When David Donnoli was growing up in the suburb of Balwyn North in Melbourne’s east, one of his parents’ mantras was: Everything is fixable.
The phrase stuck with Donnoli, who is now associate director of operations for Australian and New Zealand at vitamin company Swisse Wellness, has been named as one of the six BOSS Young Executives for 2023.
For Donnoli, it is all about fixing problems. His role entails ensuring that hundreds of Swisse supplements make their way through complex supply chains and into consumers’ hands.
Of his time at secondary school, Donnoli recalls: “I really enjoyed problem-solving. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
The teenager changed tack from a childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot (his grandfather served as a navigator in a bomber in World War II).
At school, he took up design technology – which included welding and woodwork – and maths, and ended up studying resources management at Melbourne University before completing a master of engineering, also at Melbourne Uni.
Along the way, Donnoli put his parents’ mantra to use in other ways.
One of his jobs at university was buying old cars and fixing them. The hobby started out as a necessity – not having enough money to fix his own car.
“I would teach myself. This was before the YouTube days, so I had to go to the library and get the book that had that model of car,” Donnoli recalls.
From fixing his own car, Donnoli went on to fix others.
“I’d make between $500 to $1000 a car sometimes.” Sometimes it was more.
“I would probably buy a car for about $1000, maybe put another $1000 into it and maybe sell it for three or four [thousand dollars]. That was quite a lot of money when you’re in second year at uni.”
They were mostly older Japanese cars, including an old Celica and a Toyota Corona Mark II.
“But nothing like a Mustang. Nothing fancy. They were just regular cars.”
Fast forward to 2003 and Donnoli’s car-mechanic days appear over. The Swisse executive has a young son and another child on the way.
“I’m a family man now. My weekend time is very much focused on that.”
Donnoli’s first main job was at drinks bottling company Coca-Cola Amatil, where he started as a supply chain graduate in the engineering team. His first project was to remove the white induction seal from a sports drink, Powerade, in the bottling process.
Donnoli learnt a lot, but it was tough going. As a graduate, he had lots of theory in his head, but in the real world engineering was about much more than theory.
So he looked around for other opportunities and began speaking to colleagues in the supply chain area. Before long he had a job at CCA in supply planning and ended up a production manager.
In 2017, a short stint at a utilities company reinforced the supply chain executive’s desire to work in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector.
“That really just reaffirmed how much love I had for the FMCG industry and how much I took pride in seeing my products on the shelf, and took pride in the brand,” Donnoli, who joined Swisse in 2018, tells BOSS.
While he can see himself as a chief executive one day, more than that, he would love to be a chief operations officer.
“I want to be a part of understanding how the product gets to the customer, full end-to-end,” Donnoli says.
“It’s looking at the operating business, how you manage your suppliers and your product to market. It’s basically everything from product concept to market.
“That’s really where I see myself and really doing a good job of that.”
Adapted from Sally Patten’s article in the Australian Financial Review, 19 June 2023