Over the past year, appliance company executives have faced a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of unique and pressing leadership challenges. From COVID-19 to significant economic and political uncertainty, recent trends have touched every aspect of appliance manufacturing.
This special HomeWork series features interviews with top executives from AHAM member companies to share what they have learned from the unprecedented events of the past year, as well as their insights on important leadership issues like mentorship, diversity and inclusion, and recent consumer trends.
The third installment of AHAM’s HomeWork Executive Leadership Series features Nolan Pike, President and CEO, Electrolux North America.
1. What lessons about leadership will you take away from 2020?
That the power of our mission-based culture is strong: We have five missions at Electrolux that prepared us to react to the pandemic while still driving towards our goals. Missions aren’t specific individual or team responsibilities; rather, they are everyone’s responsibility. By being clear about where we will and will not focus, it arms our employees and leaders to make good decisions. Meeting with and spending more time helping everyone understand their contribution to our success was such an important lesson from 2020 and it's an area I will devote even more time to in 2021.
2. What is the most significant consumer trend that you have seen accelerated by COVID?
Without question, it’s consumers spending more time eating at home. Early in the year, we saw a quick increase in demand for refrigeration as consumers stocked up on food. At mid-year, we started to see demand spike in cooking products. The demand far outpaced traditional duress replacement trends as consumers began upgrading their appliances. This was reinforced with consumers’ increased willingness to try new cooking methods. Products with air fry, air sous vide, and induction grew at much higher rates than those with less advanced technology.
3. How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
Fostering and encouraging mentorships are very important and it can take many shapes, including formal programs, informally reaching out to those you respect, or simply being open to employees who ask for help. During my career, I have had far more informal mentees than formal ones. In 2020, I converted quarterly mentee lunches into virtual one-on-ones, which worked great.
Even at this point in my career, there’s great value in a mentor. My own mentor lets me guide our relationship. He listens, asks probing questions, and tries to understand both my business and personal goals. He often brings forward valid development opportunities for me and he’s shown me a different approach to mentorship. It doesn’t have to just be the traditional approach of a mentor sharing their tried and true lessons. Now, I’m trying his approach with my own mentees.
4. Many companies have large numbers of staff working remotely. Has this presented any challenges or opportunities for your company?
Our IT systems were ready, and our teams seamlessly shifted to full remote work in two days. One interesting development has been how personal and engaged we are with each other virtually. Our corporate culture is warm and collaborative in normal times and we have carried this to our virtual teams.
I do feel there’s the risk in the virtual world of being too narrowly focused on our business priorities, without the balance of informal conversation. Who are the people I would have run into walking down the hall or sat next to in the cafeteria? What are the organizations and opportunities people are not learning about? Are we missing thoughtful insights from collaboration with customers? These questions have us trying to make sure we cast a wider net in our virtual world and not be solely focused on our agenda.
An important opportunity is with our partners, both customers and suppliers. Electrolux takes pride in our partnerships and they are a key part of how we improve our service, delivery and products. But even by ensuring their priority, it’s simply less effective in a virtual world. Post-pandemic, we will add our virtual tools to our traditional ones to take these relationships to the next level. And in the meantime, I really miss having dinner with our partners and friends.
5. What is the best advice about leadership you have ever received?
Early in my career, I struggled to prioritize. I had lots of ideas and not enough time to do them all well. Because of this, I overextended and often did not deliver the quality of work or leadership that I could deliver.
When I worked for Jim Campbell, former CEO of GE Appliances, he had a process in which he had every person on his team create one page with their five priorities, the needed actions towards these priorities, and key performance measurements. This one-page approach became an “elevator pitch” for me to clearly explain what my priorities were and how I was progressing. And just as importantly what my priorities were not.
Twenty years later, I still use this process to understand my and my team’s priorities. The process ensures we are aligned, opens the dialog about what is most important towards our goals, and helps me have a better understanding of the total business.
6. What does your company gain from its involvement in AHAM, and how do you encourage your employees to stay involved?
AHAM allows Electrolux to help shape the industry to best serve our consumers, society, and our planet. We are in a very complex industry that involves a large use of natural resources, has complex technological and manufacturing issues, and is a very important part of our consumers’ lives. By working together as an industry, we can devote the resources, time, and thoughtfulness to solve the largest appliance issues.
A few years ago, Electrolux increased our participation in AHAM, especially at the committee level. Dan Query, our AHAM leader, works with our leadership team to make sure we provide qualified representatives across the committees. We know this is both a way we can help and a way our employees can develop as leaders.
7. How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
I am proud of the diversity and inclusion change we are driving at Electrolux. We have an employee-led resource group that represents the many vibrant communities at the company. We promote collaboration and celebrate our differences and similarities.
And that celebration is very important because it’s also the lens through which we see our Frigidaire consumer: Consumer to consumer, there are many differences, but the importance of family is one very significant similarity. We want to continue bringing awareness, understanding and insight to the forefront so that we shape our employees’ and our consumers’ lives for the better.
8. If you could go back in time 20 years, what would you tell your younger self?
Listen better, seek feedback and be more patient.
9. What would be your dream job outside of your current industry?
After a career in the appliance industry, I would like to teach or consult. But I’m not finished with appliances yet because my passion is developing products and solutions, and I would like to continue to study and learn in this area.
Looking for past issues of HomeWork?
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Steve Ver Strat