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Agile leaders are weathering the storm

Written by David Milner on Wednesday, 15 June 2022. Posted in Insight, Analysis

On reflection the last three years has been, from hindsight, one of the most turbulent periods in my career.

Agile leaders are weathering the storm

On reflection the last three years has been, from hindsight, one of the most turbulent periods in my career. One major crisis segueing into another. In 2019, one of the greatest challenges was getting Brexit sorted. Find the way through new legislation, handle import/export changes and move forward in a new independent trading landscape. Then along came Covid. Unmatched to any previous commercial scenario. Those with businesses like us in the food sector selling products or ingredients were the lucky ones, not true for foodservice. Everyone needed to eat. It was a carousel of being in and out of lockdown, but the vaccine cavalry was slowly winning the war. Sunny uplands were in view. Then, suddenly, Russia invades Ukraine. Not to mention, the continued spectre of inflation and staffing challenges. 

A common saying is that a rising tide floats all boats. But to quote Warren Buffet, it’s when the tide goes out you see who’s been swimming naked. If ever senior managers need to earn their salaries, it is now. Almost anyone can run a good business when the tide is flowing in the right direction. But, we are presently in a violent whirlpool which is pulling businesses in numerous directions. Keeping afloat is proving incredibly challenging. Yet, being an agile leader and adopting different creative approaches can absolutely help businesses ride out this volatile time.

It is a fast-changing and unpredictable commercial environment. We are operating in the face of inflation and the fact is, businesses and consumers are pretty battered at present. We’ve all been holding on to the prospect that once the pandemic was under control we could look forward to a period of calm and prosperity. The horrors of Ukraine have changed all that and again we are fighting on all fronts to deliver commercial projections.

But now is not the time to hide. 

So, what should we do? We need to be agile, not just to be flexible with the immediate problems confronting businesses, but also to continue adapting to external factors and make decisions to ensure success in the years ahead. Only then can we hope to prosper. In my company, which is a premium international bakery business, I can’t pretend my decision to gamble on surging demand for our premium brioche brand and plan production for record levels of stock in 2022 was because I had a crystal ball and could foresee the latest crisis. I did it because I believe you need to be creative with your decisions and be prepared for what’s thrown at you. We are now set-up to deliver what I reckon will be a record year in both the US and UK.

Contrary to today’s circumstances, my reading of these unsettled times is that demand is holding strong. I think we are in for a summer led by powerful consumer demand. There is so much pent-up desire to be free, to enjoy ourselves, and that means more parties, picnics, and hopefully the desire to consume premium brioche! This year people will want to let off steam, enjoy their first free summer for two years, and indulge in affordable luxuries!

I well recall in the global financial crisis of 2008 during that period of recession, I was approached in 2010 to run Tyrrells Crisps, and despite pressure on household budgets, I was confident premium food brands would still prosper. 

In business today the need to be tough in spirit and action has never been more essential. Leadership will out.

About the Author

David Milner

David Milner

David Milner, CEO, St Pierre Groupe David is one of the UK’s best-known leaders of industry and over the past 20 years, has worked as Chairman and CEO at companies including Youngs, Tyrrells, Lily’s Kitchen and St Pierre Groupe, to name a few. Now CEO of St Pierre, an international market leader in the bakery sector delivering world class bakery products, David has strengthen its international strategy and in a time of mass uncertainty, and through bold strategy, has made it the biggest brioche brand in both the UK and USA.

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