The Leaders by Ivey
The Leaders by Ivey

Episode · 2 years ago

Nourishing your people with good culture

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Learn how “eating together” became a cultural cornerstone of Canada’s largest food and drug retailer. Richard Dufresne, MBA ’92, President and CFO George Weston Limited, talks about over-communication, why people are a company’s most important asset and the stress of managing during a pandemic.

Insights and wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the leaders by Ivy podcast, where we discover hidden narratives and unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Hi, I'm Matt Quinn. Welcome to the final episode of the season of the leaders by Ivy podcast. Today we welcome Richard Dufrayn, NBA Ninety two. He's the president and Chief Financial Officer of George Weston Limited. We dive into topics like authenticity, culture in the impact of the coronavirus on frontline workers and customers alike. I know you're going to like this podcast. Enjoy so, Richard, thank you very much for joining us today. Let's start by learning more about who you are, what you do and what's your relation to Ivy. Good. So I yeah, so my name is Richard Dufrayne. I'm an n be Grad from I V. I graduated in ninety two. So what I do now? I'm I'm the president of a company called George Weston Limited. George Weston Limited, essentially, people will know US better by the businesses that we own. We own three large businesses that touch the lives of many Canadians. The biggest one of which is law blast, and so we have Blah Blahs, shopper drug mart that people know well. We also not own a large real estate business called choice properties, which came about as as from the real estate that law blaw owned that we spun off probably eight years ago. And our other business is a bakery business, where one of the largest bakers in North America. So so fresh bread, that donuts, cookies. We're all in these businesses. So so, yeah, that's what I do. Interesting in your role you get to see many different types of businesses working and operating the at the best of times and then also as we go through the challenges that we seen over the last number of months. Could you speak to given your position and the size of your organization, what's the most significant challenge you faced in the past few months and how did you respond to that? Yeah, I think I think most of the people who've been speaking with over last few months probably all have the same answer us to the biggest challenge, challenge they face. Then it's been. It's been this pandemic like, as I mentioned, the fact that we own three businesses that touch the lives of most Canadians really drove what we've been doing and the issues we faced over over the last, I guess, six months now. And if I were to sort of summarize it by business, if I were to start with our food business, food retailing business, like initially, what happened is we had what we call to stop piling, like people were afraid that we would run out of food. So there was like a rush to two stores, and so we were struggling with operations just to keep our stores full, keep our warehouses fall because we had to replenish everything. And the focus was and remains on on safety of our colleagues and safety of our customers. And and I was not easy, like, like people were tired, like working long hours, and that at first, like the relationship with customers wasn't great because we didn't have any PPE at the time, like it was very tough to procure masks and gloves, and so it created a very, very difficult environment. But, like, by being focused on on safety, like, we reached good balance and fortunately, this thought piling portion...

...of that business, for that business lasted probably about the month or six weeks. On our drug retail side, if you do, if you as you know, shoppers drug mark like they were essentially no more doctor visits, and so therefore like people to get the treatment or get their medication. What how did would they do that? So there was a big push for telling medicine. But tell him me. The sin started to grow really rapidly and and that we are active in such businesses, and so that helped a bit. But we saw a dramatic drop in in prescription sales because just people could not renew, renew, renew their prescriptions. And on the cut and shoppers are a big cosmetic business and, as you can imagine, people didn't care much about how they looked for the first a few months. So that business would also significantly affected. Or real estate business was very different, like. The challenge that they faced is that businesses were failing, people were not paying rent and they didn't know whether their business would be able to reopen. At first we didn't know along this this pandemic would last. So people some initially set. People says, is going to last a few weeks so like, and but then when people started to figure out that they would last longer, like, we saw a lot of people who couldn't afford to pay rent. So that's been an issue that that business has faced and that we still face as of today. And finally, Bakery. was that quite interesting because every category is reacted differently. As as you could expect, fresh bread, because of people stockpiling, grew rapidly. So people were just consuming more fresh brand. But everything that was related to celebration, like cakes and pies, you we saw like these business grind to a halt and every businesses that was related to like what we call quick service restaurants and dine in restaurants also fell rapidly because those those were all closed. So so that created all sorts of issues and and managing through that been been interesting. And but I'd say the other pieces to run all these business we've got support function, head offices for each of our businesses. And how do you keep how to keep the business working like we're doing this podcast, that we're not together, we're all in our homes or in our offices, and so we've learned to work remotely and and while technology has been really good in helping US transition, it's not easy. So there's a bunch of issues which I'm sure will be pulling on later, but that's been definitely a key a key challenge that we faced and we continue to face the day. That's probably the biggest one that we're still facing now. One of the things we talked about before recording here today is some of the podcast that you listen to and why you like them. You brought up a number of them that talk about, you know, the personal impact or the personal side of it. I'm really interested if you are open to talking about this. Your company is so large, with so many different moving pieces. How did you, as a leader, get your head around that in a time of so much rapid change? How did you manage that for from, you know, your personal perspective and your and your role overseeing so much? That's probably the biggest learning from my perspective since this crisis started, and it's a theme that I keep emphasizing with everyone within the organization, and it's it's over communication because, as you can expect, when you're managing such a large business that spread all across the country and even then to true North America, you need to stay in contact with people and everybody who's not working in a plant or the stores working from home. So you had to define ways to stay in contact. So so there was a process I was doing before the pandemic that I've intensified and I call those let's talk sessions. and to me...

