Sue Clark, Independent NED at Britvic plc (also Chair Renumeration Committee), Imperial Brands plc (also SID and Chair Renumeration Committee), Akzo Nobel NV & Bakkavor Group plc.
What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
I chair two renumeration committees and whilst always challenging, against the back drop of Covid, they are particularly so. You are trying to manage the interests of different stakeholders and the executive team.
Shareholders have seen returns drop, however executives have been working harder than ever, needing to be more agile, but often with LTIPs and bonuses not being realised, as targets have not been met due to the pandemic. It is about balancing all stakeholders in a way which is fair. That is what I have been working on this week.
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
The big thing for me is Consumer behaviour. All of my businesses are consumer facing to a greater or lesser extent and it is difficult to tell if the current behavioural changes we are seeing are obvious consequences of lockdowns or the start of something more fundamental. Post lockdown, will we see a rebound or will behaviours be different especially around Christmas?
For consumer businesses, planning supply chains for Christmas is always challenging but it is almost impossible now. If the rule of six remains in place, do we need so many family packs or will they remain on the shelf? What is appropriate for this Christmas occasion and what will the occasion be? Will consumers ‘treat’ themselves or be very depressed? In the longer term, will these be enduring shifts in consumer behaviour?
In retrospect what would you have done differently in the first lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for the current and any future lockdown (local or national)?
During the first lockdown, I spent way too much time glued to my screen and I had real FOMO! I didn’t want to miss any insights or any information on how people were responding. I did not give myself enough thinking time and so therefore, I have become more ‘choicefull’ and more disciplined this time around. Many of my boards are international and it is not unusual for a meeting to start at lunchtime here and go on into the evening. I have learnt not to burn the candle at both ends.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
Yes and I think the consumer will drive that. Look at the increase in online shopping, ordering takeaways or food delivery during the pandemic. Business will have to respond by being digitised at all levels. It’s an acceleration of trends we were already seeing exacerbated by the tough times we are in and the need to increase productivity and become more agile. But fundamentally it is the consumer who will call it.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
I think it is too early to say. Everyone is in a different place. I don’t think it will return to what it was before but I don’t think the office is dead. The key thing for business is to bring together multi-disciplinary teams to plan the return to the office, different functions, different levels and different age groups and look at this holistically. What it cannot be – is a top down decision.
There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
All of the businesses I am involved with have very comprehensive plans to drive down carbon emissions and there may be further upsides going forward from post pandemic learnings e.g. rationalisation of travel. But what’s more important is, what will the government do in terms of incentivising further shifts? Business is doing a lot and now the government needs to encourage a “green based” recovery.
What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown periods going forward?
Definitely being more ‘choicefull’ going forward and managing my diary more tightly. I am really looking forward to seeing people in person again but I will consider more actively if and when this is necessary. I have found that without the travel I have more space for thinking and reading – there is a lot of reading to do as a NED! Being more disciplined about making quality time for reading is something I will take forward, as it makes a big difference.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
I recently had a couple of days with Imperial Brands and I have been very inspired by the new team there led by Stefan Bomhard. They are looking at the business from the bottom up and how to accelerate the rebuild of it away from a combustibles only business to one with next generation nicotine products. They have come with vigour and are bringing a new sense of purpose focussed on shareholder value as well as giving the consumer a better product.
Did you manage a holiday this year and if so where / how did you spend it and what are your plans for Christmas?
Yes! We went to Turkey as a family. We decided to take the risk and it was fabulous. Lots of tennis and water sports. It was great to do something normal. Christmas – I don’t know. Hopefully there will be lots of family time. I am mindful that different generations have been affected in different ways. My parents have been confined to their house for much of this and my daughter has just started a graduate job at an FMCG company and is yet to spend time with colleagues in the office.
Covid has also been polarising in that some of my family have been unaffected economically and others have businesses that have been devastated. Rules allowing, I want to reach out to the whole family and bring them together for a celebration.
Any words of wisdom?
It won’t be like this forever. Things always change. When you are at the darkest point, it can only get brighter.