Leadership In A Time Of COVID: An Interview With Nike Russia
We recently caught up with Andrey Krishnev, General Manager of Nike Russia to find out what impact COVID-19 has had on Nike Russia, and how they have managed to keep their team engaged and positive through the crisis.
How did you respond to the pandemic situation both personally and professionally?
Here in Russia, the virus arrived a bit later than most countries, so we saw not only when something started in China, but how it evolved around the world. Many of us here had the same feeling that somehow pandemic might be resolved, but as it escalated, it became clear that we were entering something serious that might go on for months. Personally, I was not very comfortable with this realisation, especially when I understood the impact that this might have on business.
By the end of March, all of our physical retail at Nike was closed in Russia. We had never experienced anything like this. Psychologically this was not easy for our team. Even though I'm quite a flexible person fast to adapt to change, it was a challenge. I had a responsibility to my team and to the business we built together with our partners, and sometimes this was uncomfortable because this whole situation was new. Luckily, we pivoted quite quickly, our team changed quite fast, and I think we've done it with success. We focused on opportunities to grow further and in different ways.
I became a father in December, and this was a real gift. Working from home meant that I could see my daughter grow. I began to go outside with her every day in the yard, and it helped me a lot with working through the business issues. This time outside got me thinking of how important it was to keep our team moving, and getting them outdoors. I then started working with a personal trainer too, we put together a daily sports challenge for our staff at Nike and created an Instagram group for people to show their experiences and results taking part. This initiative helped a lot psychologically. We found our rhythm and a way to focus on the positives, which helped us with creating new routes to market.
How do has the pandemic impacted Nike, Russia?
We were lucky at Nike Russia because we (Russian leadership team) pledged to "drive innovation" in 2017, and part of this meant that we spent the last three years making sure that we are a truly digital business. We also put a lot of effort into developing a culture of innovation and experimentation in our Russian team. We created an environment where members of our team can speak up. I think that both of these things have helped us very much during this period. Another factor of success was our relentless focus over past years to build Nike ecosystem in Russia. We adjusted fast, with minimal disruption and were able to focus on our online marketing and online retail.
We were one of the first global brands to seize the opportunity to set a positive tone about COVID by launching our "Stay Inside" campaign. We used all of our partner relationships in Russia with local athletes, local sports clubs and our customers to begin the opportunity to show people how they could still play at home via their social media. Sports stars and ordinary people alike posted videos of them working out from their homes, all using #playinside and slogan "Play inside, play for the World." We used Nike's platform Nikemoscow.com, locally created, to encourage people to stay healthy and spread positive energy, and we are very proud of that, as it was unique execution for Nike in Europe. More than 1M consumers trained online with us in April. Besides it helped us to increase number of active members in our apps times vs LY.
Our retail and our wholesale teams also came together quickly with supply chain, and focused only on how can we eliminate overstock in our retail outlets and create more stock to be sold online. We expected online will grow a lot, but it happened even faster than we had anticipated: our online business was growing every week as of the beginning of April. I am proud of my team, as we managed to come back to growth of our business as of July and continue it every week!
What do you consider the top three leadership challenges to be during the coronavirus pandemic?
First is how you deal with change and uncertainty. You have to set an example, and that takes strength. We needed to guide our company through changes without panicking and without being nervous, which is not easy!
Secondly was creating a safe environment for our team to work. This situation is unusual because of the unprecedented cause. There is an invisible threat everywhere, and we needed to make that our priority was keeping our staff safe. People are our priority, and we have created an environment where they can work without being afraid for business to continue.
Number three is remaining positive. Keeping up everyone's spirits in a difficult situation is very important. In any difficult situation, there are always opportunities, and if you are positive, you are much more likely to see them. Your energy and communication as a leader should inspire people as much as possible.
Did you draw inspiration from any other corporations? Responses to COVID-19?
