Consumer CEO Review: Leadership lessons from the front line

Leadership StrategiesIndustry TrendsLeadershipConsumerBoard and CEO Advisory
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6月 13, 2022
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Leadership StrategiesIndustry TrendsLeadershipConsumerBoard and CEO Advisory
Executive Summary
Our research interviewing consumer CEOs aims to distil key leadership learnings from the past year to drive success among consumer brands.
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CONTENTS

Our approach     01 Consumer Activism     02 Digital Ubiquity     03 Continuous Disruption     04 Life Rebalancing     Business Implications of the Future Consumer     Conclusion: Leading in turbulent times

 

Please click here to read the 2021 edition of this report: Why being a ‘Great Business Leader’ is Not Enough – Consumer Business Leadership in a Post-COVID Era

"Consumers are going to define the rules."

– Corie Barry
CEO, Best Buy


 

The demands on future leaders have never been greater, and the skill sets that drive success have never been as varied. Our research interviewing 35 global consumer chief executives aims to distil the key leadership learnings from the past year to drive success among consumer brands in this new phase of the (post) pandemic. While many lessons from the previous report remain relevant today, headwinds such as rising inflation and the conflict in Ukraine have introduced fresh learnings. The resulting deep and volatile shifts in consumer behaviour have led to significant periods of disruption. When discussing these shifts, we break them into three distinct phases:

 

 

Respond

Six to twelve months of high volatility and uncertainty, starting with the pandemic responses in early 2020 and lasting to early 2021. As many governments took drastic measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, consumer spending fell dramatically and indiscriminately as the global public made preparations for a variety of potential scenarios. The future was highly uncertain. Many economies responded with strict lockdowns and rules around meeting, travel and visiting public spaces with severe consequences for many businesses. Many individuals were forced to work from home.

 

Recover

Following the response, we saw a year of recovery and adaptation. A combination of successful vaccine rollouts and a better public understanding of the pandemic led to a bounce back in consumer spending, and, as individual liberties such as travel and public gatherings became possible once again, we saw a gradual recovery of performance across sectors. Many behaviours persisted from the Respond phase, such as home working and greater digital penetration.

 

Re-imagine

2022 offers a chance for leaders and businesses to re-imagine how they engage with their customers. Many governments have announced a theoretical ‘end’ to the pandemic, due to variants such as Omicron appearing to be less harmful to health, many economies successfully vaccinating a majority of their populace and consumers generally being more willing to live with the consequences of catching the virus. As many economies begin to return to some semblance of normality with regards to the pandemic, many new challenges have begun to emerge. Businesses must re-imagine how they engage with consumers particularly in relation to new inflationary and geo-political headwinds.

 

 

"What was once an accordion reopening has become a consistent rebuild. Our focus has been to capture that away from home re-bound while driving competitiveness, in what are proving to be very sticky at-home occasions."

– Shane Grant
CEO, Danone North America


 

Our approach

This is the second in our CEO outlook series. We spoke with 35 Consumer CEOs globally – across consumer products, consumer digital and media, leisure & hospitality, and retail – building on interviews we had with executives in 2020.1 The previous paper – ‘Why being a great CEO is not enough’ - took place in the Recover phase of the pandemic. Despite the worst effects of the crisis largely subsiding, many of the trends that it either accelerated or created have persisted to the present phase. Our goal was to understand the continued evolution of consumer behavior and its impact on business and leadership. We have also compared these findings with the first wave of this CEO Outlook series conducted in the fourth quarter of 2020, to investigate how consumer behavior and business response has evolved in the intervening period.


Key drivers for 2022

 

Consumer behaviors

Business implications

Leadership learnings

  • Data driven decision making
  • Dealing with ambiguity
  • Social intent
  • Cultural excellence

 

 

The Future Consumer

"Consumer trends have become universal. Everything is moving together in a coordinated way across the world."

– Ian Lee
President, Asia Pacific and Japan, The Adecco Group


 

It is clear that prior phases of the pandemic accelerated certain existing consumer trends like digital disruption, while introducing others that were unprecedented, such as the cultural shifts favouring hybrid and remote working. Many companies successfully pivoted, rapidly adapting to these shifts in behaviour in the Respond and Recover phases of the pandemic. A key theme emerging from our interviews has been an acceleration in the pace at which consumers are adapting to ongoing disruption, putting additional strain on business and requiring agile leadership to see companies through. Executives have made clear that utilising data, remaining close to your customer, and building strategies to maintain agility and drive forward innovation are key to predicting the needs of the Future Consumer.