...and let's talk session is is I I convene ten, fifteen people in inner room and people coming from all over the organization and and we have no agenda and we talked for an hour ninety minutes about whatever people want to talk about. And I've been doing this, these sessions, for years now and it's for me. It's always been a good way to get a pulse of what's going on in the business, because I talked to any everyone. And so I remember the Monday after we did the shutdown, my assistant called me up and she said returned, you have a let's talk session lined up Wednesday. I'm going to cancel it. I said no, actually, let's not cancel it. Act and I said actually, like I want you to double the number of sessions. I want to have two sessions per week and we're just going to keep those going. And so at first we were doing them by conference called and then when we learn how to play with video, we added videos. But these as these have been amazing because I've been in contact with the business, conveying what's going on in the business employees so that they can convey it to their colleagues and and I find that that's a really good way to stay connected, because if you don't do that, like email or like formal ways to communicate, there not working well. And so so that has been something that I thought was very powerful and useful in managing the business and I can feel that people really like it. So do you think you'll keep this doubled volume even if things go back to a relative normal whatever? That looks like. Good question. Good question. Probably not twice a week, but at least once a week. And and because video video was is such now that it allows you to reach out to people that are far away, and I don't think that's going to go away. I think you're going to be able to keep doing that like a sometimes we try to get people to come to talk to us about stuff and it's actually easier to get outside speakers to come and talk to us about what's going on in their business. And because it's just a video called like, you just need to convince them to get on a call and like take an hour day their day and it works. So we had this woman who works in Beijing. She runs an executive recruitment firm in Beijing and she talked to us about a month ago about her life there and like wow, like it was so interesting. So so that's a that's an advantage, I guess, of learning to use these tools. But like, to me, over, communication is something that has worked really well for for us. Sounds like such a huge lesson and something like. Like you said, it's involving people from all across the organization. When you look back, is there anything that you wish you would have done differently, either with these let's talk sessions or just in general with your with your communications or managing the business? Not really actually was thinking about that question and no, because I think what I was fearing is is that we would lose on culture and I it'll a concern I have because of our the size of our organization. And so so we've been working really hard at here, not only to like these let's talk sessions, are my own personal initiative, but like been working really hard with the teams to have like companywide events and because, like, as you know, where when the food business and one event that we really cherish every year is we call it our eat together event. Like we feel that eating togethers are really important thing in life, and so we apply it at work and the way we bring it to life in our businesses...

...is we actually organize events where we go and eat together with all our colleagues and so so here at head office every summer, like we we bring in food trucks and we all gather in an area and we go eat together and so much fun. So so. So that event was coming up and we said, like, will be able to do it, and so, like people on my team came up with the ideas and then I know that's cool and order some of our PC chef meals, will get them delivered to people's House and we'll cook them and eat together. So so we had an eat together session. I think we were, I don't know, a hundred fifty people, I guess on it. We had lunch together and then the team laid up this jeopardy game on video which I could not comprend how they made it work, but it was amazing. And so again we saw engagement really go up. These are things that companies big and small, can do and it's really speaks to culture and we've heard that as a recurring theme throughout the various discussions that we've had. What else is your organization doing to support and at bolster culture and reinforce that positive culture that you that you have in your organization? Yeah, culture is something that's very important to me. It's very important to our or whole organization because because of our because of our scale and and it's something that we spent a lot of time and resources over the years to build, especially like in light of when we when we completed the shoppers acquisitions, there were there were different cultures and and we thought it would be the right thing to have such an initiative, and it's been so successful that, like now we're perpetuating throughout our other organization and through how like we're pushing it down to stores and we're pushing it down to our bakeries, and it's quite powerful because I think it pushes some some very strong values that help us day today managing our businesses. Like one of these values is authenticity. Being able to have honest discussion with people about everything is very important, but being able to do it in with respect, and that's I think it's something that we've improved so much. Don like and and I feel that we were better as an organization because of this. We actually call this the blue culture. It's that we put a theme on it a few years ago and it's something that that probably help us do so well during the pandemic. But there are drawbacks, and the drawbacks is, I was looking at this that actually before getting on this podcast, that as of September, first add head office will have fifteen percent of employees who I have not set foot in this office, IE, who've been hired since March. So I've never met these people personally yet, like only met them through through video and and so we need we need to get back to the office, which is another big initiative that we're starting to work on and we're going to be doing it slowly, but but I think it's relatively easy to maintain a culture because you've been doing it with colleagues that you know and you know of them, but I think it's a little bit more difficult to build a culture with new employees who don't really know the organization because, like, you need more than programmed events on video to get to know someone. You need the impromptu meeting walking down the office or draving lunch. So so these things need to get going again so that we...

