Craveable Brands CEO: leadership, pivoting and battling a pandemic

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Apr 2020 View comments

Timing is everything. Karen Bozic joined Craveable Brands in December 2019 to head up the multi-brand business after the departure of Brett Houldin.  When she took on the role she had no idea where her first five months at the helm would take her.

However Bozic has a stellar retail career behind her which leaves her well-placed to deal with the challenges of early 2020.

Most recently she was GM of retail operations for two years at Caltex. Before that Bozic spent four years at the Woolworths group including a stint as general manager transformation at Big W, and nine years as CFO and COO at the Rebel Group.

Here she talks leadership, retail and facing off COVID-19.

Craveable Brands CEO Q&A

1. What were your top priorities as new CEO at Craveable?

Understanding and supporting our customers and our team (being our franchisees, our store teams and support office) have always been a top priority for me. In addition, being new to the business I was keen to understand what we as Craveable do well, where we have opportunities and work with the team to develop our strategy for this next chapter of Craveable.

2. How have these changed with the onslaught of the pandemic?

Focusing on our customers and team has never been more important. This has included making sure our teams are operationally set up to support our customers and their businesses as best they can in the current climate. It has also meant understanding what is important to our customers during this time e.g. trust, convenience and responding to this with speed.

We have also had to ensure we are on the front foot communicating new developments, addressing concerns and guiding our network through this difficult time. From a strategic perspective, it has highlighted what is truly important, and accelerated decision making in many areas. 

3. Your experience of leading teams through change probably sets you up well for the current challenge – what’s your approach to dealing with enforced change in the system?

Care and honesty in navigating this environment is critical, as is visible leadership. The team quite rightly demand this of you. As an example, every Thursday afternoon our support office team dial into a weekly update with myself and our leadership team. Here we provide an update on where we are at and answer questions from the team.  

Establishing a daily rhythm across the leadership team is also important. This has established the cadence we need to address critical issues, manage workstreams and be on the front foot to anticipate what might come our way which has bought valuable time.

Cascading these outcomes across our business with speed has also been key. Staying connected via our virtual team meetings and always turning our cameras on has been a nice way to still connect and see into other parts of our teams’ lives.

It’s led to some great conversations, and I think brought our team closer together.

4. How quickly has Craveable been able to pivot its business and employ new strategies?

Very quickly. As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”. We have made decisions in minutes which pre-COVID-19 might have taken us months. It’s forced us to make faster choices with less fear and pushed our team to work more collaboratively than we ever have. This has been a very nice silver-lining and something we want to take into a post COVID-19 world.

For instance we quickly transitioned our delivery offer to contactless across our three brands. We also established a click and collect offer in our Oporto and Chicken Treat brands.

In rolling out the numerous operational changes required by changing regulations and consumer expectations, we pulled together a cross functional team across our brands and rolled this out consistently.

5. The impact of the coronavirus spread has been a massive HR concern. How has this affected Craveable staff?

We are in a fortunate position where the majority of our network is still able to trade in some capacity. We have worked with our store teams to provide them with safe work practices in stores to ensure their safety and the safety of our customers.

Like all businesses, we have also had to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

The current situation has meant that some teams’ workload has changed and some are unable to fully do their job. However, we have taken the approach that if all of our support office team do something, we can keep our broader team largely intact to ensure as we emerge from COVID-19 we are ready to go.

We involved our team in this process and asked them what they would be prepared to do to help. The overwhelming feedback from the team was that they were each prepared to do something.

This has seen some of our team agree to work less hours during this period and the vast majority agree to effectively take pay reductions from April through to June, including all of our leadership team.

Karen Bozic, group CEO, Craveable Brands | Inside Franchise Business

Karen Bozic, group CEO, Craveable Brands | Inside Franchise Business

6. Retail has been having a tough time for a while. The virus is another blow. What do retailers need to be doing to survive through 2020 and beyond?

I come back to that focus on customers and team. Those businesses that continue to understand and anticipate what customers want and respond with speed, will be the ones that survive and thrive.

Customers are changing their behaviour during this time. They are prioritising and de-prioritising things. They are looking for solutions that make life easier and brighten their day.

All of these changes will likely mean the go-forward environment we operate in will be very different to pre COVID-19. Retailers must acknowledge this and adapt their offers accordingly.

7. How does your experience in the supply chain impact your approach to the business right now?

I think it has been helpful in understanding the importance of looking outside and up the chain and not just internally to assess impacts. It has also meant we can adopt a supplier mindset and think through what might be important to them during this period of time.

The majority of our supply is local, which is a fortunate position to be in. We have great suppliers who have worked closely with us during this period.

8. How is virus crisis management and the potential economic fallout affecting your long term strategy for the brands and the Craveable business?

COVID-19 has had the impact of accelerating some initiatives and slowing others down from a Craveable perspective. The crisis has meant a forced prioritisation of what is really important.

The thing we cannot control is how long and deep any economic downturn might be, and how this might play out in consumer sentiment. That being said, we remain very confident in Craveables’ future.

We play in the value-end of food service, which makes us more attractive than other options in an economic downturn. However, we know we must work hard to ensure our offer adapts to respond to our customer needs, so they choose us more often going forward.

9. Craveable is part of an international group, what bearing does this have right now on riding out the tough times?

We have very supportive owners who have investments in other parts of the world. This has been invaluable in gaining international perspectives and insights during this period. We have, and continue to work closely with them to ensure we do what’s best for Craveable and our network. They remain very much committed to our business.

10. What’s your personal style of leadership, and how does it play out at Craveable? Do you delegate or take ownership of detail?

As a leader you have to empower, support and connect with your team. However, there are times, like leading through a crisis, that you will be required to jump in and roll the sleeves up to gain perspectives quickly in order to make decisions.

So, I’d like to think I get that balance right, but you’d really have to ask my team! Role modelling and demonstrating values is also important to me. I’d never ask my team to do something I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself, and a crisis is a great opportunity to live this.

Doing the right thing and giving your team the confidence to always make that choice is also important in the current environment.