Gulf Insider interviews Jerome Akel, Country Manager for Carrefour Bahrain.
When did you realise the pandemic was about to impact your day-to-day life and work? What immediate actions did you take?
From the very onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, we took every step to monitor and respond to developments. The health and wellbeing of our colleagues and customers remains our number one priority.
Today, customers have placed even more of a premium on convenience and safety. At Carrefour, we have responded accordingly to this change in preference. We have introduced a mobile shopping app, making over 4,000 essential products available for purchase from the comfort of shoppers’ homes. We have also teamed up with Talabat.
How has Carrefour Bahrain dealt with the pandemic? What precautionary measures have you implemented apart from the ministry mandated ones?
We have put in place a set of measures to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues. These include the ongoing cleaning of floors in areas with fresh food, in addition to cleaning all walls and work surfaces twice a day. Work counters are cleaned with bleach twice a day.
Our colleagues must sanitise their hands every hour, while acrylic glass screens have been placed at store checkout counters. For our customers, hand sanitiser dispensers have been stationed at all entrances, fresh food sections, and cash counters. Single-use gloves are also provided for customers prior to entering stores, and trollies are sanitised before and after every use. We also take the temperature of all customers entering our premises.
We also offer all payment methods as usual, however, we encourage cashless and contactless payments.
How has your role as a leader changed, given the need to operate in the midst of a pandemic?
In such situations, one has to remain calm and collected and think ahead of what’s to come. As Carrefour Bahrain’s Country Manager, it is my responsibility to provide the best possible safe solutions for all colleagues to continue their daily tasks in an efficient and effective manner.
At Majid Al Futtaim, our dedicated Carrefour colleagues have been absolutely crucial. We redeployed colleagues from VOX Cinemas to work in our stores to help cater to a rise in shopper demand, both online and in store. This is part of a specific programme launched to provide employees with an opportunity to retrain within the company ecosystem.
It seems to be a time when there’s going to be intense focus on every leader’s actions. How can you be sure to communicate effectively at times like these?
Over the course of the pandemic, we have already witnessed agility in action — first and foremost with the Kingdom of Bahrain’s speedy response to the pandemic.
We have taken every step to be just as agile, not only in developing new retail offerings that prioritise safety and convenience and respond to customers’ changing demands, but in communicating with shoppers and stakeholders.
In your opinion, what’s the single most important thing leaders can do for their teams and communities right now?
Communication, communication,communication — this, undoubtedly, is the key here. People and customers want to be kept abreast of the latest updates, news and developments. It is also decidedly important to maintain clear and open lines of communications with partners, local leadership and regional authorities. At Majid Al Futtaim, for instance, we work hard to be as government-aligned as possible.
As industry leaders, businesses and organisations must do all that they can to set an example for others. Majid Al Futtaim donated BHD100,000 to the Feena Khair campaign. We donated a cash amount of BHD40,000, 4,000 gift vouchers with a total value of BHD40,000, and textile products worth BHD20,000.
Are there any learnings you can pass on to other leaders?
Be transparent and assess the situation before diving into matters. Study and oversee all possible outcomes and ensure the best results are maintained to benefit the organisation and your stakeholders — not least customers and colleagues.
Finally, what is the biggest piece of advice to give any business out there?
Ensure that you have a team that will help, assist and support the organisation, and you can look to them for answers during difficult times. Trust your team and the organisation to continue moving forward and provide the best possible and safe solutions for your stakeholders.
Maintaining strong and productive relations with key partners goes a long way to improving business operations and responding effectively to crisis.