On the Talent Front Line: COVID-19 and the Consumer Industry

Adversity is a true test of exceptional leadership, says Caitlin Kenefick of search firm Herbert Mines Associates in a new thought piece. Now is the time for great leaders to come to the fore, she says. Communication, especially speaking with clarity and consistency, is vital in these uncertain times.

April 14, 2020 – Herbert Mines Associates is a veteran search firm serving retail and consumer clients, and that expertise is giving them a unique vantage point in seeing the impact that COVID-19 is having across a wide range of industries, including: grocery; home, apparel and other retail; restaurants, hotels and other hospitality; digital pureplay; fitness and other consumer services; and consumer package goods and beauty.

“First and most importantly, we hope this finds you safe and healthy,” said Caitlin Kenefick, vice president at Herbert Mines Associates. She has drafted a new thought piece on COVID-19 and its effects on the consumer industry. “It goes without saying that we are living in unprecedented times, and many of us have never experienced something that is having such a profound effect on every facet of our lives.”

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She says that over the past few weeks, “we’ve been asked by our clients and candidates alike, ‘What is everyone else doing?’ While each organization has a different approach and leaders are making independent decisions in the best interest of their company, we wanted to share some high-level themes we have been seeing over the past few weeks.”

Leadership = Communication 

“Great leadership is needed now more than ever, and we believe that adversity is a true test of exceptional leadership,” said Ms. Kenefick. “Specific to this time, what we are seeing from great leaders is communication. Given how much is unknown and uncertain, great leaders are communicating ‘early and often’ to their corporate and field teams and to their customers. In the absence of communication people will often create their own narratives.”

Related: Wilton & Bain CEO Reflects on Deeper Meaning of COVID-19

“As a leader, this is a time to speak with clarity and consistency to your internal and external constituents,” she said. “State the facts and find a way to authentically connect to your audience. It’s also important to recognize that leadership does not solely come from the CEO – this is a tremendous learning opportunity and a chance for anyone to demonstrate leadership acumen, whether you lead a team of 10 or 10,000.”

Enhancing E-Commerce

“As non-essential stores have closed across the country, we are seeing organizations quickly shift to prioritizing their E-commerce strategy,” Ms. Kenefick said. “Great E-commerce leaders, especially in the last decade, have become increasingly in demand.”

Caitlin Kenefick is a vice president at Herbert Mines Associates focusing on high-level search assignments for clients within the retail and consumer products industries. She brings a particular focus on merchandising and marketing functions within the vertical specialty and beauty sectors. Ms. Kenefick has worked extensively with public, private, and private-equity backed clients to identify and assess top functional talent.

“Now more than ever is the time for excellence in E-commerce,” she said. “More specifically, as organizations shift to having E-commerce as their lead revenue channel, Ecommerce leaders are collaborating with their cross-functional peersmore than ever, specifically in IT, marketing, merchandising and supply chain, to create consistency and efficiency. E-commerce leaders are also using this time to bolster capabilities, with many investing in additional technology, adding support to their teams or adding new enhancements – if there was ever a time for the ‘E-commerce ask’ that time is now. Finally, E-commerce leaders are getting creative, whether it is through promotional deals on products and shipping, pre-launching capsules or virtually sharing content; this is a great time to test and learn.”

Strategic Human Resources

Human resources executives are on the front line during this crisis. “This is the time for HR to truly serve as a strategic partner to the CEO, the senior leadership team and the organization at large,” said Ms. Kenefick. “During our conversations with a variety of HR leaders, we are seeing that every functional facet of HR is being put to the test. HR leaders are driving decisions regarding compensation and benefits, making the difficult decisions on layoffs, establishing and communicating general HR policies, and upholding the overall firm’s culture and employee engagement.”

“The human resources function has undergone a dramatic evolution in the past several years and current events have accelerated the need for human resources to be a strategic, thoughtful and proactive partner,” she said.

Time for Creativity & Risk Taking 

“We’ve heard from several of our clients that this circumstance allows for many companies to take risks and employ creative thinking around business solutions,” said Ms. Kenefick. “Whether it is accelerating new product launches, testing new categories of business, shifting to E-commerce or trying out virtual/live communication, knowing that sales will be down this year has given organizations the freedom to innovate for the future.”

Customer & Employee Engagement 

“While most people are sheltering in place, astute organizations are thinking about how to continue engagement with their customers, clients and internal constituents despite the lack of face-to-face interaction,” Ms. Kenefick said. “Innovative companies are strategically using technology to enable virtual contact, produce relevant content and create online communities that allow people to stay connected and engaged, despite being physically apart.”

Ms. Kenefick said that we are “all being challenged by the magnitude of these circumstances and we recognize that the retail, hospitality, consumer services and consumer products industries may be witness to the most profound effects of this virus. That being said, this is a time for great leadership to emerge and a potential opportunity to enhance communication, capabilities and connectivity at every level of the organization.” At the risk of being cliché, as Herb Brooks said, “Great moments are born from great opportunity” and we believe that this time can be used to create positive opportunities for our companies, our people and ourselves.”

Related: Managing Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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