Pernod Ricard CEO Ann Mukherjee has revealed how COVID-19 has given her valuable insights into effective leadership.
Mukherjee became chairman and chief executive of Pernod Ricard USA in December. She was born in India, raised in the US and currently lives in Dallas, Texas. Texas has been one of the hardest hit states by the pandemic.
“One of the things I did right that I feel really good about is I overcommunicated with my leadership, I overcommunicated with my employees, I overcommunicated with our distributor partners,” Mukherjee told the Wall Street Journal. “And in that over-communication, I think we got to better actions.”
However, Mukherjee said she didn’t fully realise the impact COVID-19, coupled with the Black Lives Matter protests, was having on her team.
“When the pandemic happened, we took it as a two- or three-month hiatus. Bars had shut down, so we had people that we thought we could use to start thinking about new ways of doing things, create transformation projects,” she explained.
Getting staff to rethink how the company would service restaurants around the country post-COVID-19 turned out to be difficult when they were in the middle of a crisis.
“That was remapping across all 50 states,” Mukherjee said. “So this was a pretty major undertaking. We thought now is the time to do it, and we’re going to come out stronger. And it nearly killed them.”
Mukherjee had a lightbulb moment when she realised that she was driving her team too hard.
“All of a sudden, I started getting phone calls where people were like, ‘Ann, I can’t deliver this’, or ‘Ann, I need two weeks for this’ or ‘I need an extension here’. For a two-day period, I went on a listening tour. I started calling people.
“The amount of people that started breaking down in front of me … People felt like they were in a war zone, and all of a sudden, it just started clicking together about what they were trying to deal with personally, and here we are shifting all these priorities on top of it, and that was the moment that I said, ‘We need to stop’.”
She also admitted to experiencing mental fatigue herself.
“When Black Lives Matter happened, I was struggling to concentrate. My children – we’re people of colour. We’re brown. My children were facing some very difficult things in their own school. So I was having a really hard time. I was so disturbed by what was happening, and I admitted that to my employees. I said, ‘If I’m having difficulty concentrating, you must be, too’.”
Pernod Ricard CEO: beyond the boycott
Pernod Ricard USA recently announced it would pause advertising across all social media channels for the month of July due to hate speech concerns.
Pernod Ricard CEO Mukherjee explained on LinkedIn: “Movements like #StopHateForProfit are demonstrating that brands and consumers want social media platforms to take more urgent action.
“But my big question has been: What happens August 1? We need more action and more people working to find more solutions. Companies like ours can and should play a bigger role in problem-solving than just withholding advertising dollars. We can create tools that make it easier for consumers’ voices to be heard when they see hate speech spreading online.
“And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Pernod Ricard USA announced its plan to create a crowdsourcing app that gives consumers and those affected by hate speech on social media the power to identify and report content they find objectionable directly to brands and companies. Brands can then leverage their influence with social media platforms to help ensure the content is reviewed and removed, if warranted. The app will be an additional resource for individuals, brands and social media platforms to use in the fight to stop hate speech online.
“This is a work in progress and will be developed in collaboration with technology partners,” Mukerjee said. “We are hoping to launch as soon as possible, aiming for mid-summer.
“I invite US and global organisations representing other advertisers, media and social platform companies, as well all brands, big and small, to join us. Let’s work together to go #BeyondTheBoycott and stop hate speech on social media, bringing more transparency to our world, and ultimately creating an internet that is safe for all.”