I remember reading a communication from the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky that I thought was a great way of handling the situation back in May. Brian sent out a great email to the entire global team; he shared openly about the unprecedented difficulties they faced and how it might change the face of the business. He was so human and open and honest, and I think this is absolutely the way forward. People hate to be in the dark. Our global CEO, John Donahoe, has also operated as a source of inspiration to me; he also has been very transparent. Since April, John has personally communicated with our staff regularly and I have taken his lead and done the same with my team.
And another example I can give is from a local company in Russia called Sportmaster. It's our biggest sports retailer. They have 500 stores, so you can imagine how the retail closures impacted them. But they did something remarkable. They increased their e-commerce sales more than five times just in two weeks. They mobilised and became completely digital company only in one month. It was a fantastic response to the challenges created by COVID. It gives us great hope to hear of regional businesses who managed to pivot at the last minute. They inspire us at Nike.
How are you keeping your employees motivated during this period?
The key focus is always on Team Engagement. So, we asked our team to engage as much as possible, we made sure that we kept exchanging ideas and keeping the momentum going. We also ensured that we shared a lot. We went back over previous challenges that we had in business, and how we overcame them. Things were improving each week, and this was motivating for the team.
Secondly, team exercise or some simple fitness activity and usually some fun creative way kept us all connected and cheerful as a team. Social media was also a huge part of keeping us going; we all felt through posting our experiences that we were in something big together.
It was also crucial for our team to focus on a few initiatives. As a leadership team, we looked at our quarterly focus areas, keeping everyone on task was key.
Again, we tried to keep it as positive as possible. I tried to use humour much more than before and trying to find in any opportunity in any occasion and revisit our successes, or simply to make colleagues smile.
How are you preparing for the future at the moment?
We are preparing for the future by keeping part of our attention on the present business, and part of our time on the future. We need to live in the moment, but also to strategise for what's coming. My colleagues and I have spent the last couple of months working to predict possible scenarios for the next couple of years so that we can deduce where we should focus.
For now, we see things moving more towards e-commerce & providing a seamless experience to consumers within Nike ecosystem, so we need to develop new ways market digitally. We hope for the best, but we have prepared for future lockdowns because it's better to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We are keeping positive and keeping agile.
What is your advice to other business leaders?
For businesses like ours, it's important to remember that we are working in consumer or service focused markets. We are essentially working for consumers, and they are not working for our shareholders or us. We need to remain focused on our consumer - What about their needs is changing? What is still common? What do they want? How can we keep relating to them and keep them loyal? A business must adapt to their consumer, and that is what we are continually striving to do. Then our consumers will be more often interacting with our apps and buying our product more frequently.
It's also crucial to keep playing our scenarios for the future to stay afloat in these changing times. To do this will help businesses understand how to deal with uncharted waters, the new technologies, to come up with new ways of doing business that might make you more successful than your competition. If you're continually looking ahead, then you have higher chances of success, when things fluctuate. Focusing on the future is vital.
Finally, and maybe most importantly is supporting your team and ensuring that your culture is right. If your team is strong together, they will be capable of adapting and growing together. This means being creative, being open and trusting each other enough to share new ideas, if you have a strong team that is a huge advantage.
It was a real pleasure to catch up with Andrey Krishnev, and to find out just how Nike Russia has been able to support their team, keeping them engaged and motivated throughout the crisis. And how they were able to spot opportunities, managing to grow their online business during the pandemic.
Andrey became GM of Nike in Russia in 2017. From the very beginning, he was focused on: digitalization strategy development & implementation, e-commerce projects & online marketing design and execution and the creation of Nike ecosystem.
Andrey has extensive experience in sales: he started his career in Procter & Gamble, where he has grown from account manager to Key Account Director. Then he joined Nike, as Strategic Account Director and later became responsible for the development and implementation of new commercial strategy in retail and wholesale, as Sales Director. After Andrey was leading a cross-functional team in Nike Western Europe HQ in the Netherlands, as Sr Strategic Account Director, responsible for Nike business with Deichmann Group (one of Nike EMEA Global Accounts).