...can sort of keep keep the culture strong. And what did you do for those that you said how many? Do you say? Fifty percent haven't been in fif one far may fifteen. That's that's a huge amount of your team. What have you done to welcome those people, to make them feel a part of the organization that they've never set foot in yet? What have you've done in the last few months? But I guess it's the same theme, like, obviously the interview with more people, because they it's a three way to way. Think, like they need to decide to join us and we need to decide to hire them. So we just had to do more, so more of these video calls now that our protocol tour for return to office is now in place, or insisting that the final interviews need to be done facetoface. But this is new from two weeks ago. So, but before that, like, we've hired a lot of people and, as I was mentioning, and but like, and I think we're getting good talent to so. So to me it's the same thing. Like if you if you overcommunicate, make people feel comfortable, it'll it'll work and I think it's working for us. Now I want to hop back to something that you mentioned, which was the shoppers acquisition. Is there anything from that process, where you are blending two cultures a brand, brands obviously that are very, very wellknown? There any major learnings out of that when you sit back and look and go, wow, that was something that we did well or something that wow, I never expected that to happen. Yeah, yes, and again that was that was like six years ago now. So the key thing is having a process to share best practices and and it was very clear that shoppers had practices that were better than that laws and law blow had also better practices than shoppers. So creating a forum by which you can share those practices was quite important. And mostly it happened when we were funneling both teams together and and people were talking about their businesses and so so over the years, as we've learned about how shoppers was doing things and shoppers were learning about how we were doing things, we've both elevated our game, either in business processes, in like and like, or any other areas hr it. Like. So so so together I feel very strongly that both businesses are much better today than they were then because of the fact that we were able to work together. But I can tell you when we created this culture initiative it was an imperative that we did it because the cultures were very different. Like law blow was sort of the freight train that just keeps going. Okay, pomp and and shoppers was much more agile and so so how do you Mesh those cultures? So we had to do this blue culture initiative to to bring both cultures together, and but it's been, it's been a big, big, big success for us. Now you just in getting to know you a little bit on this call. You've mentioned you know we're one companies may be better than another and can learn from each other. It sounds like you're pretty open and authentic with your own personal style. How do you translate that to those that work for you? How do you encourage that openness and auticity other than just modeling it? No, it's that's a very good point. Like like this blue calturnish all, I'll always coming back to that. But like this blue culture innisative would not have worked if the top senior executives of the company did not believe in it, because I've seen it not. I've seen it fail at other organization. But I'm of the view that my job is to help others. That's...

...my job because, like, we're just the some of everybody that's in the organization. So how how can I help others? Is To be listening to them, to be understanding what their issues are and helping them manage their business, the business better, and so so. So I've always been a big believer in it, like I've got a big poster of Blue Culture in my office that I have it there because I want people when they walk in my office, they can see that I believe in it and and I think, I think I try to be very open with everybody when I have these letstock sessions. I had one two weeks ago with our summer students that were leaving, and I always say them the same thing, like they ask me questions about advice, phone carrier and all that stuff, and so I give them my thoughts, but I always say them as the same thing. At the end. I said, as you navigate through life or jobs or whatever, and you want to reach out to me, like just do reach out to me, like I'm more than happy to be helpful, whether you're with this organization or not. And then I add, by the way, I say this to every group of people I talked to, the percentage of people who take me up on it is actually quite low. So so I don't know, maybe people, people are too shy, but each time I say that I'll get two people who sort of send me are an email and say okay, like yeah, let's do this, and I think the time and I really like it, and and so. So I think I don't it's something that now I can sort of give to others because of what I've lived in my my career and but I think it's important because to me, the most important asset that we have in any businesses people and, you know, internal audiences. I want to take a slight different, slightly different paths and talk about the customers and the relationship with customers that you've got. You know, it's still early days. We're still getting things back open and people returning to what the new normal. They say. How do you feel that your relationship as an organization with the consumers and the customers may have changed during the pandemic? Yeah, I think it's gotten better. Obviously it's very tough to gage, but we have a we have all sorts of customer metrics that we follow, all sats and PS and the like, and we seen ups and down throughout the pandemic. But overall I think, I think, I think our relationship with customers is better and it was before, because we were quite open about what was going on Yale and was writing letters and sending emails to every Canadians about how things were going, how just just to keep people inform because people didn't know. Like a like it was created so much uncertainty for everybody. So again, being open and honest about what's going on and in Your Business and how we want to be, we want to be treating customers and treating colleague was so important. Like, we change the way grocery store works a lot since this pandemic, and each time that we made a big change we wanted to communicate it because for some customers they didn't really like it. Like now we have plexi shield in all our all our stores now for our lanes and and so at first people didn't really like that, but then okay, now we feel safe. And then when we did them first with that and just on one side, but like the consequence of that is that each lane has two sides because you actually walk behind. So then, Oh my God, we don't have one. So we had to close these lines. So so. So we learned a lot of stuff, like if you walk our stores now, you've got arrows on the floor to tell you how to direct traffics. With that, you don't need people's. All of these things, I feel made or customer feel safer and and I think today it's now...

