Leadership in turbulent times
Episode 43 - Leadership in turbulent times, with Koko Black Chocolate CEO Nicolas Georges
Nicolas Georges has led several organizations, small and large, through significant transformational change. Today, his task at Koko Black Chocolate is to unlock its international potential, as he has done previously at Vitasoy Australia and as part of the Bakers Delight team. Little did he know that his first year at Koko Black would be marked by a health pandemic and business lockdown, testing his leadership and that of many other CEOs around the globe.
But Nic is first and foremost an innovator and a system thinker, connecting dots, people, and capabilities for unexpected results and possibilities. He is uniquely experienced across all functions - manufacturing to sales, marketing, strategy, and R&D - in FMCG and Retail, including general management and P&L responsibility in both industries. He focuses on expressing people's potential and creating new paths.
Koko Black is not Nic's first foray into the chocolate business. He started his career in Europe at Nestle - where he worked for 15 years - and also worked for Kraft Foods in Australia - where he helped spearhead the multinational company to become one of the most innovative food manufacturers in the country. Then at Mondelez International, he was the Research Development and Quality Director for the US$1.7billion Asia Pacific Chocolate category, performing the same role for the AUD 2billion Australia New Zealand business across all its varieties.
Not so long ago, Nicolas Georges joined Monash University and headed one of the largest and most successful food R&D teams in Asia, which counted over 100 food innovators. And that is how we first met. At the time, I was also working at Monash, and we had a few projects in common. He remains an adjunct professor in Chemical Engineering.
This episode is about what it says on the tin: Leadership in times of COVID. The title is a play of words with the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, by Colombian Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez: a sentimental story about the enduring power of true love, and the fact that society in the story believes that Fermina and Juvenal Urbino are perfectly happy in their marriage. At the same time, the reality of the situation is not so ideal. Well, recently, Nic wrote an open letter to CEOs on LinkedIn, and it was clear that he loves what he does and believes in the power of leadership. It is also clear that we sometimes romanticize what being a leader means. The reality of being a CEO is not so ideal.
His recent open letter to CEOs reminded me of The Man in the Arena speech from US President Theodore Roosevelt: "it is not the critic who counts..the credit belongs to the man in the arena". You have to listen to this episode, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Timestamps to guide your listening
4.50 - Nic and Renata chit chat about life during COVID in Melbourne
7.27 - Nic's current work setup
9.21 - What brought Nic to Australia?
13.57 - What was it about Australia that made him want to stay?
20.05 - Nic's intention when he wrote an open letter to CEOs
28.55 - Difference between the first wave and the second wave
37.07 - Mental well-being and leadership
40.08 - Difference between a CEO leadership role and non-CEO leadership role
45.51 - What would Nic do if he was job hunting in 2020?
50.48 - Final words
Transcript of this episode
Renata: I have just interviewed Nicolas Georges, the CEO of Koko Black, an Australian premium chocolate brand. When Nic was made CEO of Koko Black, I remember seeing that on LinkedIn and thinking how exciting it must be. It's a dream come true, he's Willy Wonka now. So when a few months ago he posted again on LinkedIn and it was an open letter to CEOs talking about the challenges of leadership during the times of COVID, I decided it was a great opportunity to reach out to Nic and invite him for a chat on this podcast. Nic is originally from France and he has a background in agricultural technology, started his career at Nestle in Europe and Nestle then sent him out as an expat to other countries. He landed here in Australia and decided it was a great place for him to stay. So after 15 years at Nestle, he ventured out and had several interesting job opportunities.
Renata: Most of them in food technology and is now in this amazing role at Koko Black. We worked together when he was the head of food technology at Monash University. And I was the director of enterprise at Monash, and we were part of the same portfolio. And I remember we really connected back then and had very similar ideas, and we were always kind of ganging up. That's what I felt that, you know, I used to take his side almost every time. So I always felt that there was a connection there, even though we never worked very closely together. And I think that comes through in this interview. I was so excited to have him here, it's the first time that the podcast has a CEO, and somebody currently going through the pandemic as a leader who is managing teams and workforce and factories and a business.
Renata: And I think that that will be very interesting for us to be a fly on the wall and see what that looks like. Nic also is very generous and gives us tips and advice and his ideas on how job hunting would look like for him, if he was out of work at this time. He gives us an insight on what leadership is going to look like in the new normal ahead of us, and the sorts of challenges that are keeping him awake at night, and things that are, you know, top of his mind at the moment he managing his teams and projects. I hope that you enjoy this podcast as always. It was a great pleasure for me to do it, especially because I ordered a very large box from Koko Black to accompany the Nic podcast interview. Unfortunately, I ate most of it before we caught up.
