By Leah Fessler
Through the pandemic, every leader has been forced to re-evaluate their strategy. We interviewed Chief Members Meredith Guerriero, US Head of Partnerships at Pinterest, Sylvia Banderas Coffinet, Chief Brand and Revenue Officer at HOLA! USA, and Gabby Hirata, Head of Business Development APAC at DVF to learn how leaders across industries are strategically pivoting while retaining humanity. Below is an excerpt from our community conversation.
Q. Meredith, you mentioned that your scope of responsibility has drastically changed. How are you re-establishing yourself as a leader, and pivoting your plan?
Meredith Gurriero: I doubled both my team and my revenue responsibility when everything started to hemorrhage. I went from a team of 150 to 300 overnight. I had to virtually prove myself to all of these employees I’ve never directly managed. To navigate this change, first, I listened to my clients and employees. Without really understanding what they’re hearing and going though, and what they think the business needs, I wouldn’t be able to move people forward in an efficient way. And I need to be really efficient right now. From there, I could understand how to prioritize and pivot our direction.
If you listen then prioritize and pivot accordingly, you’ll be able to move with speed and actually react to the situation extremely well because you’ll know exactly where you put your talent, and know what their strengths are. You will be able to share your new path forward with everyone based on data and lessons learned from listening. That’s a lot better for gaining buy in and consensus than directing change without an explanation.
Q. Sylvia, early on in quarantine you had to make a 40% staff reduction. What did you do as a human and leader to shift gears?
Sylvia Banderas Coffinet: This was definitely one of the most challenging professional decisions I’ve ever made. I was given 72 hours to figure out a plan. I remember getting off the phone with my boss and just sort of taking a deep breath and saying, ok my priority right now is to save as many employees as possible — how can I do this? Then I went into a mode of let’s get really creative, and I called my brain trust of four to five key executives who I really believe in. Together, we came up with a completely hybrid program where we turned our entire content marketing studio into content creators so that we could save as many heads as possible.
One of the first things I did was I looked across my team and identified the top performers — regardless of their discipline. Then I had really interesting conversations with these individuals, saying, “What I’m asking you to do is to change your job description. Are you okay with that?” This meant I wouldn’t have to go out of the house to hire people. I think that every role is becoming more hybrid, especially in media and advertising, and this is an interesting experiment I’ve always wanted to try. Now I’m just forced to engage in it.
Q. Gabby, you mentioned that now more than ever, you’re relying on your intuition as a leader. How does that manifest?
Gabby Hirata: I’ll give one example of the first moment I followed my intuition to rise above this crisis. When Coronavirus hit New York in mid-March, the fashion industry saw a plummet in revenue and cash flow. Our CEO was working around the clock with the board to brainstorm new business models for DVF. As the head of APAC, I have been vocal about what we have learned from our China business. Diane von Furstenberg knows my work but we were not particularly close, as I am still new to the team. Then out of the blue, Diane called me and said she wanted to have a long conversation.
At that moment, I got an irresistible urge, you may call it intuition or guts, to talk freely beyond my title or the definition of what would be considered “appropriate” with someone like Diane. My introspection at that moment was two-fold: I deeply understand the challenges this pandemic poses to our industry, and the unique pivots our China business made to already begin recovering. I normally would have never said these things without getting some green light or approval, but in that moment on the phone with Diane, I couldn’t check with my CEO or worry about being out of place. I just had to say what was on my mind. I opened the conversation by telling Diane “it may be a little crazy for me to say what I’m about to say, but I’m worried about your company. There are several things I’d like to suggest. They all come from my intention to do good and my loyalty to you and the brand.”
That conversation ended up lasting for almost an hour. Ever since then we have had daily calls, in addition to my daily calls with the CEO. I’m playing an active role in confidential conversations about how to pivot DVF for a post-Coronavirus retail world. By relying on my intuition and intention to do good, I displayed integrity, transparency, and the talent to discern nuanced tones from vastly different people with vastly different interests. Most importantly, I convinced them. I proved myself to be unbiased and useful, despite the complexity of these conversations. I am so proud of what I have accomplished and learned. By owning my vulnerability and sensitivity, it has become my strength.
Q. Meredith, as such a highly visible leader, how are you managing your own experience and professional image?
MG: At this point, I’ve really learned to let go. I allow messiness a lot more now. That’s been a big learning for me, and I think it will stick with me after this ends. I need to take every day as it comes, aware that it won’t go exactly as planned. I’m better at compartmentalizing than I ever was before, even though I felt pretty good at it pre-virus. I have to be, because I’m constantly in a switch — between having patience with the kids, having patience with my team, going from meetings to feeding the kids to barely sleeping, and having to constantly pull more energy from myself. To do this, it also helps to be transparent about my mood with my team. One way I’ve done this is by sharing one song every day that reflects how I’m feeling, or a life lesson — and it ranges everywhere from “I have a fire in my belly” to “I’m going insane trapped in this house.”
After this, I will reflect back and say, wow, I cannot believe I did that. And I will have that inner confidence to know that no matter what you throw my way, I’ll look back on this quarantine and say, hell yeah, I can do it. I was naturally resilient before, but it’s different now. I have this favorite quote from Babe Ruth that says “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” That’s what I’m channeling. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how powerful you are — you’re not going to be able to dictate what happens tomorrow. And that’s okay, you just keep moving.
Originally Published May 8, 2020