...the way of life. Like if you go in our stores now, you'll see that everybody wears a mask, like it's sort of the thing and it's not normal. I don't know how each of you are managing your life now, but I've masks and my work bag, I've masked in my car, I've got mask at the front door and it's just part of life now. I just have them ask and when I go indoor in a store something, I've put it on. So so I think people have learned that and and feel good about it. And when I look at Canada in general, I think I think we're doing a decent Jama on this issue. Yeah, it's amazing how adaptable we are and to now we're used to those masks and the Plexi. Could you talk a little bit about the impact on the employees, because you just mentioned, you know, one example, the Plexi on one side and now Plexi on both sides of that frontline worker. You know, what were some of the things that you did to help frontline workers and help them adapt and how to mention communication, that's obviously one. Anything I'LL STAND OUT? Well, I guess like at first there was overwhelming for for calleagues because, like the amount of work that needed to be done just to keep a store open. Like we we've increased the sanitation processes in our stores, like to keep the store super clean, and those are still happening today. And so so the pressure that we put on our employees at first what was immense. So we put in we put in some pay premiums at first because because of the extra work, essentially, and and so, and we got really positive feedback from from from our colleagues on that program and and it worked well and I think if you look at if you talk to colleagues today, they're they quite and they're quite happy of what how we we tweeted them like to us, like colleagues and customers are the saying, like they need to be safe and it needs to be good for their health and their families health. So some themes across all the audiences that you've talked about, lots of communication. Engage, engage, engage as much as they can, authentic and open health and safety being paramount, doesn't matter what the audience make sure that that's the case. And I want to dive back to you personally as a leader. Do you have something that you want to share with our audience or ask our listeners to follow up on the ring? Or is whether it be an initiative, a cause or a problem that you're passionate about personally that you want our audience to check out? But to me, to me, it's the same thing I've been talking about and it's it's about people and actually, like, because this is IV I'm gonna I'm going to want to tell you a bit, little bit of an anecdote of my time and my MBA and ninety two. Like, if you know me, my background is very analytical, like I studied in math and like I'm very rational and and so I've always been attracted to to like chemistry, physics and math, so that those were subjects that I really liked when I was young, and I remember in my first year and MBA, we had a course call organizational behavior, thought by Jim Rush, and I was sitting, I think, second row at that time, and we had our little board and like we were in that class, which didn't really like because to me hr or organization behavior, that was not my thing. Like I love the finance classes and that's that's what I was really eager and I remember, like I was probably not really listening and Jim comes to me, Richard, okay, like you need to need to focus, that this is important, like and I looked at them, at him, and I sort of rolled my eyes, sort of saying you...

...know what, and then he looked at me. Since, Richard, it's the most important thing in business is people, and I didn't really believe it. But you know what, I don't know when this revelation came to me, but he was right. He was totally right because, as it's all about people and I think successful organizations do a great job with people. So that's your biggest asset, recruiting talent. And if I look at what I do today, like I spend a lot of my time on talent, just making sure we have the right people in the right place and recruiting good talent. And you can never get enough good talent and you can never like you need to care about your employees, need to respect your employees and you need to give them a rewarding tasks and and if you do that well, like your businesses will thrive. If I look at all the big strategic moves that we've done over the last like ten years, we couldn't have done it without the talent we have. And and so that, to me, is a theme I'm quite passionate about and and I push on that every day with with everybody in the organization. Many thanks to Richard for being with us on the season finale of the leaders by Ivy podcast. Thank you, our listeners, for joining us on this journey. We're really excited to bring you season two and the lineup looks fantastic. Join us in the fall to hear and learn from these amazing guests. Until then, take care,.

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