Renata: But I didn't have a hot chocolate while we were talking earlier today. Have fun. Enjoy. And if there's anything that I can do to support you in your career advancement, don't hesitate to get in touch with me, in the episode show notes you will find all of the links to get in touch with me, to follow me on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, Facebook, join my Facebook group and also check out my services and see if there's anything there that you could invest in to speed up the job hunting process for you. Without further ado, here is Nic Georges for you.
Renata: Hello, my friend. How are you doing?
Nic: How are you? How have you been?
Renata: Oh, I've been well, I've been okay. I mean, you know, all things considering. What can I say? How is your family? Do you have family in France? How are they coping? Yeah.
Nic: Yes, yes, yes. They're all going well. Obviously they're in there, and now they're out of lockdown. So obviously quite happy with that. But yeah, no one had any problem during the period or any issues. It’s just that obviously the same consideration that we have, but yeah, at least nothing damaging or anything, everybody's doing quite well.
Nic: I was worried for a time because I do have two brothers, and their families who live in Strasbourg. So, which was where the worst of the initial wave in France was, on the East of France. But yeah, they had no particular problems. So can't complain.
Renata: We, well, we were talking about, we will soon get to the complaining part.
Renata: That's why I reached out to you. But, well, when you took up your new role, I was so happy for you, because, you know, we live vicariously through others, right. And I love chocolate. I was like, what he’s going to work at Koko Black? I can't believe it. It sounded something like you were going to be Willy Wonka or something.
Nic: Yes. Yes. There's a bit of that.
Renata: And here I am drinking your hot chocolate. Look at me.
Nic: Ah nice work.
Renata: I ordered a box. I was very impressed. It arrived the very next day, with my hot chocolate, which is delicious. It's the dark chocolate one and the coffee chatter beans.
Nic: Ah, yes.
Renata: I love them.
Nic: It's one of our top sellers, actually. People really like it because we use, I believe we use St Ali coffee in it. So we're using Melbourne, you know, Melbourne coffee as well. Yeah.
Renata: Yes. And I ordered a couple of other things that are already gone.
Nic: They’re gone. Yeah. It’s like in my family, you know, by the time I bring them home, it's gone the next day.
Renata: And your home, are you working from home these days?
Nic: No, just today. Normally I'm at work, you know, essentially it's one of those things where I do encourage most of my staff to stay at home unless they really have to come to the office. But we have a factory, and I’m asking a lot of the factory guys to be there. So ultimately, you know, you need to show your face. It's not just good enough for them. Right. So, and then we have the stores as well so, yeah I actually think I've only work maybe since March, maybe five to 10 days from home.
Nic: Yes. So yeah. So I've been in there most of the time.
Renata: So that's what it means to be a CEO in times of COVID.
Nic: In time of crisis, you got to show your face, you got to be there. And I think even in terms of, so you know there is an effect of, in such a crisis there is an effect of being there. There is such a thing about people being able to ask you question, even the silly ones or even the small ones, because they're looking for guidance, they're looking for some sort of certainty. And whether you'd like it or not, in the realm of your own business, you're it, you're it. Right. Even though they're asking you questions that often you don't have the answer or it's, you know, it's based on government recommendations or things like that, but there's a need. It's really fascinating for me. There's a need for reassurance through authority. It's a bit like when you're a kid, you go ask your dad or you go ask your mom, right, you need that certainty. Or you need at least feeling like someone's got the answers, so that's part of the equation I think.
Renata: It is part of the equation. I want us to kind of go into this crescendo where we go back to that, but let's start from the beginning in terms of your career and how you ended up in Australia, I'd love to know. Your LinkedIn only shows Australian jobs. I can see you did your education in France. What brought you to Australia?
Nic: So I've always been interested, so I'm a food tech, right? So by training, I did my studies as a food technologist, and I was lucky enough that's straight after military service, which was mandatory at the time in France. I was hired in Nestle, and Nestle being an international company and at the time, and I think it still is, the number one in food, I was hired into a research and development job. And so straight away you are thrown into the world because Nestle is a global company as always been, you know, because they started in the 19th century. And the reason they’re number one is because the first thing they did was to go internationally. It's fast. It was fascinating to me to see that they were, you know, they were actually in Australia at the start of the 20th century, right?