"Disruption is now endemic, businesses absolutely must be nimble to survive."

– Marc Allera
CEO, Consumer Division, BT Group


 

In our previous report we identified the four key trends that defined ‘Consumer 3.0’, a paradigm that completely turned the table on brands across the consumer landscape. Peter Field, the Chief Executive of GfK stated that ‘83 percent of shoppers across Europe had changed their behaviour’ in the year since the pandemic had begun. As the worst impacts from previous phases subside, leaders now find themselves facing a ‘world of increasing complexity’, as described by Fonterra chief executive, Miles Hurrell.

Of the four consumer themes identified last year, three have seen incremental changes and one has evolved substantially.

     
 

2022 Consumer Drivers

 

Change

Consumer Activism

 

In the past year we have seen consumers increasingly alter consumption patterns as a result of a heightened awareness of societal and ethical issues, both localised and global. This modification of behaviour based on the ethical and environmental cost of goods, and the suggestion among respondents that the trend is accelerating in light of recent conflicts, has lead us to suggest last year’s theme ‘Social Purpose’ has evolved into ‘Consumer Activism’.

Digital Ubiquity

 

The early phases of the pandemic lead to a sharp rise in digital adoption globally. As behaviors become less volatile the usage, and prominence in decision making, of digital channels has settled substantially above pre-pandemic levels after a period of remarkable growth. Consumers have intensified their online expectations while also requesting seamless digital integration in physical stores leading us to upgrade the previous driver ‘Digital Amplitude’ to ‘Digital ubiquity’, to reflect this change.

Life Rebalancing

 

Customers have reassessed how they value time in the home and time outside it -- ‘work from home’ has required businesses and individuals to redefine all aspects of their lives. This introspection and re-evaluation has continued as we enter the ‘re-imagine’ phase, with consumers now able to plan for the future more effectively and re-evaluate the successes and pitfalls of the Respond and Recover phases.

 
     

 

01 Consumer Activism

"Consumers want to do business with companies aligned with their values; they’re re-imagining the types of people they want to be."

– Steve Cahillane
Chairman and CEO, Kellogg's


 

Since we last spoke to our interviewees last year, we have witnessed a significant rise in social awareness. Following COP26, sustainability rose up the agenda yet again Black Lives Matter continues to spark protest and shine a light on inequality, while ‘antiwork’ movements are placing corporations and their processes under increasing (and public) scrutiny. Boards and CEOs across the world have recognized the need for their businesses to do more to tackle inequality for their customers, employees and shareholders.

 

 

"Customers need to trust you – the consistency of how you deliver the service is very important."

– Marcelo Pimentel
CEO, GPA


 

Beyond heightened awareness of the ethical pledges they make to their workforce, chief executives report that consumers have begun to expect a higher bar for sustainable credentials from many companies. Concern over the environment has reached an all-time high, particularly among the younger generations. In the wake of COP26, companies across the globe are raising the visibility and ambition of their goals. This has placed demands on corporations to provide social guidance, and to be a net contributor.

"There is a substantially heightened focus on ESG, companies must be a force for good."

– Stuart Irvine
Former CEO, Lion


 

Going forward, our respondents expect that consumers will increasingly choose brands based on their track record in these areas, how they treat their employees, how they communicate with their customers and their stance on broad ranging issues. With geopolitical tensions rising and consumers increasingly boycotting companies over where they trade or challenges in their supply chain, the leaders surveyed expect this trend to intensify in the coming years.

 

     
 

02 Digital Ubiquity

Many consumers were forced in the Respond and Recover phases of the pandemic to rely heavily on digital channels for all their needs, resulting in 5 years of digital acceleration in the first five months of restrictions alone. Consumption patterns were irrevocably changed, and it has become clear in our latest research that despite consumers having offline options open to them, many continue to rely on digital options more frequently in both the research and purchase phase of each transaction.

"More and more customers have digital comfort but they also have very high expectations. They may not always be digitally native, but they are digitally comfortable."

