italy, and the Netherlands. They have planned to launch into up to 30 countries over the coming years.
Passion before Profit
The traditional 4 Ps of marketing mix consists of product, price, place, and promotion, Swisse redefined this rule with people, principles, and passion before profit. Horn further added three more pillars or 3Ms: movement, nutrition, and mindfulness.
This philosophy extends from within the organization and to its team members. It also projects outward towards its products and the community. Horn said, “You need to provide support for your employees and the community.”
Putting this philosophy into practice, the company provides weekly free lunches at the workplace, as well as healthy breakfasts and free snacks every day. Employees can also enjoy gym classes to promote movement, personal fitness instructors to encourage a healthy lifestyle, and yoga sessions and daily meditation to promote healthy and balanced lives.
Fostering the Right Culture
Despite the historical strong entrepreneurial spirit of the early leaders of the company, it’s quite challenging to foster global staffers of 300 to think like “intrapreneurs.” According to Horn, it’s all about a collective leadership approach and Swisse is a house of entrepreneurs.
This goal can be achieved by offering autonomy to members of staff, providing accountability, and inspiring them to make decisions. The ultimate goal is “about providing personal development for each individual and making them happier and healthier.”
Swisse brand is privileged to have Nicole Kidman, Ricky Ponting, and other high-profile international TV and movie personalities as its ambassadors. However, the reason for Swisse to align itself with such influential people is actually not about ‘showbiz’ per se.
It’s more about the “brand DNA” and leveraging cross synergies that exist in the partnership. Fundamentally, Horn added, “Brand ambassadors trust the brand. They promote it. They use it, and they become part of the team.”
Research and development is an important facet for most large-scale organizations. For Swisse, however, it is taken very seriously. The complexity and level of the R&D that the company engages in is impressive and comparable to the standards set by international companies like Cochlear, Boeing, and, even, NASA.
A significant amount of effort and investment goes into clinical trials, long term research, collaboration with scientific institutions like CSIRO, and development of new technologies. CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency with an objective of making people’s lives better through scientific research. Other involved educational institutions include Swinburne University, La Trobe University, and National Institute of Integrative Medicine.
It’s expected that in the future, opportunities will flourish even further within the wellness sector. Horn firmly believes that “personal self-diagnosis” technologies will become a mainstream trend by allowing individuals to monitor their health condition and take the necessary proactive measures to stay healthy.
It might even be possible that someday Swisse would collaborate with astronauts on missions to Mars, where daily supplements for their crew members are provided to fulfill their full nutritional needs. It’s not science fiction, even though it sounds like it. It’s possible in the future and we’re eager to see Swisse advancing to this level.
Swisse’ core mission is to “make millions of people healthier and happier.” With this commitment, Swisse fostered an affiliation with Celebrate Life Foundation, which together they have raised over two million dollars since 2014. Since then, they have given back to the community and donated to a variety of charity organizations.
Social entrepreneurship also plays a core part in Swisse’s success. Horn further added, “It gives purpose to employees to engage in grass-root level activities within the local community.” The activities include cycling to work, assisting in local fundraising events, and other fun and meaningful activities. The core of this philosophy is also the three pillars of movement, nutrition, and mindfulness.
He concluded the interview with a statement that he believes that intuitive passion is the core driver of this growth process. And everything comes from within the organization.
Facts have spoken that there is no doubt that Swisse is pioneering and disrupting the marketplace across many levels. While competition within the food supplement and wellness sectors is somewhat saturated, with the right execution and principles, many opportunities are still available in this global marketplace.
About the Author
Federico Re is an entrepreneurship coach, motivational speaker, journalist, and business writer based in Australia. In 1997, at the age of 22, he started a business with revenue growth of 50 per cent annually, achieving retail sales of more than $10 million per year. He attended the ‘Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship’ in South Africa. He is the founder of the high definition Inspire Talk digital TV and radio show and a niche coaching practice Creative Entrepreneur based in Melbourne. His bespoke services are tailored for aspiring entrepreneurs, SME business owners, and CEOs.
Images by Federico Re