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Eveline Albarracin

New Brown-Forman MD rises to the challenge

June 3, 2020
By Alana House

Eveline Albarracin joined Brown-Forman as Managing Director ANZPI in January and has hit the ground running, tackling the dual challenges of the bushfires and COVID-19.

Albarracin, who was previously Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, for Nestle Skin Health, has higher education qualifications in Business Management and Physiology & Pharmacology and a passion for inclusive leadership.

Albarracin’s mandate is to manage and direct Brown-Forman in ANZPI to build its brands within all markets.

Here, she explains how her role has pivoted and evolved in the four months since her first day on the job, how she’s navigating the current environment and her pride in being a role model for women in the drinks industry and beyond.

What are you enjoying most about joining the drinks industry?

I am enjoying the diversity in our industry and find the people are personable, motivated and results driven.

Brown-Forman is an amazing organisation to be part of. I appreciate the culture of respect and responsible drinking, as well as the company’s history, culture, and values given the company turns 150 this year.

I love working with – and personally experimenting with – iconic brands including Jack Daniels and our portfolio of premium brands such as Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack, Herradura just to name a few.

I have challenged myself by moving from a completely different industry, but have found my skills to be transferable, particularly leadership attributes that are the same, whatever the industry.

It’s been a challenging time for the drinks industry since you commenced in the role in January – have there been highlights too?

The ability to be able to shift quickly to mobilise teams, motivate our people with a vision of hope, combined with a positive, can-do attitude to get through all situations together, have definitely been highlights.

The industry globally has gone through many crises over the years, including prohibition, impact of 9/11, tariff wars and now COVID-19. We will push through this and weather the storm, which will attest to the strength of our brands and people.

The resilience and strong capability of our people to come together and do what is needed has been amazing. Our brands are trusted and the Brown-Forman team has continued to engage directly with our customers and consumers. We have assured them we will support them during the tough times and assist them to rebuild.

How is Brown-Forman supporting the on-premise?

In this very difficult time for our industry, we have extended our hand of friendship to bartenders by sending ‘Friends of Jack’ packs, which include a meal voucher and a selection of some of our Jack Daniels finest whiskeys.

We have offered a tool to support friends of Brown-Forman called Sanvello, a premium app designed to support mental health and wellbeing.

Our focus and energy to enable our people to drive and deliver on new initiatives arising from these crises has made me proud to be part of Brown-Forman. These have included supporting our on-premise partners with innovative ways to continue to connect and engage with their customers, as well as offering online training programs for our employees and our on and off premise business partners, focusing on both upskilling and strengthening product knowledge.

We have also provided broader support to our industry by supporting on-premise industry charitable causes including HelpOutHospo, which has also been endorsed by key players in the industry including Matt Moran, renowned chef and restaurateur. This not-for-profit organisation has set up a portal through which consumers can pay a donation to watch videos in which chefs and bartenders teach the public how to put together their signature dishes and drinks, with the money going into a fund that will assist hospitality workers.

How has COVID-19 pivoted your leadership?

Leadership during adversity is constant, so I have seen this situation as a leadership challenge that I have risen to. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to mobilise, lead and empower teams to overcome challenges together.

With challenges are opportunities and Brown-Forman needs to be ready and poised to work through them to drive outcomes, particularly where we may not have expected them to occur.

Our CEO Lawson Whiting meets with our Global Crisis Management Team daily to ensure we stay on top of the COVID-19 situation, keeping the business informed with staff top of mind and our values at the forefront of all our decisions.

In a recent first-ever virtual Board meeting, there were comments made by the board that Lawson shared with the business.

Here is one that illustrates the strength of BrownForman over its 150 year history: “I knew Brown-Forman was in rarefied air in good times. Now I know you’re rarefied air in the bad times, too.”

Lawson also reminds us that the skills and talents that have served us well over the years will be more critical now than ever before. He said our creative mindset, our entrepreneurial spirit, our agility, and our grace under pressure will drive our results and “that we are stronger today than we were yesterday, and we’ll be even stronger tomorrow. Once again, we are reminded that when it comes to our people, there is nothing better in the market.” I really believe in this.

You started out as a scientist, has that been handy in the new role?

My qualifications in leadership and people management, marketing and science, combined with my background in the pharmaceutical industry have definitely been utilised in my new role. I have been able to leverage my commercial acumen and experience in building brands to assist our employees and our business partners to identify the opportunities during this time and to continue to develop and plan for the long term.

