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Simon Durrant Campari Australia; leadership

Navigating leadership through the COVID-19 storm

April 23, 2020
By Ioni Doherty

In the five weeks since this new normal forced itself into our lives, leadership teams in the drinks industry have been working tirelessly in damage control mode, carefully managing anxiety and fear around the unknown – often with no answers themselves – and staying connected with their teams.

Presently, they are counting the costs and contemplating what working life might look like when the storm has passed.

So, how does one lead in a time of crisis like this?

“A huge part of leadership is being visible,” says Simon Durrant, Managing Director of Campari Australia. “In the office, people respond to you and your mood. The challenge now is staying visible and connected and for me, that means I spend around seventy per cent of my day in video conferences.”

It’s a technology in which we have all rapidly become conversant.

“Once you get through the challenge of it, and recognise it as a new normal, you become conscious of the way you speak, of carefully framing the messages you are delivering,” he said. “I am conscious of the way I present myself and my tone, but my leadership style remains the same, even though I am not physically present.”

Video conferencing is without doubt the best way to reassure teams, to keep motivation up and productivity on the move.

“We are in constant communication and sharing as much information as possible,” says Simon. “There is an immediacy to what we are doing because conditions are changing so rapidly.”

“We still need to drive business, but the personal safety of our employees is our priority,” he says.

In March, like many businesses, Campari moved swiftly to ensure that its employees were equipped to work remotely and do their job. Employees from on-premise positions had to be re-deployed and the business continues to ensure teams stay connected and informed each day.

Many in Campari’s salesforce have opted to stay out on the road, even while spending a shorter time in the field. It suits the employees and Campari’s customers at a time when purpose, connection and conversation is so crucial.

Inclusivity and the wellbeing of its people is top of mind. For Simon, this includes ensuring that any vulnerable staff members are well cared for: “Team leaders keep the connections going with regular check-ins and virtual coffees and sandwiches. For anyone who is unwell, we keep particularly close to them and their family.”

Italian based CEO, Bob Kunze-Concewitz, distributes a podcast each week about Campari’s business in the time of COVID-19 with the safety of its people top of mind and Campari have now implemented a midday blockout zone for an hour and a half when employees are encouraged to switch off the computer, go for a walk and take a break. Alternatively, they may choose to do work without interruption from colleagues.

For the foreseeable future, it is, as Simon calls it, “Business as unusual.” But the storm will pass, and in time, we will be able to celebrate in person again.

“Nothing beats that,” he says.

Simon Durrant is Chair of the Drinks Association’s Embrace Difference Council.