Nic: So it's those kinds of companies that always thought, you know, there is a big wide world to explore. But also very early in that career, what I got out of Nestle is this interest in carrying or taking the best out of every parts of the organisation or every parts of the world. So, it's quite interesting for me that it's one of the few companies I've worked with that's been able to do that at a global scale is taking really not just their stuff and spreading it out to the world, but actually learning from the world and bring it back in and then disseminating the best of the world. So that's something that I think when I think back is probably more than my thinking in terms of, looking first at your environment and what you can learn from it, and how you can take the best and build that back into what you do. So I was lucky enough to do that very early. And interestingly then is, at the time, Nestle decided they were going to be number one in ice cream, from a very, very small base, the only business there actually…
Renata: I love those kinds of key strategy.
Nic: Let’s just be number one.
Renata: Let’s just be number one in ice cream. Yeah.
Nic: And I was lucky enough that the only real big business they had at the time when they decided that was in France, and I was right there. So what happened then is they started to buy businesses in every single country they could find one. And so I became part of the journey because I was there, I was in R and D. They needed people to go into this acquired business to learn what was there to learn as well as to be, basically introducing Nestle to these new businesses. And so I ended up in the Philippines as an expat, which was really the start of my international career with Nestle. And that gave me two things. It allowed me to actually develop every muscle that you need for running a business, which was kind of what was in it for me, because essentially they allowed me to be in every parts of the business as my career developed.
Nic: So they kept on letting me change job really. And what was in it for them is they could just move me anywhere they needed me. And so eventually that landed me in Australia, in Peter's ice cream in Mulgrave, actually, where I was the factory manager after which I was the marketing manager, director, and after that I was the, sales or business sales director. So that's been the funny part if you want, but that's probably a, the end of a 15 years carrier with Nestle. And, eventually this is where I chose Australia over Nestle because it was time to move on again. And I think by then I thought, you know what? I really like it here, this is really my, the country I feel the most aligned with, and the environment I feel the most aligned with. So I jumped off Nestle and stayed in Australia and that's really how I got there is, it was on the journey.
Renata: What was it about Australia? It's very different from France. What was it about Australia that made you want to stay?
Nic: I think first, it's probably the one country I can think of, although I could probably put New Zealand in that basket as well is, it's the one country where you feel the need to be part of the overall community. So many, many countries, you know, in many ways that's always been the French dream, is to have a seamless assimilation into the, you know, to the French spirit or the community. And I think Australia does it without really, really thinking about it. When you're in Australia, you want to be an Australian first, but you're still who you are and that's okay. Right. France was built on the same ID, but it doesn't quite work, if that makes sense right. People are more and more, more like the American model where they want to be who they are first and then French second.
Nic: So, whereas in Australia, what really, really, I loved it is it was eforltess to be part of it. It was relatively simple as an ID and, and a set of value and I felt very, very comfortable with that. And then the living conditions are fantastic in Australia. You know, you've got space, you've got access to services very easily. So the only thing I missed at the time, which I don't anymore, because Australia has come such a long way, was food. Because
Renata: I thought you were going to say wine.
Nic: Yeah, true, true. That too. But you know, I've adapted as well. It's really odd actually to consider French wine as much better than Australians, because it's not quite, not quite that. This is what I like and, you know, it kind of transitioned with Koko Black as well is that, Australia has this knack of doing what I would call new world to food.
Nic: So it's like, it respects the tradition of that food. You know I'll take one as an example of coffee these days or chocolate with Koko Black. It respects what it is about, what has been done for centuries sometimes with that product. But it does it in its own way. And that's a new world way of very contemporary way to say, yeah, that part's critical to getting the product right. But everything else is just tradition. And we can do it our own way because we don't have traditions, were only, you know, 150 years old, so we need to create our own. And so they've done that so successfully with wine, Melbourne’s done that to coffee. There is such a thing as an Australian coffee really. And Koko Black in turn has started doing that for chocolate.
Renata: Well I’m Brazilian as you know. And I've always thought before moving to Australia, that I knew a lot about coffee. But Melbournians is in particular are obsessed with coffee, to the point that I sometimes have taken notes and sent it back to my brother in law, who has a coffee farm and roasts coffee in Brazil and say, look this is what they're doing in Australia now. I felt like, you know, they were a step behind and I know that Fleur from Market Lane flies back to Brazil a lot to kind of ask the farmers and the roasters to do what she wants them to do for her coffee to be sold here at Market Lane, which has you know, a really high quality coffee, a couple of locations in Melbourne, it's amazing. And my oldest son has tried, well, he has lived in San Francisco, spent some time in New York and London and hated the food there. Because you know, the coffee, the waking up in the morning, he lives in Richmond, waking up in the morning in Richmond, Melbourne, and having a coffee, even in lockdown, you know, you cannot take that away from Melbournians. And the coffee in those locations, very rarely do you find, now you have the bottle, San Francisco has blue bottle, which is, you know, okay. Like it's like a normal Melbourne coffee, but not one that you would find right outside his Richmond flat, you know? Yeah. It's amazing.