I thrive when developing cultural and operational synergies across diverse groups as well as successful partnerships across internal and external organisations, while introducing frameworks for efficient implementation of marketing, sales, finance, supply chain, and risk management processes. I believe this will support the growth of the Brown-Forman business for continued and sustainable success in the future.

I enjoy meeting our business partners and I’m inspired by the innovation and creativity of our customers, including those who operate independently. The diversity of our customers – the hotels, casinos, bars, restaurants, pubs and cafes makes my role both challenging and rewarding.

The on-premise component of my role is new, however I have immersed myself into the business and this new industry, bringing a different perspective to the organisation and its people.

How is your experience in building brands in your previous roles helping in your current one?

I am passionate about marketing and brand management, which has been extremely valuable in my new role. I have extensive experience leading organisations supported by a high performance mindset and culture focused on it’s employees and customers.

I’ve found that there are many synergies and similarities in building brands across both the alcohol beverage and FMCG healthcare/pharmaceutical industries.

What do you see as being key to success in the current environment?

Supporting our leaders in the business and empowering them to lead their own teams is a key to success. I have continued to engage our people and live Brown-Forman’s values relating to our people by fostering talent, and valuing diversity, creativity, commitment, and leveraging the expertise of our employees.

Exercising great listening skills is important in leadership, as well as constant communication and the ability to authentically express and listen with empathy. In this current environment, I think that the key to success is maintaining the same level of engagement with employees by leveraging different or new approaches as well. I am very conscious of my leadership style and believe in consistently communicating our strategic direction to deliver on our vision, our business and our customers.

This includes putting in place meaningful initiatives that really make a difference to our people, business partners and consumers. But above all, and especially at this time, the key to success for our business is to be creative, adaptable and to persevere. We are facing a unique set of challenges and we are evolving our workforce and our brand strategies to weather the challenges and to wield them to their best advantage, for long term sustainable growth .

The drinks industry is striving to become increasingly inclusive, do you see your appointment as an encouraging one for other women in the industry?

Absolutely. I aim to inspire women to join our team. Brown-Forman has a range of Employee Resource Groups including Growing Remarkable and Outstanding Women (GROW). GROW is a program where we have committed to providing tools, education and mentoring for women. I will continue to support and promote our Employee Resources Groups including GROW as I continue in my leadership role.

Regardless of gender, we are open to any individual who is interested, passionate and driven. I am motivated to support women, however never to the detriment of the men in our team. We need to grow together. It’s not about women rising at the expense of men, but as a team, growing and developing together.

The diversity of our employees is one of our key differentiators that creates our unique brand. The unique experiences and backgrounds people bring to our business provides a great perspective, as well as amazing insights. It allows us to collaborate effectively and be successful as a team.

I continue to aspire to be a role model that inspires women to take on leadership roles, and to build a work culture at Brown-Forman that embraces women and encourages them to become future leaders.

What are the most important factors in inclusive leadership and management of teams?

Being people orientated and genuinely interested in our staff has meant that I have naturally gravitated towards an inclusive leadership style. Key factors I believe are crucial include being transparent, authentic while building trust. I am constantly facilitating dialogue with my team, encouraging everyone to have a voice and express their opinions. I believe by working collaboratively, it enables me to be more self aware and cognisant of any biases I may possess.

Our diversity in experience and skill sets promotes lateral thinking and cultural intelligence. This allows us to see the world through different perspectives and enables growth. By tapping into the talents and motivations of our people and embracing change, we are also well positioned to deliver a more personalised customer experience.

Finally, I think it’s crucial especially during difficult times like COVID-19, to show commitment to stay on course while being curious and courageous to take action and embrace change.

Do you have a favourite Brown-Forman drink?

I’ve been lucky to sample quite a lot of our brands, but two stand out so far. A Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned is the first that comes to mind. Woodford Reserve is one of our finest bourbons which delivers a rich, smooth flavour and is the perfect drink to end the day. A close second would be a Gentleman Jack Whisky Sour. In contrast to the Old Fashioned, I like the more pronounced citrus flavour with the addition of lemon juice a Whisky Sour offers. It provides a great tangy hit that is smoothed out by the egg white. As I’m new to Brown-Forman, I look forward to the opportunity to experience our range with more of our customers and consumers. No doubt I’ll be adding to this list in the future!

Brown-Forman is a Category One Member of the Drinks Association.