CEO J. Crew and Global HR at Kyndryl talks about core business principles

CEO J. Crew and Global HR at Kyndryl talks about core business principles

Tiffany Dufo, founder and CEO of women’s leadership training organization The Cru, decided that if she was going to interview the CEO of J.Crew Group, Inc. Libby Wadle in front of the audience, she has to come to the stage wearing something from the Wadle retail chain. With only 10 minutes in her schedule to find a new dress, Dufaux admitted to her partner that she was going to be interviewing the woman’s boss and was nervous. To Dufaux’s surprise, the colleague replied, “Libby? Don’t worryโ€”it’s absolutely fantastic,” and she assured Dufaux that the conversation would be great.

“That’s a rewarding story to hear,” Waddell replied to Dufu. “The best part of my job is hearing those moments and those stories. For us, it’s beyond clothes. Clothes are important, and you look great. But it’s really about how you feel and those experiences, right? And how they made you feel.”

Dufaux has already interviewed Waddell in a J Crow dress for a conversation at the Forbes Power Women’s Summit in New York on Thursday, about how to build a positive company culture, empower employees and lead with empathy. They were joined by Marigot Charbonnier, Global Human Relations Officer at Kendrill Holdings
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Regardless of whether your business is 65 years old, like J.Crew, or a startup like Kyndryl, Wadle and Charbonnier agreed that protecting your core business stems from the culture you build and the principles you use to guide you forward.

The economic disruption caused in part by the pandemic has left nearly 1.8 million women out of the workforce. But as Duveau, Chabonnier and Waddell told a Forbes audience, all leaders are required to rise to the occasion for this challenging occasion. Here are their best tips:

Building a positive culture

โ€œFor us, the silver lining was thinking about our culture in an inclusive way. It’s not just like serving snacks, Wadel said, referring to the ways in which company cultures are ‘cool’ because they provide employees with food and alcohol. I think it’s about How we offer our colleagues and our community the opportunity to embrace their lives and balance their lives in a way that makes sense to them.โ€

J.Crew Group was among the first national high-profile retailers to file for bankruptcy during the pandemic. In May 2020, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection during the Covid-19 pandemic. The J. Crew Group owes between $1 billion and $10 billion to more than 25,000 creditors and was able to strike a deal to restructure $1.65 billion in debt by converting it into equity. In September 2020, the company announced its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said in a press release that it was “in a good position for long-term growth.”

Wadle remembered how the pandemic affected everyone, but noted that it was also a learning experience and, to some extent, allowed for some group bonding. “We’ve seen things happen in the background of Zoom calls that we didn’t know before; cats are jumping on computers, kids are crying, and it just made this whole life available to people I’ve probably worked with for 10 or 15 years,” she said.

“At the end of the day, you know your team, your culture, your community, and when they’re motivated and happy, and they’re the most productive they have. So I think that was a huge part, I would say, of developing our culture for our group,” Waddell says.

Use technology to empower employees

Currently, 32% of full- and part-time employees agree that they participate “actively,” according to data analysis by Gallup, US employees have a record low level of participation.

As Kyndryl’s global HR leader, Chobannier is responsible for 90,000 employees at a one-year-old startup focused on providing technology services to some of the world’s largest companies. In November 2021, International Business Machines Corporation, also known as IBM, announced the separation of its managed infrastructure services business from Kyndryl, meaning that the startup would continue as an independent company. This split made Kyndryl one of the largest IT startups in the world.

She revealed that the company will launch a technology project called “Promoting Human Progress” to allow employees to talk about their skills and what they want to achieve in their careers. The idea for the service came from Chabonnier’s belief that no employee should feel that their colleagues have no idea what they do every day. Invisible work like this can particularly affect women in the workplace and their potential for advancement. “I think especially for women in technology, we’re at a tipping point in the world right now for really telling us about your skills, and standing up for yourself,” she said.

Find strength in society

Wadle described a recent off-site leadership team where executives at the J. Crew Group answered questions about what they need in order to thrive in the business.

She said, โ€œIt was powerful, because we came up with a way to communicate based on who we are and what we need. And together, I think these kinds of exercises make you more powerful as a team.โ€

It also recommended that leaders get to know all the people within their company’s business units, because you “get to know your community.” [and] You’ll learn what’s important to people.โ€ She said that doesn’t just mean what’s important to them at work – find out about their personal interests and hobbies too.

โ€œThe ability to connect to things outside of the product we sell only [means] โ€œSomething for people, and that motivates them to work for that company,โ€ Wadle said.

Leverage the power of empathy

Dufaux spoke of the recent movement of ordinary employees finding their strength through the formation of unions. A July National Labor Relations report showed a 58% increase in union election petitions since January 2022 alone. Recently, on Thursday, the president of 13 railroad unions reached a tentative agreement to avoid a national rail strike that could significantly affect the US transportation network.

Dufu’s suggestion for navigating this environment? Leadership with empathy.

โ€œEmployees want that voice, they want to be heard,โ€ Dufaux said. She advised leaders in the audience to “take the time in our days to really listen, and listen carefully because I think we’ve seen leadership undergo such a stress test right now.”

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