Christian E. Mouttet ’89 is listed among Trinidad’s 10 most successful businessmen — but when we spoke with him in December, what impressed us most was not the pride he took in his accomplishments, but his pleasure in uncovering innovative solutions to the business puzzles he has faced.
The Mouttet family business, originally focused on food imports and manufacturing, later expanded into pharmaceutical distribution. It was created by Christian’s parents in 1958 from a very modest nest egg of 1,500 Trinidad & Tobago dollars, about $875 U.S. Their first big deal was a shipment of peanuts from Nyasaland, today’s Malawi.
Christian was born 9 years later. Educated at a Jesuit boarding school in northern England, he chose to attend Wagner College.
“We had the best of both worlds,” Christian said, “with a small campus just half an hour from New York City.
“I had a double major, first in business, but I remember more about my political science classes than my business courses, especially professors George Rappaport and Phyllis Andors.”
It was in graduate school at the University of Miami that he met his wife, Joanna. They married in 1993 after Christian had joined the family business.
His first big achievement was the purchase of a semi-distressed pasta manufacturing company.
“That was a great experience. We were able to return the business to profitability within a year,” he said, “and the payback came in just 3 years.”
Another very big deal was the purchase of his country’s KFC franchise, which included 30 restaurants.
“At that time, it was the largest private transaction in Trinidad’s history,” he said.
Today, Christian’s businesses operate 125 restaurants under the KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway and T.G.I. Fridays brands in Trinidad.
One of the most interesting deals in Christian’s career was the purchase of a rival pharmaceutical distributor.
“The business was in some distress, but it had a very good product line and good distribution channels,” he said.
Normally, the sale of such a business would involve protracted negotiations — but Christian’s father knew the business and the family selling it.
“Is it worth what they’re asking?” Christian’s father asked.
“Yes,” Christian replied.
“Then give the price that they are asking,” his father said. “Just make sure we’re getting what they say they’re selling.”
Rather than absorb the business into their own organization, they merged the Mouttet pharmaceutical business into the one they had bought, “which was bigger, an old, very reputable business. It really took off.”
The Mouttets executed a similar maneuver when they acquired Agostinis, a group of companies that included their largest pharmaceutical competitor, engineering a reverse takeover.
“We sold them our pharmaceutical distributing and retail business,” Christian said, “in return for just over 50 percent of the overall business. We ended up with controlling interest there.”
In addition to business, Christian Mouttet has been involved in high-level public service in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, including the chairmanship of the state-owned Telecommunications Services corporation. He also serves on the prime minister’s committee charged with guiding Trinidad’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
He has also been of service to his alma mater, backing Wagner’s participation in a Trinidad college fair sponsored by the U.S. embassy.
“I sincerely hope that the college can expand its international student base,” he said. “Wagner is so well-placed as a great small-college campus with a small-college feel, but with everything New York has to offer right at its doorstep.”
Christian clearly enjoys his life.
“It’s been incredibly interesting,” he said, “and a lot of fun.”