Students' engagement impresses at Pernod Ricard
Con Constandis, managing director of Pernod Ricard Asia Travel Retail, is clear about the key lessons learned by the three students who tailed him for three days last month on the Shadow a CEO programme. "They realised that in today's complex business world, a CEO's life is not about ruling and taking charge on all matters, but about building a team that can do that," he explains. "It's about walking the talk and leading from the front. The goal is to achieve more, not to do more.
"I know they picked up on the power and the importance of leadership, and the power and importance of a company culture, because that was what they wrote about in their letters back to me."
To give these insights, Constandis and his team had a busy and varied itinerary planned for Alvin Cheung Ho-ching (Chinese University), Kellie Chow Ngo-ting (City University) and Zak Zhang Ankai (the University of Hong Kong).
"Day one was all about orientation," Constandis says. "It started with an executive meet-and-greet - a quick cup of coffee with my entire management team. I then spent two hours giving them a full briefing on the business, and what I am about and what I believe in, in terms of leadership and the role of the CEO."
The trio then went off to see various parts of the operation, before returning for a sales meeting and a debriefing with Constandis.
The second day saw them spend a full day off-site with Constandis, on Lantau on an organic farm.
"We were planting and replanting trees destroyed by fires, gardening, scraping buildings for repainting, and building retaining walls," he says. "This was part of our annual corporate social responsibility agenda. Twice a year, I take the entire organisation and we get involved in a community cause that also reinforces our team values - humility, teamwork and staying grounded."
The third day was spent in a more traditional business environment - the monthly executive management meeting. They were there for all but the one-hour confidential financial reviews.
"At the end of the day, we had a closing graduation ceremony and a reception with all the Hong Kong-based teams there," Constandis says. "Our chairman for Asia even came down."
Even though they spent so much time with Constandis, some of what he manages to achieve in a day, with little fuss or drama, only became apparent to the students during their debriefing with him. "I took them through the half hour I was away from them and the 10 minutes I was looking at my email, and I told them about the five different levels of activity that I went through that day.
"Reputational protection was one of them. We were dragged into three near-crisis management issues that day and these had to be addressed.
"As I took them through all that, they began to realise the difference between what you as a CEO physically do, versus what you actually influence and achieve in a day. But if you manage your time, and you delegate power and get involved at the right levels, then you can actually influence and achieve a whole lot."
Conversely, there were some things Constandis discovered about his three "shadows" that he had not expected. "I was extremely surprised at how comfortable they were with senior executives. There was a level of maturity that surprised me, as they're 22, 23 years old. The second thing I was really, really surprised with was how serious they were. Their level of interest and engagement was strong - they were really listening and paying attention."
The students wrote to Constandis following their three-day stint to thank him and explain what they particularly valued about the experience. "It wasn't so much learning about Pernod Ricard, it was the fact that I took them under my wing, I discussed things with them, I had the briefing sessions with them, and I'd go over to them in the middle of my board meeting to explain why we were talking about something."
But the process was not just one-way. "They were very good for me in terms of reminding me how I lead, what's imporant to me and how I get things done."