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Industry NewsCRISIS LEADERSHIP: In Their Own Words – Michael Medline, Empire Company Limited

CRISIS LEADERSHIP: In Their Own Words – Michael Medline, Empire Company Limited


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.

Michael Medline, president and CEO, Empire Company Limited

Crisis leadership initiatives

I think our team excelled in three key areas. First, we set clear priorities for our crisis team that enabled our teams to stay focused, work collaboratively, and – most importantly – act quickly to solve the unprecedented challenges we were facing. Our top priority was, and continues to be, keeping our teammates and customers safe and our shelves stocked. 

Second, we operated with tremendous velocity. This involved quick operational decision-making that not only met, but also exceeded Public Health standards. We gathered insights from international grocers that were a few weeks ahead of us in Europe and Asia, quickly applying learnings and putting best practices into place here at home. Decisions were fast, and teams executed new protocols and practices seamlessly considering the environment. One example is our industry leadership in installing plexiglass safety barriers. 

Third, we demonstrated clear and transparent communication with our customers, our teammates and our partners, while ensuring we were listening and adapting to their needs every step of the way. Our culture has always encouraged our teammates to feel empowered to speak up and bring new ideas to the table. And that’s exactly what happened when our Belmont Sobeys Franchisee Owner Operator, Jerry MacLachlan, suggested opening his store an hour early to allow seniors and those most vulnerable to shop in a calm, quiet and clean environment. This “small” act led to the first nation-wide rollout of Senior Shopping Hours.   

Together, our shared values – rooted in our exceptional culture – helped guide our actions. Our teammates embraced new protocols, inspired and drove innovation and worked together to ensure safety remained our top priority.

 Impact on the supply chain

The supply chain in Canada has stood up to incredible pressure over the last few months. It has responded quickly and creatively through every aspect of this terrible crisis. From our supplier partners, to our distribution centres, to our transportation partners and our retail stores – everyone worked together beautifully to ensure efficiencies and optimal results.

At times, our supply chain was stretched to the limit. Despite these pressures, our supplier partners managed to maintain strong operations throughout. Our automated distribution centres put us in an enviable position, allowing us to improve our efficiencies and affording us the flexibility we needed to adapt quickly. Everyone came together to deliver for Canadians. 

Your business takeaways from this experience

I can’t say enough about how great it is to be a Canadian retailer serving this country. In our organization’s more than 100-year-old history, we have rarely seen Canadians come together like this. We are truly united during this crisis. The support we have witnessed from Canadians and how they have acted in each others’ best interests have been inspiring. 

This experience has also clearly reinforced how essential the grocery industry is to Canadians. Our culture is rooted in our purpose that “We are a family nurturing families”. It’s one thing to say it and it’s an entirely different thing to experience at the level we have during this crisis. Our teammates have rallied around our purpose and truly exemplify what it means to be a family – both internally and externally with their customers their communities. 

Those values, so deeply instilled across every aspect of our business, inspired the launch of our Community Action Fund, empowering our teammates across more than 1,500 stores to address the specific needs of their own community. Our teammates came together quickly and acted with a shared determination to create positive, lasting impact in their local communities. 

Our shared values enabled our teams to make decisions quickly and move fast. Every step of the way our teams have led with integrity and respect, while operating with extraordinary velocity. We leveraged best practices, and tested and learned quickly, demonstrating incredible creativity in solving challenges unlike any we have seen in the past.  

The entire country was depending on our team to deliver. I could not be more proud to be their teammate.

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