Progression comes from asking tough questions

Colin Kavanagh knows what an organisation needs to drive its digital transformation and stay relevant over time.

The Irishman has tons of international experience and has worked all over the world, including Ireland, France, Brazil, Canada and Sweden – always for Pernod Ricard, most recently in the role of VP Marketing Malibu & Kahlua.

For Colin, it doesn’t feel like the same company though, but rather as if he’s been moving around the globe to work for different companies with the same set of values. He says that working for one global business with one core set of values, but with constantly shifting cultural perspectives, has opened his mind to understand that there is always more than one way to solve a challenge.

Colin brought that dynamic perspective with him as he moved from sunny Brazil to cold Sweden in 2015, where he would spend the following three years working on digital transformation for The Absolut Company. From all his previous moves and positions, his bags were already filled with a great deal of knowledge and experience in how to drive brand transformation – but in Sweden and at The Absolut Company, he would find even more insights to pack.

As Colin is now set to move on to new challenges (naturally once again within Pernod Ricard), he looks back at the two major keys to digital transformation he found in his work with the Absolut team.

The power of positive leadership

After a few months working in Stockholm, Colin deliberately decided to change his leadership approach. He sought to create more openness and conditions for people to experiment and take risks, while also making sure everyone understood the purpose of their work to a fuller extent. That meant making a change from “having the answers” to instead being the one asking the questions and through that empower the team to find new solutions. He also made sure to listen inwards more often. “I made a conscious decision to enjoy my work more, to do more of the things that I liked and that would help me grow. I also truly understood how to harness the power of fun. We are in a fun business, our brands have that as part of their DNA and we found that it can be a powerful tool for breaking down the silos and improving collaboration,” he explains. That journey of changing his leadership to a more positive note helped drive digital transformation and growth in his team. “Everybody is focusing on the tech and tools to drive change, but it’s actually not about that at all. Change only comes from people and positive leadership,” he summarizes. 

I made a conscious decision to enjoy my work more, to do more of the things that I liked and that would help me grow. I also truly understood how to harness the power of fun.

The importance of embodying passion for progression

The second major lesson from his Absolut journey is the importance of “being” what you preach. If you lead an organisation to change, transform and progress, you need to take ownership of your own development and truly live your own gospel. ”As a person, you need to invest in your development. You need to take ownership and you need to drive it,” he says. 

Colin decided to take a course at the Stockholm School of Economics as well as coaching sessions to work on himself and his skills, and he took time to coach others on his team to help them on their journeys. The idea was to push himself beyond his comfort zone, try new things and develop a “growth mindset”. With his personal work as the foundation, he found it easier to credibly drive organisational transformation. “Ultimately it’s about people. To lead change is to try new things and get people comfortable with that. We’ve done a lot of work on our vision and our values to accomplish that, and there’s been a really strong buy-in into passion for progression as a result,” he says. 

As Colin now continues his transformation-fueled journey around the world and takes on the marketing responsibility for no less than 51 of Pernod Ricard’s national markets (a fitting job for someone who enjoys working with different perspectives), he feels that our perception of change needs to be renewed and that he now can see that shift happening all around him.

“Progression only comes from asking yourself the tough questions, but change doesn’t have to be painful if you’re proactive about it. If you see past your own fear of change, you’ll understand that it is better for us to drive the change we want, rather than to have someone else impose it on us,” he concludes.