This profile is taken from the upcoming Top 100 Executives 2020 Leaders League special report.
Pedro Soares dos Santos began his professional career at Portuguese food distribution business Jerónimo Martins Group 37 years ago when he became a purchasing assistant in the perishables area of Pingo Doce. In 1995, he was appointed managing director of Recheio and elected as director of Jerónimo Martins. In 1999, he became head of operations in Poland and Brazil and in 2001 he also took over the group’s distribution in Portugal. He has been CEO since April 2010.
In 2020, Jerónimo Martins was ranked 50th among the world’s largest retailers by Deloitte. The firm has grown dramatically under Soares dos Santos’ leadership – in 2010, the company was ranked 94th. Despite much uncertainty in Europe and Latin America – two very important markets for Jerónimo Martins – in 2019, the company increased its sales by €1.3 billion, or 7.5%, to 18.6 billion. In 2019, the company also broke the billion-euro EBITDA barrier for the first time, which represented an 8.9% increase year-on-year and was therefore above sales growth.
Hebe making money
Soares dos Santos’ investment strategy is clearly paying off. In 2019, Jerónimo Martins invested €678 million, of which 32 per cent was used for expansion, with the remainder channelled towards refurbishment projects and the maintenance of the operations of store networks and distribution centers. The company’s Hebe stores in Poland increased sales by 24.9 per cent to €259 million, partly as a result of having opened 46 new stores in 2019. Meanwhile, Hebe’s e-commerce operation, rolled out in July 2019, contributed to boosting the brand’s popularity and competitiveness in the Polish market.
“In 2019, the company broke the billion-euro EBITDA barrier for the first time”
Soares dos Santos has wisely ensured that the company’s focus remains fixed on markets – Portugal, Poland and Colombia – where it can be highly profitable rather than expanding into new markets merely for the sake of enlarging the company’s footprint.
Soares dos Santos has also demonstrated that his company pays close attention to animal welfare and environmental concerns. The group has made investments in agribusiness, which has increased production in the three business areas: dairy, aquaculture and Angus beef. With regard to the latter, the company’s farms have received animal welfare certifications and had implemented standards for animal feed and the management of animal health in all stages of their life cycles.
The company has also received an assessment from the Carbon Disclosure Project that recognizes Jerónimo Martins as the only food retailer in the world to achieve a Leadership (A-) score in management of the four commodities associated with deforestation risk (palm oil, soy, wood and paper, and beef). Soares dos Santos has also voiced the company’s commitment to reaching “Zero Net Deforestation” by 2020, a goal set by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF).
Soares dos Santos has played a key role in establishing a company that was able to cope well with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Jerónimo Martins 2020 half-yearly report showed that, while EBITDA dropped 4.9% to €635 million, sales actually increased 4.6% during the period to €9.3 billion. Soares dos Santos has maintained a well-balanced portfolio of businesses, which meant better-performing operations were able to offset the losses suffered by other parts of the group during the Covid-19 crisis.