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Industry NewsCRISIS LEADERSHIP: In Their Own Words – Tony Chow, Kellogg Canada

CRISIS LEADERSHIP: In Their Own Words – Tony Chow, Kellogg Canada


Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures; grocery retailers and food manufacturers have implemented such measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. Grocers have modified their in-store practices and suppliers have changed manufacturing processes and their supply chains to address unprecedented demand. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories to Grocery Business’ readers.

Tony Chow, President, Kellogg Canada

 Crisis leadership initiatives

Our crisis leadership initiatives at Kellogg have been laser focused on three key areas throughout the pandemic:  keeping our employees safe, supplying food to the marketplace, and giving back to the communities in which we live and work. 

First and foremost, the health and safety of our employees continue to be our highest priority. We acted quickly to protect our employees, taking a global/regional/local crisis management approach. Prior to government direction, we immediately closed our Canadian head office and asked employees to work remotely, removed our sales teams from stores, and cancelled travel and all non-essential work while closely monitoring evolving public health and government guidance. 

In addition, we implemented several strong safety measures at our manufacturing facilities, including enhanced cleaning and sanitization of our operations and enhanced sanitization procedures for our teams, significantly limiting visitors to the plants, temperature checks, mandatory face coverings and changing our practices to follow safe distancing guidelines from our colleagues wherever possible. In fact, many of our manufacturing practices are now guiding us as we consider our safe and gradual approach back to stores and the office when the time is right.

We also worked tirelessly to develop frameworks to guide our decision making and keep the lines of communication open across the entire organization. This included implementing a steady cadence of regional and local leadership calls in light of the rapidly changing environment. I was meeting daily with my Canadian leadership team to monitor, assess and make timely decisions, and we deployed a variety of local communication tactics to keep our teams informed and apprised of new developments, including company wide townhalls to drive two-way dialogue and address issues head on. We issued email updates, videos, participated in virtual coffee chats, and department meetings.

To keep employee morale and engagement levels high while working virtually, we launched fun and lighthearted daily yammer challenges to connect employees with one another. Our Employee Resource Groups also mobilized to support each other – whether it was our D&I group creating a family favourite recipe exchange cookbook, or our Social Committee challenging our employees and their families to create unique crafts, or our Health and Safety committee springing into action to launch a ‘Not Myself Today’ mental health campaign. We also offered several virtual cooking classes, emotional/mindfulness sessions and financial webinars to help our employees cope during a time of social distancing and financial uncertainty. Our steadfast focus on our employees’ total health – physical, emotional, mental has never wavered.

Next, our efforts focused on supplying food to the marketplace. As a food manufacturer, we have a unique role to play during this crisis. It is critically important that our plants are operational, making safe and delicious food that people love, to feed the country. Fortunately, our governments very early in the crisis established food manufacturing as an essential service and we have a special responsibility to maintain our normal work schedule. As a result, since this crisis hit, we’ve been able to run our plants at full capacity, increasing production by focusing on key items while working very closely with our customers to get them what they need so we were available for Canadians during the challenging time. We’ve invested in additional warehouse space, redeployment of inventory and increased access to transportation. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our supply chain and frontline heroes have responded to these challenges. It hasn’t been easy. This required a lot of extra planning, problem solving, investment and execution.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve been giving back to our communities and living our company’s purpose of nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive. Kellogg has always been a company with a heart and soul but never has that been more apparent than now as we stepped up efforts to help. Here in Canada, our food bank partners and breakfast club partners are stretched to their absolute limits. They are providing more food to more people than every before and we are doing our part to provide all the support we can. In fact, we were one of the first to reach out and commit food and funds to both Food Banks Canada and Breakfast Club of Canada. To date, as part of Kellogg’s Better Days program to address food insecurity here and around the world, the Company has donated more than $11.5 million to fund global COVID-19 food relief efforts, including $1 million in Canada alone.   

The crisis has also ignited a collective giving spirit across our entire organization from employees writing notes of appreciation and gratitude to food bank volunteers in recognition of National Volunteer week, to employees dropping off care packages for one another, to voluntarily submitting shout out videos and collecting money to thank our frontline heroes at our Belleville facility. All of this is completely consistent with our heritage and our K values.  I think it’s safe to say that our founder’s legacy as an early philanthropist lives on in our team today.

Your business takeaways from this experience

As a longtime employee of Kellogg, but a relative newcomer in my current position, there are so many valuable business takeaways and lessons learned for me personally. 

First, surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can offer a different point of view and really listen to what your advisors and the subject matter experts have to say. Stay nimble and agile to address situations as they come up. One thing is for certain, you may not know all the facts, and you may not have a plan for everything so it’s essential to have the humility to learn your way through a crisis of this magnitude. Be honest, authentic, transparent, and communicate – no one has all the answers regardless of your position.

Another key business takeaway for me is speed trumps perfection especially in a rapidly changing environment.  Ongoing scenario planning is essential to help you understand the range of possibilities and enable quick decision making and, no regrets. Always demonstrate empathy for unique situations and foster a spirit of community and collaboration.  Above all, never lose sight of your company’s purpose, core values and culture – this trumps everything. WK Kellogg said it best – “we are a company of dedicated people making quality products for a healthier world.”

I continue to be inspired by all of our employees and frontline workers – from the farmers who grow our ingredients, the people who make our food, the truck drivers, the grocery stockers and cashiers, the food bank workers and volunteers who keep bringing food to the table. I feel immense pride in the industry and for all that we (FCPC, government, retailers and our peers) have done to keep food on the tables of Canadians. The examples of resilience, agility and commitment in the face of immense difficulty are too numerous to count and nothing short of extraordinary. It has been said that adversity breeds resilience and fuels greatness. I have always believed that to be true – both personally and professionally — and we see this playing out in real time  … individuals, teams, communities, industry, government working together to overcome what may seem like impossible obstacles only to come out the other side, better, stronger and even more united.

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