Nic: Yeah. You're right. You're right. So, you know, and you've been in Italy probably, or France, or these kind of countries, it's part of the culture. Right. So, but this is what I like is they've adopted the parts of that, that make those categories or those products, what they are, but there's clearly, clearly an Australian touch to it. Because you know, it's just not the same. And you know, as a wine drinker to your point is I came in thinking, you know, French wines is this way, we are both the rest. And now, you know, there's some types of wine that, I'd like to only have the Australian version. I wouldn't have the French version. So you just, you know, here, you just have this kind of mix of modern and tradition, which is quite unique to this country.
Renata: And experiences of you know, going to, I mean, we're very lucky, we're just outside some beautiful wine regions where, you know, without the lockdown, you can go to cellar doors and in every big city, if you're in Sydney, you go to the Newcastle region. If you are in Adelaide, you go to Barossa McLaren. So there's always a great wine.
Nic: That’s true.
Renata: Yeah, it's awesome. So well done for choosing Australia, and I followed your career, some of it. We've worked together at Monash. We'll talk about it in the introduction and, you know, in the sort of success that you've had managing different types of food businesses in Australia, and now you find yourself in this unusual situation, like many other CEOs running a business under covid, and you wrote an open letter to CEOs which was very beautifully written and showing that vulnerability that we want to see in all leaders these days, what was your intention when you did that? And what made you decide that I just need to put it out there.
Nic: I just need to get it out. Right. So, it was interesting because it was after the first wave or towards the back end of that first wave. And during that first wave, as you know, it was a real crisis management, right? The second wave was very different, but the first wave was really crisis. And you know, I've been fortunate or unfortunate to have been through these exercises before, but never to the scale that COVID has brought up. So I wasn't, you know, out of my depth, we were working quite hard. But I suspect, you know, part of my thinking during the process was, you know, leadership is always a really a lonely job to a degree, right? You do obviously work with your teams and you do have, if you're lucky enough, have enough connections with them that, it's not quite a solitary job, but it is lonely because ultimately a lot of the decision making has to be done with you.
Nic: And I think covid, because everybody around you, not just your business, but every single person, every single part of society, every other business was also in the same situation, you couldn't lean on anybody. You really couldn't. Everybody was in crisis mode. And that's probably one of the few times where, you know, often when you're in a crisis, you still can call someone. You can still talk, you can work it out, but there, there was just no time or no space because everybody was in the same board and they had their own problems and you couldn't just, you know, do any of that. So it felt extremely lonely towards the end of this. And what struck me really at the time was that, when we started to come out of that period, there was a lot of noise, a lot of things that were starting to come back for various parts of the market of people starting to say, Oh, why did you, why did they do this? Why did they do that?
Nic: And it really struck me at the time that, you know, and it was not directed at me or Koko Black right, I'm just talking about in particular, you know, leadership or government and people like these that were starting to be judged on their actions. And I really felt the need to say, ‘Hey, you know, one, we've all been in this’. So there's been a lot of decisions made by people who really just did the best they could and literally did the best they could. And I actually put myself into their shoes because probably in a crisis that wouldn't be as universal as that one, I probably would have been one of those that would have said, ‘Hey, why did they do this?’ You know, and second guessed these guys. And that's sort of, I felt really compelled this time to say, don't judge your leaders like that right now.
Nic: They've certainly done the best they could. And I could, really I could see that, within my organisation, I was lucky enough that most of the guys actually just, you know, verbalise that they were appreciative rather than critical.
Renata: I saw that in the comments.
Nic: And so I was really keen on trying to get that out of others for their own leaders, because I felt that's the only thing that really mattered is not so much what was the outcome, because we know we could have as Koko Black, we could very well have been shut down permanently after Easter. Because if you recall, the whole lockdown occurred 10 days out of Easter, which is probably the worst time ever you can think to have a problem for retail based chocolate business. Right. And so, you know, we could very well, I've just had a, you know, the hardest of time and finish closed down, so that wasn't the case, but that could have happened.