– Corie Barry
CEO, Best Buy


 

Digital natives have consolidated; digital newcomers have taken up residence. Those who thought they would never go digital found they liked it and are willing to explore new online experiences. Rethinking traditional processes and product discovery experiences is now fundamental to future growth.

"The biggest trend for us is that Gen Zers are becoming new mothers and they are digital savvy. Compared with previous generations, they will research products and consider more factors (not only price, but also service, convenience, etc.) to decide which product/brand they are going to buy."

– Grace Chen
MD, China, FrieslandCampina


 

While some industries witnessed considerable traffic return to offline channels, it remains considerably below pre-pandemic levels on the whole. Companies that were able to successfully leverage digital channels to inform and drive shoppers to physical sites, and those scaling up adoption of hybrid fulfilment models such as click and collect or curbside pickup have reportedly reaped dividends.

Many chief executives noted that brands face a far savvier and versatile consumer, and that gains made in digital adoption are here to stay while also acting as a catalyst for future growth.

 

 
     

 

03 Continuous Disruption

While the worst impacts of the pandemic would appear to be subsiding in 2022, and there was some optimism amongst our sample with regards to recovery, CEOs made it clear that planning for high volatility and continuous disruption would be crucial for future success.

"Across the sector there have been big winners big losers, some companies’ products are up 60%, other down 60%, it is incredibly hard to understand why in the current climate, and many retailers are not getting this right, many retailers fail to understand either."

– Rodrigo Pizzaro
CEO, Australia & New Zealand, L'Oréal


 

Significant macro-economic shocks are causing consumers to rapidly shift their spending habits, and businesses find that predicting these rapidly evolving behaviours is challenging. Consumers are facing substantial economic and geopolitical headwinds, aging populations, rising inflation putting pressure on household incomes, tight labour markets, substantial supply chain and manufacturing disruption, which are all adding complexity to operating models.

"Macro shifts like the fact that the country is aging, income disparity is increasing, households are shrinking and distinct regional differences are accelerating are shaping how we think about our strategy across multiple dimensions – from categories to brands, packages, pricing, channels, supply and talent. Segmented growth strategies are more critical than ever."

– Shane Grant
CEO, Danone North America


 

Many leaders cited rising complexity as a challenge to their continued success, and that companies needed to both be more agile and re-evaluate and diversify their resourcing structures to be prepared for future shocks.

 

     
 

04 Life Rebalancing

The Respond and Recover phases were characterized by deep self-reflection by many people, in all areas of life. This resulted in seismic behavioral shifts, and in our most recent round of interviews many consumers are continuing this personal assessment.

"I think there’s going to be ongoing rewriting of priorities in life, and that’s still occurring."

– George Zoghbi
CEO, Arnott’s


A consumer focus on health and wellness was cited by many chief executives, in addition to how hybrid working can enable this for both customers and employees. Many companies are settling into hybrid patterns, with diverse consequences across Retail, CPG, Hospitality and Leisure.

Consumers are also making efforts to be more active, eat better, improve work life balance, and consume in a more responsible way. Adapting product lines, marketing and messaging to reflect this change yielded positive results among the leaders we interviewed.

"Consumers learned how to cook and that has accelerated a long-term trend: they’re cooking more at home, and we have rigorous quantitative data that shows this, and how that’s aligned them closer with our products."

– Lawrence Kurzius
Chairman, President and CEO, McCormick & Company


 

In response to the rise in hybrid working, consumers have continued shop in a home-centric way - with a rise in spend on items and categories with a household focus, such as appliances, DIY, furniture, homeware, and electronics.

"During COVID-19 there was an incredible amount of home nesting. People invested in their homes, they learned working from home was more budget friendly and we think a lot of those behaviors will be hard to unwind."

– Sean Connolly
President and CEO, Conagra


 

 

"Dubai recorded its busiest summer since 2009 with over 16,000 property transactions in Q3 alone; and hotels bucked the trend in the hospitality sector, with an 11% increase in consumer spend in Q3 2019."

