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Drinks panel

Drinks panel discusses keys to inclusive leadership

September 16, 2020
By Alana House

Drinks industry executives have discussed leading during challenging times at the 2020 Inclusive Leadership Program panel event.

Bacardi-Martini Australia Managing Director Mauricio Vergara, Treasury Wine Estates Category & Marketing Director ANZ Ben Culligan, Casella Family Brands General Manager Marketing and Export Sales Libby Nutt and ALM General Manager NSW/ACT, Katherine Johnstone answered questions from the program’s mentees about their leadership journeys.

The Drinks Association’s 2020 Inclusive Leadership Program commenced in May in a virtual format and is once again being faciliated by Serendis Leadership.

Twelve companies are participating in the 2020 program: ALM, Australian Vintage, Bacardi Martini, Brown Forman, Campari, Casella, Carlton & United Breweries, Lion, Moet Hennessy, Pernod Ricard, Taylors and Treasury Wine Estates.

Serendis Director Bianca Havas noted during the panel event that it was “wonderful to hear how proactively each of the panelists is embracing inclusion and what that means for their businesses”.

“It is becoming front and centre of what leadership is today and that’s what we’re trying to effect in the leadership landscape – that inclusion and diversity are not a side project, they are actually the foundation of successful leadership,” she said.

Benefits to virtual mentoring

During a break-out session prior to the panel discussion, mentees agreed that it was “amazing what everyone is getting out of the program despite the COVID-19 challenges”.

Mentor Katherine Johnstone (above) added there were benefits to meeting virtually as it was “so easy to get online and have a chat”, however she is looking forward to the group meeting in person when current COVID-19 restrictions lift.

She added: “COVID has been a great lesson in leadership. I’ve learnt you need to communicate really well, be authentic and listen to the people around you.

“If you stay true to yourself and understand that you may not have all the answers and it’s OK to admit that it will make you a better leader.

“We have had a number of large scale events to manage this year – hail storms in ACT, bushfires, COVID … things happen and it’s important that you talk it through with your team when they do.

“When you ask for help and you’re working through solutions together it actually builds a stronger team. It means they see that when things go wrong, that’s life. It’s how you work on it and come up with a solution proactively that matters.”

Inclusion leads to better outcomes

Havas said the Australian drinks industry had made huge progress over the past four years in the diversity and inclusion space.

“It’s no longer the cherry on top, it’s part of an in-built strategy around consciously realising it’s better for business,” she said.

Vergara (above) agreed: “You realise that when you have a business problem or situation, the diversity of opinions and experiences actually leads to better solutions, so you actually seek that diversity because you know it’s better for the business.

“The more you spend time at the beginning of any given problem really listening to the diverse opinions or approaches to solving it, will save time, money and resources in the long run. There’s a paradigm that that’s too much work, but it’s so much easier once you start getting into the discipline of doing it.”

Culligan (above) suggested: “Look at the routines you have each month and how you are creating space in the agenda for getting diversity of thought. Actively, consciously check yourself that you’re being inclusive and listening and getting feedback from others.”

Leadership is a learning experience

The panelists concurred that it was important to keep learning during your leadership journey.

Nutt (above) said: “I read a lot of articles and listen to podcasts. I like to hear views that are different from mine because they might actually alter my view and help me evolve as a leader. It’s important to find that thinking time, which can be quite challenging as a leader.”

Culligan agreed: “I get a huge amount of energy from other people, so I find the time to connect with people who are really going to challenge me with different perspectives. ”

Johnstone said it was valuable to have a mentor at all career stages.

“I still have a mentor and I think it’s a great way of challenging yourself,” she said. “The mentor piece is really important.”

“Always work on having self-awareness,” Vergara added. “It all starts with knowing what your strengths are and being conscious of your impact on others. The journey of knowing oneself is one of the most important elements of the leadership journey.”

Havas noted that developing awareness of how your motivations, drivers and thought patterns may be interpreted and impact on others “can be quite powerful”.

“There are a growing number of leaders in this sector who understand how to motivate and empower their teams and are open to seeking feedback on their own leadership,” she said.

“If you’re not consciously including, you’re most likely unconsciously excluding,” she said. “I’m hearing the shift in so many organisations towards that conscious effort to understand and role model inclusive behaviours.

“As it becomes more front and centre of our businesses, I hope you’ll begin to see the impact and return on investment.”