28 Apr 2020
What a national food retail CEO has learnt about working from home during COVID-19
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In our third interview with a CEO at home, we talk to John van der Ent, CEO of food retailer Spar, about his leadership challenges during this global pandemic.
What does your work situation look like during COVID-19
We belong to the vital supply chain, as it is called. So half of our people just have to keep working. They are in our distribution centres, they are our drivers, and all our people in the stores.
We have divided up our senior management duties. We have set up a replacement schedule, ensuring there is always one member of the board present at the head office in Waalwijk.
“Those who should replace each other in illness, will never see each other in person during the lock down period”
I am in the office for two, sometimes three days per week. We also have an export company in Alkmaar, so I am there from time to time, as well. Furthermore, I am at the SPAR International in Amsterdam occasionally, visit the stores regularly and have a home office where I am now.
What type of insights has this COVID-19 situation given to you?
This is my third major crisis. Even though it is a global crisis, we are all in it together now.
A lot can change because of it. Even if you are a very large company, many companies or agencies you work with may not make it through.
What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?
I find the DNA of SPAR to be incredibly beautiful. Our acronym actually translates into ’Through Unity and Cooperation All Benefit Regularly’.
Our turning to digital has thus worked very well. Furthermore, the solidarity that exists between the suppliers and SPAR is very valuable too.
What I find difficult, is to keep in touch with the entire organisation. I miss the personal contact and just walking by someone’s desk. Now, that has to be done by phone. That is special for someone who has been in retail for more than 30 years.
We do everything we can, like a nice surprise for our employees and suppliers. Every week we send out an uplifting message to all people in the holding.
“Also, I vlog once every ten days. We want to keep people informed”
At the same time, as management, we participate digitally in a lot of innovation projects, because that continues.
What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?
Every crisis comes to an end. At least, that's what I've been through in my life.
“And there is always something better that comes out.”
It definitely applies to retail, that adaptability, Darwin’s law.
Also, keep your team flexible for the future, stay flexible yourself, dare to make decisions and keep the pace up in your organisation.
Thank you, John van der Ent, for your insights today.