“I CAN ONLY THANK ALL MY TEAM BECAUSE IT HAS DEMONSTRATED EXTRAORDINARY STRENGTH AND PASSION”

“I CAN ONLY THANK ALL MY TEAM BECAUSE IT HAS DEMONSTRATED EXTRAORDINARY STRENGTH AND PASSION”

Adapting in the Face of Crisis - A conversation with Pasquale Levato, SVP HR North America, on responding to COVID-19.

“I CAN ONLY THANK ALL MY TEAM BECAUSE IT HAS DEMONSTRATED EXTRAORDINARY STRENGTH AND PASSION”
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North America is Luxottica’s largest market…When did it become clear that we had a major challenge on our hands?
Our concerns surfaced when the epidemic began in China, but when Italy saw a major outbreak, we had the certainty that it would arrive here too. A multinational company like ours gives us the opportunity to connect with colleagues all over the world, giving us a complete, honest, on-the-ground picture of what’s happening before seeing it on TV or reading it in the newspapers. In the case of the United States, it was easily predictable; we have large cities like NYC and Los Angeles where millions of people are living in close proximity and millions more are traveling in and out from all over the world.
 
What has your biggest challenge been over the last few months and how did your teams respond? 
The biggest challenge was to manage the complexity of the American system with the speed and flexibility required by the situation. The United States is a country but it’s also 50 different states, each one with its own laws and regulations regarding employment, work and safety. We had to develop rules, protocols, guidelines and procedures that took this complexity into account because sometimes what could work in Ohio might not work in California for example. This is already complex under normal conditions, let alone in a situation we never could have imagined. Our teams worked day and night and deserve a huge applause because what they did they did not once but 50 times.
 
What was the role of the HR department in this process?
Our top priority at Luxottica is taking care of our people while ensuring economic sustainability. We worked closely with every department across the company to achieve this from Operations to Asset Protection to Legal, to ensure our people had what they needed to work remotely or if they were on site, worked in a healthy and safe environment. We had to make some tough decisions along the way, but every one of them was made with great care. I can only thank all my team because it has demonstrated extraordinary strength and passion by working for 4 months continuously under pressure, with less resources but guaranteeing the same service and always doing it with a positive attitude.
 
In this period thousands of employees in the US have been working remotely as a result of COVID. How do you coordinate all your different teams located in different states?
In the US, we have been more fortunate than in other countries. Working from home was a fairly widespread concept and already practiced internally. Of course, we didn't expect to have the majority of our workforce remote at the same time and for such a prolonged period, but I can say that it was a success. If managed correctly, it can give the flexibility necessary for employees to combine personal and professional needs without affecting the quality of the service and performance that remains key to the company's success. If I can be honest, however, after so many months at home, I am really eager to see my colleagues in person.
 
What have you learned from this experience?  Any sense of what a post-COVID world is going to look like?  
I am a positive person by nature and I am convinced that within the next 12 months we will return to normal, thinking of all this only as a bad memory. That said, this experience has changed and will change forever our habits both as workers and also consumers. Years ago as a company we took the strategic decision to focus on digitalization and technological innovation and no other choice could have been more appropriate. We must continue on this path because the way of doing business especially in retail will see a profound transformation in the habits and buying behavior of consumers. The other great lesson we have learned from this whole situation is that we should focus and invest more on risk prevention and management, trying to be ready for every possible situation, regardless of how remote it may seem today.
 
As a leader, how do you model behavior for the teams at the Company?
There is a saying in English that I like very much and it is "Walk the talk". As leaders of this company, we must always lead by example, but in this situation we must do it even more. It is a time when we are asking our people for flexibility, adaptability, spirit of sacrifice, speed and we must be the first to do what we ask, without ever forgetting to thank them for what they are doing. A pat on the shoulder is now more valuable than ever.
 
Do you have any recommendations for HR colleagues who may be trying to figure out how to prepare employees for the uncertain future this crisis brings?
My advice is don’t underestimate the importance of communication because in this moment, it plays a fundamental role. People want to be heard, but they are also hungry for information: what the company’s strategies and plans are, how other countries are doing, how the company sees the future and how our choices will impact the business and the organization. We must try to stay as close as possible to our people and we must also do this by communicating in a timely, direct and transparent manner. We will surely emerge from this crisis and I am convinced that we will be even stronger than before.

Published on Jul 28 2020