Nic: But it didn't come through what people were telling me. And I thought this feels really good of saying that you haven't been judged just on the outcome, but you have been judged on what you did, how you did it, how present or not present you were. And I think there was a lot of leaders who didn't know, made potentially bad choices, but they did it in a way that was what mattered the most. And so I wanted the opportunity to say, well, just, you know, come out and say it. And if no one else does, I'm saying it to you, I know what you did. I know how hard it's been, don’t judge yourself just on the results, just yourself on the fact that you were there. And you made the decision when it mattered because there's nothing worse than not making decisions in times of crisis.
Nic: So that's probably what motivated me is just saying, I want to share a piece of that, you know, that thank you that I did receive myself. So, and I knew because that's not our traditional nature, right. To go back and say, Oh thank you. But in the hindsight piece that always comes after something like this, there's always going to be clever people who have 20-20 hindsight and we will say, ‘Oh, we should have done this. You should have done that.’ But we're in there in the moment.
Renata: No, it's the man in the arena.
Nic: Spot on. You had a great quote on that, yeah that's exactly what it felt like. Yes.
Renata: Yes. I related to that a lot, you know, and of course, I'm not in a position of leadership at the moment. I'm just, you know, very comfortably in my house, but having been in crisis situations before as well. Even when you can rely on all this. So for example, when I was the CEO of the John Monash foundation, we had over a hundred scholars spread out across Europe, during the terrorist attacks in London, and Nice, in Brussels, in Paris, there was no manual for dealing with that. There was no, you know, should we bring them all home? You know, and my responsibility to those lives, to their families, to my board, to the donors and the Australian government and the state government, everybody that put money towards, you know, that prestigious scholarship programme that allowed these people to go overseas and study. But now they're in danger. What do we do? You know, how much do I panic? You know, what's the degree of panicking? And I tend to thrive under pressure, you know, I'm very calm, you know, but inside it eats me up. Right. So I don't let people see it, but inside, yeah.
Nic: Yeah. It's taxing. It's very taxing. Yeah.
Renata: And I think that was probably the worst. Well, you know, I had a business in Brazil. I think it can't be worse than that. Anything that you try to do in Brazil was also very taxing on your hormone levels and your stress, because you're dealing with corruption, with crime, you know, you don't ever know who to trust, there is no guidebook. You can't trust anybody really, you know, can't go to the authority in Brazil. We don't go to the authorities. I shouldn't be saying that on my podcast, but that's the truth, you know? And, so I get you, I got you straight away. And I wanted to talk to you because this is the time where we are going to be assessing the type of leaders to lead organisations into the future. And you're having this opportunity not only to run business during the crisis, but you've been reflecting upon it as well and posting it for others to see. How do you see now that we are in the second wave? What's different in the second wave?
Nic: It’s very different because it is still obviously some sort of a crisis, but it's a slow one. So when in the first wave, it came so fast, so quickly, and it was so thorough that you were in a real, real crisis management situation, you know. So it almost like your factory is just blown up type situation. So you really had to be decisive, thorough, at the time we had no safety nets. You know, if you cast yourself back, there was no such thing as job keeper or job seeker, et cetera. So your first things went into your, that went into your mind was obviously business survival, but also your people's well-being because, you know, and this is, this was the hardest part in the first place is not to jump the gun, even though you were in the middle of a really, really bad process.
Nic: And, you know, so companies went straightaway has potentially you should, if you were just thinking about the business, and just stood down people, close things down, you know, just for cash, cash, cash, that's all you that to do. But if you do that, you're essentially just thinking about the business. That's it. You're not thinking about the people inside the business. So we had to tread that very fine line about doing the right thing for the business survival, but also to keep your people through it. I know eventually you, we were taking a risk on, you know, losing it all because you know, we didn't know. So we were fortunate enough. And then relatively quickly after that the government put jobs keeper in place, which started to give us actually time to think things through. This time around what's actually more interesting is first thing, there is no doubt.
Nic: There is a general wariness in people, and it's not just us, you know, it's everybody inside, outside the business because it's been going on now for five months and there is no real end in sight, right? We were finally starting to come back out of it, you know, towards the back end of June, there was a flicker of thinking how, where we can see, we can see we're not too far off a normal life. And then bang comes the second wave. So there is definitely an extra effort at the moment to try and keep people, not motivated, that's probably not what, what I'm thinking, but probably have enough energy to continue and to go on. So enough resilience. You're really probably now in a time of resilience, rather than a time of crisis, really. And I think slowly but surely as a leader, you probably pick that up earlier than the others often, but you can see it’s going to last a long time now, you know. At one point you're like, everybody, you hope it's was a two or three months bad time, and then slowly but surely you're getting back on.
