43. Leadership in the time of COVID - with Koko Black Chocolate CEO Nicolas Georges
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Nicolas Georges has led several organizations, small and large, through significant transformational change. Today, his task at Koko Black Chocolate is to unlock its international potential, as he has done previously at Vitasoy Australia and as part of the Bakers Delight team. Little did he know that his first year at Koko Black would be marked by a health pandemic and business lockdown, testing his leadership and that of many other CEOs around the globe.
But Nic is first and foremost an innovator and a system thinker, connecting dots, people, and capabilities for unexpected results and possibilities. He is uniquely experienced across all functions - manufacturing to sales, marketing, strategy, and R&D - in FMCG and Retail, including general management and P&L responsibility in both industries. He focuses on expressing people's potential and creating new paths.
Koko Black is not Nic's first foray into the chocolate business. He started his career in Europe at Nestle - where he worked for 15 years - and also worked for Kraft Foods in Australia - where he helped spearhead the multinational company to become one of the most innovative food manufacturers in the country. Then at Mondelez International, he was the Research Development and Quality Director for the US$1.7billion Asia Pacific Chocolate category, performing the same role for the AUD 2billion Australia New Zealand business across all its varieties.
Not so long ago, Nicolas Georges joined Monash University and headed one of the largest and most successful food R&D teams in Asia, which counted over 100 food innovators. And that is how we first met. At the time, I was also working at Monash, and we had a few projects in common. He remains an adjunct professor in Chemical Engineering.
This episode is about what it says on the tin: Leadership in times of COVID. The title is a play of words with the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, by Colombian Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez: a sentimental story about the enduring power of true love, and the fact that society in the story believes that Fermina and Juvenal Urbino are perfectly happy in their marriage. At the same time, the reality of the situation is not so ideal. Well, recently, Nic wrote an open letter to CEOs on LinkedIn, and it was clear that he loves what he does and believes in the power of leadership. It is also clear that we sometimes romanticize what being a leader means. The reality of being a CEO is not so ideal.
His recent open letter to CEOs reminded me of The Man in the Arena speech from US President Theodore Roosevelt: "it is not the critic who counts..the credit belongs to the man in the arena". You have to listen to this episode, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Timestamps to guide your listening:
- 4.50 - Nic and Renata chit chat about life during COVID in Melbourne
- 7.27 - Nic's current work setup
- 9.21 - What brought Nic to Australia?
- 13.57 - What was it about Australia that made him want to stay?
- 20.05 - Nic's intention when he wrote an open letter to CEOs
- 28.55 - Difference between the first wave and the second wave
- 37.07 - Mental well-being and leadership
- 40.08 - Difference between a CEO leadership role and non-CEO leadership role
- 45.51 - What would Nic do if he was job hunting in 2020?
- 50.48 - Final words