As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, investors are looking for reassurance about its escalating economic effects — they won’t get much consolation from Mars CEO Grant Reid.
In a newly released interview, taped Feb. 19, the head of the nearly $40 billion candy and pet food company said “nobody really knows the ongoing impact” of the coronavirus, adding that the ultimate business impact of the outbreak “depends how far this goes.”
The company has manufacturing operations in China, he said, expressing concern first and foremost for the safety of the company’s 10,000 employees in the country.
“We have a big business in China,” he says. “We’ll worry about the business after that’s fixed.”
On Wednesday, health officials for the first time reported more new cases of the coronavirus outside China than inside the country, as the virus spread in Europe and Iran. The stock market plummeted earlier in the week, as the Dow had its worst two-day percentage drop since 2018.
Reid did offer some good news. While he acknowledged the ultimate impact of the outbreak is unknown, he confirmed that Mars Inc. has reopened the majority of its factories in China.
“Most of our factories are back up and running,” he says. “We're working very closely with the Chinese government and taking their advice.”
Mars is best known for candy brands like M&M’s and Snickers, but is also behind pet food brands like Pedigree and food products like rice maker Uncle Ben’s.
Reid made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Reid has served as CEO of Mars Inc. since 2014, just three years after the family-owned seller of candy, pet food, and other items marked 100 years in business. He has worked at Mars Inc. since 1988, when he became the director of marketing and sales at Mars Electrics. He was born and raised in Scotland.
Mars Inc., a privately held company founded in 1911, makes annual revenue of nearly $40 billion and employs about 125,000 people around the world. As of 2019, Mars Inc. ranked as the sixth-largest privately held company in the U.S., according to Forbes.
Reid pointed to the dangers endured by Mars Inc. employees in China, saying the company has sought to ensure their safety but faced challenges in doing so.
“It's been a very difficult time for that,” he says, noting the company has made sure the workers receive protective masks.
“We've been shipping those from around the world,” he says.
“Once the associates are taken care of, now we've started running our businesses back up,” he adds.