Nic: Now I think that has passed. Now we're in the long haul, it's going to take, you know, six to 12 months of good out whole slug to actually get out of this. So I think what's happening now is not only, you've got to try and help people realise that gently, you know, because you don't want to them to be in despair. You want them to still hope and feel and want to, you know, achieve. But you have to slowly get them to the realisation that we're going to have to be resilient. It's now, you know, we're in a drought, we're going to have to tighten the valves, right. So, and then what really happens next really for most businesses is you've really got to look at your business and your people with that in mind and thinking, actually, I can't just tough this out.
Nic: I just can't. I have to go back to my business model, I have to change. I have to do things because what if it stays like this for three, four years? I can't hope that my business comes back to normal. I have to change it to the new normal. And what is that? And so it's the next phase, next evolution. And you need to probably do that, with your teams, you need to figure it out with them is what if it's going to be like that for six to 12 months? What do we have to do different? Because what we know is, you know, as much as the government's been quite generous, at some point it won't work and you can't run a business on subsidies just doesn't work, right? So we're going to have to, and obviously if the first phase forced us to do a number of these things, you know, the famous pivot word that everybody uses is with pivoted.
Nic: Yeah, we do it, we did. We did do business, however we had to do business, but it's the same thing. When it's a crisis, you do things that are not sustainable, but you do them by sheer force of will. And you know, this is where being with your teams is important because you're asking them to do something that is going to require force of will. But then now in this phase, it's not that anymore. Now it's got to go beyond that. It's got to go about how do I make this sustainable? What do I have to change so that it's become the new normal? And so it's probably a far more, it's a different emotional ride now because you know, it's not the rush that you may have felt in the first wave. It's this, you know, this because of the resilience nature of this piece, it's actually making sure you also keep yourself steady, because what you can't afford is the high and lows. In a crisis you can, you know, you can have the super highs and then the next day you can be crying in your corner. That's okay. That's all fine because you pick yourself up and you come back and you go back in, that's not the case here. Here it's really steady, steady, steady, because it's a long game. And so it's really different. It feels different. It's I think it actually feels almost far more vulnerable than the first time around because you're in the long game.
Renata: Everybody’s feeling it. You know, I can see it from the clients that I have because I do, I'm doing career coaching now. So I I'm dealing with clients who are less motivated now than they were before. Both the ones that are currently employed and the ones that are at home. But also the overall energy, you know, in the community and the corporate world, you know, it's getting tougher and it's harder even to keep, my husband has been working from home most of his career. And he's always telling me, this is not working. This is not what working from home looks like. This is not working for home. He's actually more annoyed and impatient than I am because his routine has been disrupted. And he's the one that has always worked from home. Whereas I'm the one that's always out and about going into the office and so on.
Renata: So for him, it's been really tough because he can't have those timeouts and coffees and work from a different workspace. All of those things that add a diversion and boost creativity and can add a little bit of social interaction that then gives the work energy and momentum and a cadence for people that work from home. If you add the kids and, you know, your partner also at home, or your housemates and all of that, it's just the combination is its crazy. Yes, yes, it is. How much mental wellbeing is being part of your leadership and what you need to manage in the workplace?
Nic: It's actually a very good question. It depends on the individuals, but it's also probably something that's even more important to watching the ones that don't seem to need it, right. Because, you know, and you've got to definitely be quite acutely aware of what's going on in your teams. And this is where I find working from home with your teams is a bit tricky because you don't get a lot of the signals that as a leader, you rely on, right? So being French I'm a very tactile leader, or I'm a very physical in the sense that I come, I go see people, I walk the floor, I go see the factory. I go in the stores and so on. And right now I can't really do that too much. And if I do it, I have to have a mask and everything.
Nic: So obviously it's not quite the same. So you don't have all the signals that you learn over the years of saying, ‘Hmm, that person's not doing too well, or that person's angry or that’, you know, you don't see that. And so you've really got to be a lot more proactive. So it's even more demanding in terms of your leader’s time. But I actually always felt that this is one of your top responsibilities actually be in touch. And then you see you get a judgement fairly quickly. Yeah. It feels like that person's in a good period. Just, you know, just coaching moments rather than too much involvement, versus that person's in a hole. I need to try and work out how I get them out. Or that person needs a kick. Sometimes it's what it takes as well. Right. Sometimes it's about, ‘Hey, shake yourself. ‘
Nic: You know, you're not alone around here. Right. So,but I think, yeah, it's a big part because ultimately what's interesting is there's a lot to do, but potentially not as much as before, there's a lot of smaller stuff that you deal with because business is slow in certain parts. So you need to replace your focus away from your business tasks list to little bit on a people list and spend some of that time, more trying to keep the energy flowing and dealing with people who have real issues, as opposed to spending all your time, just really working the business. So it is a shift certainly. And I think the longer this lasts, the more that happens.