– Alain Bejjani
CEO, Majid Al Futtaim


Simultaneously, businesses that rely on foot traffic -- e.g., restaurants and travel -- have bounced back in some economies. Where public confidence is high enough, restaurants and hoteliers have thrived – an encouraging development for countries still in the Recover phase. Many of the leaders surveyed expressed uncertainty as to how the future of consumer destinations will play out but were confident that people are returning to physical locations, albeit slowly.

 

 
     

 

Business Implications of the Future Consumer

"... no one can cover double digit inflation with productivity. It’s a learning process on both a manufacturing process and a supplier side."

– Steve Cahillane
Chairman and CEO, Kellogg's


 

Many of the core themes identified by our cohort of global chief executives have persisted from the previous study, however the composition of each has shifted to reflect the new phase that the global economy has entered. Effective supply chain and labor management, navigating continued disruption and brand purpose have been identified as of renewed importance to modern leaders.

     
 

2022 Drivers & themes

 

Change since 2021

rra-consumer-CEO-outlook-2022_Consumer Centricity

Consumer Centricity

  • Inflation & value proposition (new)
  • Brand purpose & consumer trust (new)
  • Insight, Innovation, portfolio adjustment (ongoing)

 

 

Customer centricity remains at the core of a successful consumer strategy in 2022. However, brand purpose as well as pricing & value proposition in the light of inflationary pressures have increased in importance. Data, insight and innovation have all remained consistently important compared to the prior year.

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Resilient Operations

  • Planning for uncertainty (new)
  • Talent in a tight labor market (new)
  • Workforce wellbeing (new)

 

While businesses were reviewing operating models last year, they are now building out the resilience of their operations in the face of heightened uncertainty and risk. As consumers anticipate and respond to continuous disruption, businesses must head off challenges in supply chains and staff retention through robust people strategies and tech.

 

 

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Unified channel strategy

  • The future of physical (new)
  • D2C, Customer Acquisition. Channel partners (continued)

 

The spike in digital adoption or ‘the great onboarding’ has subsided, but online penetration is still substantially higher than pre-pandemic levels. Investment in digital channels remains top of the agenda, with many companies across sectors opting to cut out the middle man and reach consumers directly through a variety of channels. A key consideration moving forward, as physical centers reopen, is how to adopt a unified channel strategy incorporating and leveraging physical assets.

 
     

Consumer centricity

– Inflation & value proposition 

 

"The inflation we are seeing reinforces that you need to have strong brands that ultimately have emotional connections with consumers, because after a certain price point there are generic labels that they will choose unless a brand has been humanized."

– Glen Walter
CEO, Tropicana


We have seen a surge in demand as economies have generally re-opened more quickly than analysts had anticipated, with spending up on pre-pandemic levels for many categories and markets. This combined with tight and disrupted supply lines, rising oil & energy prices, and rising labor costs have put pressure on businesses to raise their prices. Retailers are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to managing prices: do you keep prices low and take a hit on margin, or pass on higher costs to your customers? Many companies have taken other steps to mitigate price rises, which are treated as a last resort, such as reducing unit sizing, component/material cost or rationalizing SKUs in the case of retail. Brand is becoming increasingly important in this increasingly fraught landscape and is particularly important in fighting inflation. Ensuring that businesses have a clearly communicated purpose helps build brands that consumers will continue to engage with, even when disposable income is constrained.

 

– Brand purpose & consumer trust

With the rise of consumer activism and inflation eating into disposable income, how brands humanize themselves can make or break businesses. A crowded marketplace with established and innovative competitors can be incredibly challenging to penetrate. Creating a powerful brand purpose adds value to both customers and society, companies can use their reach to shine a spotlight on societal and human issues. Connecting with consumers on this personal level leads to a longer and more valuable relationship and build loyalty that has been heavily eroded over the course of the pandemic.

"... In terms of what consumers value – it has become even more entrenched in the types of company. They want to do business with is it aligned with their values."

– Steve Cahillane
Chairman and CEO, Kellogg's


 

The challenge is that the required organizational changes to authentically appeal to consumers can only truly take root if the organization has a broader purpose, albeit this alone is not enough. This has never been more important given the ‘Life Rebalancing’ that many consumers are engaging in, revisiting their own purpose and asking themselves how their environment reflects those changes.

"... we believe an organization with a greater purpose tends to create excellent customer retention and employee engagement in the long term. Adding value to all stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and government) leads to a more robust ecosystem."

