What the Managing Director of a global FMCG brand has learned about working from home during COVID-19

16 Jun 2020

What the Managing Director of a global FMCG brand has learned about working from home during COVID-19

As the world adjusts to the new normal, what additional leadership pressures are faced by Jan Pieter Schretlen, Managing Director of global leader in branded protein snacks, Jack Link’s?

What does your work situation look like during this pandemic?

I literally sit in my office every day. I didn't work from home, even for a single day. The office has always been open, consciously, in the Amsterdam Houthavens. We consciously did this to give people the opportunity to come to the office if they wish, under certain conditions, of course. And at the same time, it sends a strong signal that the business keeps on going.

What type of insights has this COVID-19 situation given you?

A term that we have been using for almost three years now is V-U-C-A. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The Coronavirus pandemic is an extreme confirmation of the VUCA world in which we live. That means that, as a CEO, as every individual within the company, as a team, as a collective, you have to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity and that complexity. We no longer have all the answers.

The pursuit of certainty by having all the answers to all questions is something of the past”

So that means that my management team and I develop the capability throughout the company to deal with that uncertainty, to be able to plan, to drive a certain strategic agenda and remain calm, even when an unexpected Black Swan like the Coronavirus pandemic occurs.

We need to be confident in each other, stay close to one other, keep looking out for each other and stay agile as one cross functionally aligned team. That awareness has become much clearer, more visible and stronger during COVID-19.

What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?

I really liked how we adjusted so fast as a company, and that is because of our people. All of us switched to working from home with the exception of myself and one other person,

That went flawlessly within a few days, without fits and starts, and it confirmed that our people can handle a lot of change. I think that is really impressive.

What I find very difficult is that as the person with final responsibility, I have to think about what the future will look like, what choices we make on the basis of a certain situation and what to ultimately go for in this VUCA world. That is not very easy, because you often have to do it alone. Certainly in the almost 100% virtual world of today, the chance to have conversations and visit each other to talk in person is so much less.

A lot of thought has gone into what this means for us as a company"

And these are not easy questions. This is also a lonely process to a certain degree.

In the end, you consider a number of strategies and (financial) scenarios. We are a company that supplies to different market segments and it became evident very fast that this pandemic could last a long time, since there will probably be no vaccine nor herd immunity within a year or a year and a half.

And if you accept that, it means that consumers will behave differently, because of that virus and the 1.5 meter society. For example: People no longer go to multiple supermarkets or multiple stores to do their shopping, but opt increasingly for one store. That visit will also be less emotional and impulsive, but more functional.

Consumption is also shifting as a result. There are fewer trips to the restaurant, to the petrol station, to high traffic on-the-go locations like train stations, all places where our branded products are sold. However, there are more visits to the supermarket channel for in-home consumption.

The upcoming recession means higher unemployment figures, which means more cost- conscious consumers. The discounters and the value channel, as we call it, will accelerate. E-commerce will also grow, because people no longer want to go to shops. They want to do contactless shopping.

These are all changes that we have seen and tackled early and are translating into appropriate solutions for our customers across Europe.

What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?

Look for the dialogue with others, stay connected with others. That can be on many different levels. I have a lot of conversations with my leadership team, with my coach, with my board and with fellow CEOs.

We have a network group that includes people with a similar role to me, we talk and already had a few calls to just share our experiences. That helps enormously. You must obviously also talk to your own people too, be visible, be open to questions in a much more conscious way than you might have been, more than ever before, addressing all stakeholders.

Thank you, Jan Pieter Schretlen, for your insights today.