05 May 2021

5 lessons in resilience from the Walpole Power List

Business leaders share the lessons that have helped them navigate work and life in the pandemic.

We’re fortunate to be connected with countless inspirational business leaders through the Investec network. Our strong relationships mean we can continually learn from each other – and this has become more important than ever during the pandemic.

One of these partners is Walpole, the sector body for the UK’s luxury brands. Investec supports a number of Walpole initiatives, including the Walpole Power List, which recognises the most influential people in British luxury.

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, we asked the celebrated leaders behind brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Johnstons of Elgin, Sybarite and Carrier to share the tips that have boosted their resilience this year.

1. Find meaning in what you do

For Kristina Blahnik, CEO of luxury footwear brand Manolo Blahnik, finding meaning in her day-to-day life has been crucial. “You need to draw into yourself and your values – both as an individual and as a business community – to refine what fills you with purpose,” she says.

Blahnik ensures her work is values-driven and under her leadership, Manolo Blahnik has a long-standing partnership with Mental Health UK.

“I believe businesses have a responsibility to have a positive impact on our planet in every way,” she says. “At Manolo Blahnik we focus on well-being and currently we are looking at how we can further support the inevitable mental health issues surrounding Covid-19, in particular PTSD effects on front line workers.”

Simon Mitchell, co-founder of architectural studio Sybarite, also cites passion as the key to perseverance.

“The first retail store that moved me at the start of my career was the Katherine Hamnett store on Sloane Street in the late 1980s,” Mitchell comments. “I stood outside it and peered through the window at the fish tanks and felt utterly compelled to enter and explore it. In that instant, my mind was made up – this is what I felt most passionate about and it excites me in the same way all these years later.”

Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik
Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik

You need to draw into yourself and your values - both as an individual and as a business community - to refine what fills you with purpose.

2. Always work together

Johnstons of Elgin CEO Simon Cotton sees community and collaboration as the antidote to hardship.

 

Over the years, the company he now leads has survived two world wars, three floods and one large fire. “In each case, community spirit has meant that all hands have been very quickly to the pump,” he says. “My biggest concern throughout the pandemic has been maintaining the very special relationship we have with our teams.”

Like many other CEOs, Cotton has combined regular site visits with use of video conferencing technology to keep in touch with the business.

My biggest concern throughout the pandemic has been maintaining the very special relationship we have with our teams.

“Our senior team now meets daily across sites during periods of rapid change and twice a week when things are steadier. Our collection development for Spring/Summer 21 was entirely conducted digitally over segmented zoom sessions. These new ways of working are now adopted into our core practices, resulting in greater collaboration and shared ownership.”

3. Set yourself new challenges

“Resilience is about thinking out of the box,” says Mitchell. “The biggest opportunity is being forced to think about things in an unconventional way. Challenges can often bring the best and most well thought-through results as far as architecture, design and strategy are concerned and enforce a reframing of ideas.”

For Blahnik, too, crisis creates a moment to recalibrate. “One of the greatest opportunities has been to look at everything personally and professionally through a new lens,” she says. “It has sharpened our agility and created a huge amount of innovation.

4. Do the right thing

Faced with a culture of cancellations in the travel sector amid the pandemic, Carrier Managing Director Mark Duguid ensured that terms and conditions were applied flexibly for clients who could no longer travel.

For him, demonstrating compassion is vital in times of difficulty. “Brands which have succeeded are perceived as human, and have engaged with clients in a human way,” he says. “Put simply, Carrier did the right thing by its customers and travel agent partners.

Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik
Simon Cotton, CEO of Johnstons of Elgin

You need to draw into yourself and your values - both as an individual and as a business community - to refine what fills you with purpose.

5. Prepare for the future – but take your time

With pandemic restrictions easing, it’s natural to plan ahead. But Blahnik values the long game.

The decisions we make are not ‘five-year’ plans, at Manolo Blahnik we are looking at a 500-year plan. Our direction does not come from an immediate need to fulfil a demand.

“I witness so many companies today who chase short-term success resulting in their foundations become wide and thin, with no longevity. The decisions we make are not ‘five-year’ plans, at Manolo Blahnik we are looking at a 500-year plan. Our direction does not come from an immediate need to fulfil a demand.”

After all, progress needs to be sustainable – both professionally and personally. “When we find ourselves in an extended period of uncertainty, it is our MO to work harder and hone our strategy and working practices,” says Mitchell. “In times of crisis, one would automatically cut back, but wellbeing is not a compromise we should take.”

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