– Alain Bejjani
CEO, Majid Al Futtaim


 

Ongoing trends – Data, Innovation, Portfolio adjustment

Many trends have persisted from the last version of this report. It has been made clear that rethinking legacy org structures continues to be critical, with successful organizations connecting their front-end marketing with their back-end operations, such as supply chain. Customer centricity must continue to catalyse innovation, not just when considering product ranges, but when diversifying categories or adopting channels. Companies must now develop solutions for new consumption channels, such as e-commerce-specific products, to meet consumer demand. Social has moved from a fringe activity to a dialog with consumers, shaping product lines, messaging and investment in real time.

 

 

Resilient Operations

– Resilient supply chains

"Global supply chain . . . is possibly the biggest issue that we are focusing on."

– Alastair Symington
Group CEO and MD, Blackmores


 

Supply chains have experienced unprecedented levels of disruption. Companies must operate in an inflationary landscape where fissures can appear at any time, and where they must be ready to switch to Plan B (or C) with minimal notice. Within this maelstrom, companies are re-inventing their supply chain blueprints on the fly while they build up their ability to make course-corrections. Others are moving to fully integrate their supply chains, from first to last mile in order to build resiliency. Faced with continued geopolitical pressures and the resultant fuel price rises, materials shortages, and previously prosperous regions and trade routes becoming warzones, even the most globally-oriented of companies have found themselves assessing which pieces of their value-chain they can near-shore.

"We are continuing to build our supply chain capability because nobody has a crystal ball when this will pass. If the trucking lanes are not operating you need to get your own trucks; we have had to backward integrate into a lot of these things. There is no silver bullet."

– Steve Cahillane
Chairman and CEO, Kellogg's


 

Companies with supply chain depth, strength and operational clout have thus far weathered the more volatile swings; companies that were overly dependent on one sales channel or one supply chain network have struggled, as have those that failed to deploy adequate contingency or workaround plans.

– Talent in a tight labour market

"Everyone is looking for the same thing at the same time."

– Alastair Symington
Group CEO and MD, Blackmores


 

Labor at all skill levels experienced intense stress during the pandemic. Many governments spent billions to ensure that widespread industry closures did not permanently scar their economies but many businesses did not survive. These drastic shifts required companies to reshape their leadership teams during the pandemic, with many of our respondents pivoting toward more digital and agile operating models. The most successful organizations cascaded this change, and were perhaps more prepared than most to manage high turnover rates and stretched teams. The most prevalent human capital shift seen across companies is the intensified focus on talent with digital and customer-centric capabilities.

"... we had to refresh up to 50% of the executive suite and the layer below that, to build up a team of people who can think marketplaces and digital, and are used to working in an agile way. We’re trying to import a lot of talent that is very hard to find everywhere, and everyone is hunting for the same people."

– Ait Voncke
CEO, Aviv Group


 

Nor is talent attrition in today’s economy entirely due to the pull of competitors: increasingly, we are seeing talent downshifting or opting out altogether from their field. The Great Resignation has had a pronounced effect in the United States, but many of the same patterns are apparent across geographies. Companies must rethink their offer, and perhaps the job itself. For some, that means moving forward with a dispersed or hybrid workforce. For other companies that meant investing in upgraded their office space while workers went remote, in the hopes that bringing workers together physically will drive engagement and team-building.

"A big challenge is how to build a team that has a cohesive perspective as we keep working on Zoom."

– Fabian Garcia
President, North America, Unilever


 

– Workforce wellbeing

The pandemic has taken its toll on many employees. As the prospect of burnout rises many businesses are taking a more active role in their employees wellbeing. This can take the form of re-imagining and re-affirming their corporate purpose after the tumultuous Respond and Recover years. Many leaders pointed to an array of more direct interventions such as hiring wellness coaches, organising after work activities, annual wellness weeks or offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to retain top talent.

"To develop organisational resilience and longevity in the face of this crisis, we reconsidered how work and talent were organised and how work can be reinvented, emphasising mental and physical wellbeing."

– Alain Bejjani
CEO, Majid Al Futtaim


 

Companies we spoke to have worked hard to link their culture and brand to their underlying purpose as a driver for wellbeing. The challenge is that culture itself can only take root if the organization has a broader purpose to anchor itself too. This has never more important than at a time then when so many people are revisiting their own purpose and asking themselves how their environment reflects that.

