ForceBrands brought together some of the beverage alcohol industry’s top leaders for a live virtual discussion on May 27. Part of a new thought leadership series, Born to Lead, powered by ForceBrands and PINATA, panelists addressed how they’re “Addressing Real Challenges and Driving Positive Change Through Leadership in Today’s Environment.”

Moderated by Josh Wand, Founder and CEO of ForceBrands and PINATA, panelists included Jonathan Yusen, President & Managing Director, Americas, William Grant & Sons Inc.Jeff Popkin, President & CEO, Mast-Jägermeister U.S.; Mike Keyes, President & CEO, Proximo Spirits, Inc.; Deborah Brenner, Founder & CEO, Women of the Vine & Spirits; Emilia Fazzalari, Co-Founder & CEO, Cinco Spirits Group; Cheryl Durzy, Founder & CEO, LibDib; and Kate Shapira Latts, Chief Marketing Officer, Heaven Hill Brands.

The opening question asked all panelists to describe their leadership style in one word. The responses varied “driven” (Fazzalari), “empowering” (Yusen), “authentic” (Latts), “open door” (Keyes), “heart” (Popkin), “collaborative” (Brenner), and “visionary” (Durzy).

Wand then asked panelists an individual question, beginning with Fazzalari who was asked how she’s maintaining momentum and leading her team to make positive changes.

“Our goal was to figure out how to motivate our employees and stay productive,” Fazzalari said. “The first thing we did was we over-communicated. It’s Zoom morning, noon, and night for us. We have company-wide calls where we’re completely open and transparent with our information.” She added that over-communication means problem-solving in real-time and has allowed her to more visibility recognize the natural leaders within the team.

Yusen was then asking how he’s leading a team dedicated to on-premise given the current situation when so much of the channel has been shut down.

Some of the strategies he’s implemented include being empathetic, communicating often and being transparent, celebrating the little wins, and redeploying on-premise talent to other parts of the company. “We took people who have who have skill sets outside the on-premise and we redeployed them to other parts in our organization.”

Wand then asked Brenner to describe the greatest challenge she’s encountered as a thought leader and community builder during COVID-19.

Brenner spoke about canceling the sixth annual Global Symposium with more than 750 people invited to attend the event in Napa. On the day before she planned to travel to the symposium, California’s governor declared a state of emergency, forcing her to make the call to cancel the event.

“It was really important for us to take that leadership role because people were looking for leadership. Companies were scared to make the call so we did it,” Brenner said. “It was scary making the call because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. But you have to look at your vision from the start. Don’t let this pandemic derail you from that vision because you can end up hurting your brand.”

Brenner added that the silver lining to the crisis is that it’s allowed for time to address diversity and inclusion, which leads to innovation, creativity, and greater profit.

Popkin then addressed how COVID-19 has impacted his leadership style and the people-first company culture at Jägermeister.

“If you can inspire people, then you can lead,” Popkin said, who added that that begins with making people feel comfortable and leading from the heart. “You have to lead from the heart — lead authentically and be yourself. And trust that it’s good enough to inspire people to bring them along with you on the journey.”

The discussion turned to Keyes who was asked how he’s keeping his team motivated and inspired when they are all faced with working from home instead of engaging with customers in the real world.

“We’re trying to keep the human touch as much as we can,” Keyes said. “We’ve sent masks, hand sanitizers, and even popcorn and a movie to everyone who’s working from home. We’ve sent gift baskets of treats with just a message that says, ‘Thank you for all you’re doing for our company. Be safe and we’ll see you on the other end of the pandemic.'”

Latts followed up by echoing Keyes’ sentiments about how important it is to lead with grace and compassion. She then addressed how she’s been rallying the organization and her marketing team to adapt to the changing market.

“We are very much a high touch, face-to-face organization,” Latts said. “It was amazing to see how quickly everyone was able to adapt virtually, but communication has been really important. And not just communication, but trying to pinpoint exactly what type of communication every individual was going to be most motivated by.”

The conversation turned to Durzy who discussed how she’s supporting her team of 23 people, keeping the startup mentality going, and planning ahead for the reopening of her office.

“Outside of having the tools to work remotely, keeping the regularly scheduled meetings has been really helpful,” she said, adding that her weekly Taco Tuesday staff meetings are still very much a part of her team’s routine. “We’ve shown we can be productive and work from home. As far as reopening the office, we don’t have a plan and I’ve been very transparent about that.”

Wand then asked panelists the same closing question to share who has been the most influential leader in their career.

Watch the full webinar here. Stay tuned for upcoming webinars and interviews powered by ForceBrands and PINATA.