Renata: Sorry to interrupt. It's a shift also for those who are not in CEO positions, who want to be, so that's another interesting discussion for us to have, because you've been in a leadership CEO type leadership roles and director type roles. That's how we met. And then back into the CEO roles. What has been different between them that you can, explain to someone who has not yet been a CEO, but aspires to be? Because that’s the sort of clientele that I have at times, people that are really keen to go up at the next level. And they haven't been there yet.
Nic: Look, I think the main thing to get ready for in that space is a lot of the mechanics you've been as a department leader or a managers, if you do these well with your teams and your peers, you're probably able to replicate them at a high level. I think the big difference in a CEO position is the famous, the buck stop with you. And I think it's getting to grips that no one else, no one else is actually going to tell you, you need to go and do this. No one else is going to show you that maybe there's an opportunity over there or push you or give you a deadline. You've got to become self-disciplined around this point. You've got to start to think about what are my mechanics X so that I don't forget because we all forget, right?
Nic: We get busy, or we’re having a bad day. And you know, you don't check in with your people as you should, et cetera, et cetera. So you got to build yourself some fail safe. You've got to build yourself some routines. You've got to build yourself some mechanics to remember what you probably know anyway, what you've probably practiced, except that when you're the CEO, there's no one telling you, ‘Hey, today you should go and check with X, Y, Z.’ Which sometimes, you know, good leaders you've worked with, you've learned from them, but often what you miss is that that's what they do for you is they remind you, they give you a nudge. They give you a prop. They give you a kick. You know, they're the ones who have actually helped you perform or achieve, or be a good leader yourself. It's because they were there to be the person that were almost your conscience ref.
Nic: And just saying, and you know, you can tell the good ones from the bad ones in your memory as well. You could think about leaders which were so task oriented, that they actually didn't help you be a good leader. Probably they made you a worst leader for it. Right. So you can tell the difference, but I think it's about stepping back and remembering, ‘Oh, okay. So that's why he was doing this. That's why he was asking me, you know, about that person or this person, it wasn't for micromanagement or whatever. It was actually triggering me to action because he could see that maybe I had forgotten or maybe I hadn't done it. Or, you know, and it was not a judgement. It was actually helping me remind myself that that's part of the job.’ So I think as a CEO, but the difference between not being a CEO and being a CEO is that's probably the fundamental one I can see is that you're at the start and the end of everything, and you need to build yourself some ways that you remember that all the time.
Nic: So in normal times obviously the business rhythm carries you a lot with that. And it's a lot easier, in those times it's not, because in those time you really have to be on the front foot all the time. So it's exhausting by the way, and it should be. Because you know, I had a boss one time, I remember in the days and he said to me, ‘you'll know if you're managing well, if you end your day exhausted and you start your day with full of energy, if you haven't done, you know that by meeting your people and passing on your energy, you haven't done your job.’ And that one stuck with me for a long time thinking, yeah, I think he's right. You know, he's right.
Renata: Good. That's a good analogy. It's like, you're like a battery is just kind of.
Nic: Pretty much. That's exactly right. So you have to refine the ways to replenish too. That's the other learning is that, you know, if you don't find ways to reload yourself and that's another thing, not everyone knows what they need to do, you know, and they need time to actually bring that energy back. Because what you can't do is constantly go at it and draw on your own energy, because eventually this is where you can't sustain it. And so you have to have, you know, and it is different for everybody about what, you know, what switches you on, what gives you energy? And it doesn't have to be in the business, of course. Generally it's outside of business. So when you get in, you are full of energy, you’re as full of energy as possible. So, but yeah, you don't want the battery to be depleted, and then you have nothing to give.
Renata: Nic, let's imagine this sliding door moment where you were not the CEO of Koko Black in 2020, and you were a director in another organization, and you were made redundant. Because as you know, we have both been in this situation when you are in that sandwich level where it's easy to get rid of you because you're on short term contracts, usually three year contracts. And, you know, the projects you're running are probably going to lose their budgets anyway, and it's better to just, you know, cut it. And there are lots of people like that, you know, senior high quality experienced seasoned professionals who are now out of work all around the world. What would you do if you were one of them?
Nic: What would I do?
Renata: What would be your strategy as a job Hunter in this time?