"Critical for us is how to care for the culture of the company during this time: everything is happening so fast it is so easy to lose sight of your core values, and what is important and what you will not compromise in exchange for growth."

– Marcelo Pimentel
CEO, GPA


 

Unified channel strategy

– The future of physical

The world has accepted that normal as we knew it is not returning, however many economies have begun to re-adopt some of our old behaviours in relation to physical space. Restaurant and hotel bookings in Europe and the Americas are returning to near pre-pandemic levels. While the volume of store visits remains lower, the amount spent per visit is substantially higher. The future of physical consumer locations needs to be radically different from what came before to attract the future consumer. Frictionless, data driven and connected. With the consumer still tentatively returning to physical centres, availability and experience will be key. It should be as easy to find an item online in a nearby store as it is finding one in a distribution centre hundreds of miles away, but this is rarely the case. Leveraging physical assets for more effective (and sustainable) last mile delivery is also a compelling advantage, utilising physical space as point of sale but also a location for fulfilment, customer service and community engagement. Businesses must enhance store technology to meet both the short- and long-term expectations of their customers.

"The only way retailers are going to be able to continue to drive profitable outcome is that you are going to have to find efficiency– real automation within your organization and digital experience in your physical locations is incredibly important."

– Corie Barry
CEO, Best Buy


 

Ongoing trends: D2C, Customer Acquisition. Channel partners

Companies continue to leverage D2C to both better control their brand proposition, mitigate own brand risk and improve margins, this trend continues to accelerate across sectors. Where to play remains a key consideration, with brands forming new and tangential partnerships not just with marketplaces, but complementary brands. Customer acquisition was widely mentioned, with digital marketing and sales capacity being scaled rapidly at successful organizations.

 

Leadership Requirements

"People are tired, we are trying to find this right mix -- we are a high performance organization and wanted a strong level of excellence. We are starting to rebuild connections and trust and there needs to be a much stronger sense of empathy -- as leaders we need to have not just a strong IQ but EQ. The short terms pressures are so brutal, trying to balance where you are headed can be overwhelming."

– Glen Walter
Former President, North America, Mondelēz


 

There was no playbook for navigating what began in early 2020 and has changed the world since. Leaders across the world, regardless of sector, have had to rely on a combination of their value systems, instincts, experiences and, of course, their executive teams to navigate the storm.

The events of the last few years have added competing priorities to CEOs’ agendas and stacked significant complexity on top of what was already a nearly impossible role. As businesses look to build solutions for the new consumer paradigm, we have identified four fundamental leadership requirements that future consumer CEOs must possess:

Data-Driven Decision-Making and Dealing with Ambiguity

One of the paradoxes that C-suites must confront is that they have to be data-driven, yet despite a wealth of data, there is substantially heightened ambiguity and generating insights from data has never been more complex. When overburdened with data, companies can become trapped in minutiae while missing the big picture. The antidote are employees and leaders that are able to interrogate datasets fluently and communicate their recommendations flawlessly. In the current business environment, planning horizons are narrowing and reaction times are shortening, the key to success is building a data lead culture, best practice that brings together the right talent and resources to ensure data based decision making is baked in at all levels of the organization.

"Digital is all about data; you need good storytellers who can read the mood and the numbers there are almost too many algorithms¬ you need more people with gut and storytelling ability."

– Chief Executive
Global news organization


 

Very few decisions are ever made with total transparency. The capacity to move ahead with strategy in the absence of perfect information was identified a core skill for future leaders. Leaders across sectors tell us they are now working well beyond their comfort zones, and a proven ability to make instinctual but grounded decisions based on the best available evidence was frequently raised as a desirable trait.

"... we invested a lot into data capabilities to build visibility of market, and now we already have very solid and detailed granular level of data collection about all the channels that we are operating, and can make precise decision based on the data and facts."

– Grace Chen
MD, China, FrieslandCampina


 

Managing ambiguity is about accepting the potential risk and moving on nonetheless. It may be that no one loves being uncomfortable; nonetheless, some executives thrive in such environments while others use yesterday’s tactics for tomorrow’s problems. The best executives are able to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, leaning on their confidence in their own instincts and intuitive to move forward.

"We are looking for skill sets around people who can operate in volatility and uncertainty, people who cannot be paralyzed by change and courageous to make decisions without information.  They have got to have the ability to create not only plans and choice, but they need to be great communicators, that is crucial."

– Alastair Symington
Group CEO and MD, Blackmores


 

Social Intent and Cultural Excellence

Social intent refers to the external manifestation of corporate values and a firm’s contribution to society, Cultural excellence is how those values impact a businesses’ employees and their decision making.

Companies that successfully made it through the pandemic did so in part by returning to and reinforcing their core values, with executive teams remaining highly visible even as organizations went remote. That visibility extended into society , where companies are under the microscope, and where it can be hard to remain neutral on so many social issues.

"Companies need to think beyond traditional philanthropy and volunteerism and adopt an approach that unites multiple stakeholders to create lasting change. Campbell’s vision is to leave a legacy of impact in the communities we call home through programs like the Full Futures school nutrition partnership, which helps students reach their full potential by providing daily nutrition that supports their development."

– Mark Clouse
CEO, Campbell Soup Company


 

Living up to a rising expectations from society while maintaining growth becomes all the more necessary as investors insist on both. Executives must ensure that their actions match their commitments, and in so doing model an organizational culture that promotes sustainable growth. Becoming a cultural transformer influences a significant portion of the business and consumer issues touched on the importance of social impact in this research.

Executives must be willing to both lead and sense where the organization is leading them. COVID and its ramifications have forced companies to operate with a new mindset, cultivating a risk-seeking culture that has allowed them to pivot toward new revenue streams and ways of working. As it subsides, they must build back better, rewarding those that supported them in times of crisis, while also building in additional resiliency for future challenges.

"As CEO, my job is to convey the culture and change the mindset of some employees, especially the old generation, to better embrace the new market conditions and digital tools."

– Karen Li
CEO, Vinda International


 

     
 

Conclusion: Leading in turbulent times

"This has been a real development and growing 18 months for all our leaders -- it has required a shift which has been actually really exciting for me and our senior leadership team, focusing on proximity to our teams, empathy for our people, vulnerability through the organization, a humanity to the way we lead the business which this period of time has brought out in many leaders and made us better. It has been a really important evolution in contemporary leadership, including having a simple but not simplistic strategy, and a focus on customer-centricity, but it has made us a much more modern organization and gives me a ton of confidence that we can sustain what we have done."

– Shane Grant
CEO, Danone North America


 

The lasting legacy of the pandemic is unpredictability. Constants have become variables. Factors that were accepted norms are now the dated conventional wisdoms of yesteryear. Amidst mounting economic and geopolitical headwinds, it is easy for employees to feel they don’t have control over their own destinies. Whether in a crisis or periods of heightened uncertainty, it is easy for leaders to reflexively try to attempt to impose control. Instead, they must build trust with and empower their teams to do their best work. Achieving this begins with simply providing an empathetic  and purpose led working environment to enable their success. The leader who can demonstrate vulnerability, and humanity in times of challenge will attract the strongest teams.

 

 

"I do think the role of the Managing Director has become extremely challenging because you can’t just rely on the experts you have in your team you yourself need to have an in-depth understanding of many new areas.  As example you have to be competent at data science, community relations, reputational issues, global politics, and all aspects of sustainability such as climate risks , all while you are actually running your business day to day."

– Ian Bailey
MD, Kmart Australia


The consensus among the leaders we spoke to is that their roles have never been more demanding, and the skills within their teams never as diverse. As a result of the array of external factors influencing consumers, their behaviors have understandably become harder to predict. Customers are harder to acquire and harder to retain. Leaders will need significantly more resilience within their operations to weather whatever fresh shocks the world faces in coming years, and must plan ahead and respond quickly as they arise.

For leaders to successfully attract the Future Consumer to their offering, and retain their high performing teams, they will need to adopt a purpose led and empathetic approach to business clearly communicating their vision to consumers, building resilient teams and leadership strategies to mitigate future shocks, and treat their employees as stakeholders to ensure growth in this new phase we have entered.

 
     

 

 

 

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Consumer CEO Review: Leadership lessons from the front line