Nic: In this market? Well, the first thing probably is just take a moment to ensure that you don't blame yourself for the situation. So just, you know, use the fact that you are an experienced professional, and you can see that, you know, you potentially, if you had been on the other side would have done something similar, right? So the first thing is just deal with it and I'll grieve it and then move on. You've got to recognise why it was done. It's not personal. It's not about you. It's not about your skills. It's not about your experience level. It's about a situation. And if you were in the same situation as a business leader, you probably would have done the same. So, this way you can put it in beyond you and move on. Because often people I find who have been in those situation and go for jobs, have a chip on their shoulder.
Nic: And it's really hard for them. They feel the need to prove that it wasn't their fault or, you know, and so I think it's really important that you move away. Because otherwise you can't look at new jobs with fresh eyes or what you actually can and can't do. So that's the first thing. Then you go back to ‘what are my strengths?’ You know, and it's like, people development is the same. You have to focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. So it's about building on the strengths. So I think if you go job hunt, first thing is where, what am I really good at? And then if you're lucky, what I do I like? And can I find a job that intersects the two? Right? So, but first things first is, what am I good at? And then at the moment, it's really looking at the market in a new light.
Nic: It's looking at the fact that, right now, if you're looking for a job, you are going to potentially have to change sector. You're going to have to look at sectors who are probably thriving and at this particular, you know, light, and will be recruiting, will be looking for experienced people. Then it's about how do you build your story and your case based on your strengths and what you could add to that sector? You know, once upon a time when I left Nestle, I felt extremely vulnerable because I had done all my career in one company across the world. I knew everybody. I knew who to ask where to go, and it felt like my second family. And all of a sudden I was out on the market and I had no clue who I was from a professional point of view because I was defined by being a Nestlé manager. And so I had to relearn what I was good at. And I ended up working for Godfreys vacuum cleaner. So it's not a straightforward jump from thinking you're marketing of Peter's ice cream and the next day you're, you know, you’re purchase. I was buyers. I was buying manager for Godfreys. So I was buying vacuum cleaners in China. So, you know, and the reality is the great part of that experience...
Renata: The things you do for Australia ey?
Nic: Correct! Yeah. Yeah there you go. But you know what that really taught me is to believe in my skills. Because the only thing I had to sell was what I was good at. And eventually I got the confidence that you can put me in any situation, any job, any company, any sector, I’ll make it work. Why? Because 80% of the equation is almost the same. It's about getting the best out of the people you work for you. It's about understanding, you know, the business model and it's about looking for value and that's that right? So it doesn't matter if your vacuum cleaner, if you're in digital communication or if in your chocolate manufacturing, it's the same. So you got to be able to put yourself in that and say, this is what I'm good at. This is where I'm going to be. And it doesn't matter what the rest of the equation is.
Nic: I can do this, but you know, it's easy said it's not easy done. So there's a lot of self-work on that because generally when you, I've lost a job and you're looking for another job, you look for the same. And in this market, it's not going to work or you're going to be extremely lucky, which is possible by the way, you know, of course, to find the exact same job. So you're going to have to put yourself in a situation where you're saying, here are the free four things I can bring to any companies, where do I see that they can potentially need that and where our sector thriving, and how can I convince them that I can be part of that because I'm very good at these four things. So that'd be my advice.
Renata: Great one, any last thoughts you want to share?
Nic: Look, I think really right now, it's interesting in the back of my mind, it's about thinking about how do I spend time every day to remind myself that it's going to be, as I said a longer haul and therefore I need to take my emotions down and accept that it's going to be a long haul and you know, and as a business leader, you're always impatient, right? You always want to get better. You always want more sales and you more of this, but right now is not the time to be like that. There are times where you can be more driven, more demanding. It's not the time. And so once it's going to make it tougher, because essentially, you know, if sales don't come, et cetera, yes, you're going to have pressures, et cetera. But I don't think it's the time to be like that. It's the time to be patient. It's the time to be a coach. It's the time to develop. And it's the time to accept that if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But what you can't do is trade that for being an impatient driven unknowing person, the hallway for bakers, that's actually not going to make anything better. So it's going to take more self-discipline that was probably my parting words is because that's something I'm grappling with, you know, for this is thinking are really need to accept that.
Renata: Yeah. Well done. Well, congratulations on everything that you're doing, not just for the company, but you know, in the thought leadership you're sharing, that's fantastic, Nic, so great to talk to you.
Nic: Well, thanks for the opportunity Renata, it's great that you doing this, you know, it's great that I hope you're enjoying doing that too.
Renata: I am.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
Contact Renata Bernarde
I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.
My free resources for job hunters: The Optimized Job Search: Weekly Schedule & Masterclass.
Learn more about my services, courses, and group coaching: RenataBernarde.com