A toast to the most convivial at Pernod Ricard

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The drinks within Pernod Ricard’s portfolio have been a fundamental part of sharing happy moments together for years.

Whether that’s a glass of Campo Viejo Rioja with dinner, a Ricard to toast the summer sun or a Beefeater gin and tonic with friends on a Friday after work. But what keeps Pernod Ricard’s people happy? The answer, according to its HRD Cedric Ramat, is conviviality. And their favourite tipple, no doubt.

“When you join Pernod Ricard, wherever you are in the world, conviviality is with you,” says Ramat, who bubbles with excitement when talking about the global drinks company. “People are glad to be working together.”

Pernod Ricard is the second largest drinks company in the world, with 86 direct affiliates and 19,000 employees. Each brand within its portfolio has a different selling point and each are marketed accordingly depending on where the drink is made and where it is later sold.

Many brands have been brought into the Pernod Ricard family through mergers and acquisitions, so how can Ramat truly measure whether his employees are all singing from the same convivial hymn sheet?

“The employee engagement survey is key for us as it’s a true way of assessing what is happening every two years,” he says. “We don’t compare teams- it is not a beauty contest. Instead, we benchmark against each country to provide a local assessment on where we are and what we would like to tackle. We then share the result across the group and the practices we introduced.”

Ramat is no doubt extremely pleased with the latest data, given the survey found 88% of Pernod Ricard employees consider themselves engaged or highly engaged with the company, and 96% are proud to be associated with the company. I

t’s an impressive result for such a huge company, and Ramat is eager to showcase how the company’s three-year strategic plan, Transform and Accelerate, has made its mark.

He credits the HR team as a fundamental driver in helping the business adapt to the strategy and making sure employees understood why and how the business was changing.

Ramat says: “I met with the HR team to discuss how we will deliver the vision, one which was blending performance and conviviality to go the extra mile.

“This vision included a better balance [among the workforce] and the fact we needed to reflect our consumer base within our organisation. This is not yet the case, it was not and still is not, but we are on the right direction.”

The HR department itself also had some changes to make. “We built something with my HR team to be more people centric and pushed the agenda of a better balance so we could collate diversity across the company.

Workday

Within 14 months of the strategy launch, Ramat’s HR team rolled a unique platform for its employees called Workday.

“We changed 100% of the HR processes at a global level. It was a huge transformation in order to attract and develop talent and realign. It was launched in March last year and I think it was a great success because a lot of people didn’t believe we could do this at the pace because there were so many different ways of working.”

Each employee, irrespective of their role or location, can use the platform to access and manage all the data related to the management of their career. This means for the first time there is a company-wide overview of talent, with simplified and faster data management than any of its previous processes.

Ramat adds: “It is changing the way people are acting and reacting. There’s more than 1,000 open training courses regardless of your level. You can access marketing and sales if you’re in a different department and learn new skills.”

Although it was important for employees to know how to use the new system, the main issue the HR department faced was showing employees why the change was being made. “It was not a communication issue but a change mindset, we needed to change behaviour. There were lots of changes at the same time [due to the wider strategy rollout], so the team has to be very focussed to make it happen.

“We now have an employee centricity where we translate the company purpose, strategy and vision and HR pushes that message. Having Workday is changing the world and how we operate.”

Naturally in a company this size, there were mistakes along the way. Ramat, though reticent at first to dwell on them, soon begins to the difficulties faced by the HR team and the wider company faced during the transition period.

“It was working on day one but we needed to change the mindset of our employees and ways of working. If I could change one thing it would be to think of this rather than just communication.”

Ramat took the decision at the start of process to go for full transparency within the software, meaning everyone’s profiles are available to be viewed across the business. It seems obvious for some companies, but to connect this on a global platform had its issues. He says: “As a manager, I didn’t know the composition of my team but now as a group we can do this for everyone. So we had to train employees on what this means.”


From humble beginnings

HR makes difficult decisions everyday, but having to decide on the fundamentals of an inhouse platform takes a lot of nerve. Fortunately, Ramat is well-versed in taking a risk or two.

“I used to work at a startup, perhaps you have heard of it, called Microsoft,” he quips. “We were 80 people and working like hell on Saturday and we had meetings with Bill Gates coming in. It was incredible and it’s why when I have young guys telling me I don’t know what a start-up is, I tell them more than that I also know what a successful startup is.”

Despite his tech beginnings, Ramat soon poured into the drinks industry, beginning as a HR manager at a soft drink company. He then worked for household brands Orangina Pampryl before heading up Orangina’s sale to Schweppes, something which Ramat credits with giving him a depth of experience he now uses in his current role.

He says: “When I came back as HRD at Ricard, I went to Canada to help build the region and then after one year we decided to develop in America. It was 50% pure business orientated and 50% HR orientated. I am more diverse having spent 26 years in one business than a lot of people who have changed 5-6 companies in the same role.

“I am sure of very few things but one of them is that if you want to be a good HR you need to have a business mindset. If you are only a HR specialist in your own mind, you can be a good team member but cannot lead a HR strategy function.”


HR on call

It’s this business mindset which means that Ramat is often seen as CEO Alexandre Ricard’s first port of call, often travelling with him on business trips to aid key decision making. Ricard’s office in the general management space in the company’s Paris HQ, where HR magazine meets Ramat among a shelf displaying the bottles of the Pernod Ricard portfolio in perfect alignment.

“We have a very direct way of being together, where everyone can come in and speak with Alex [Ricard] and it’s very easy. We also gather 600 people in the group and live for three days together, which is an incredible machine to create and share culture.”

The company has also developed a talent management programme, Let’s Talk Talent, where Ricard spent three weeks only focussing on talent and how to prepare a HR team that connects with people. He also speaks for two days per year on talent, demonstrating the engrained nature of key HR principles within the company.

Ramat says: “When you are building a strategy and are part of a senior team at a group level, you cannot come in as HR to solve issues of deliver things, but you have to be a part of it from the beginning. And when we were building our strategy, people were in the middle of that at all.”

Though Ramat is adamant that conviviality runs through the veins of the business, given the its global presence, there are bound to be different workplace cultures operating side by side. It’s a continuous challenge therefore for his HR department to respect these values while creating an open space for all.

“We always promote responsible drinking, but it’s not easy as different countries have different behaviours. Yet we take tough decisions when needed and we always have done. You won’t find loads of policies but we have a strong backbone- the same one we’ve had for years and years and we are always consistent on the decisions we make.”

This strong backbone means the company is comfortable to develop marketing campaigns around difficult subjects. For example, in the US market Absolut Vodka launched a new #SexResponsibly campaign which directs a spotlight on the relationship between sex and alcohol and aims to help educate around consent.

Yet these decisions are often dictated by the country the brand is distributed in. This no doubt helps to motivate employees, but varying laws by each country mean these positive initiatives cannot be global.

Ramat says: “There are no LGBT networks in France as you are not allowed to ask your employees sexuality. The US team asked me a few months ago what the proportion of LGBT was in the group but I said I cannot ask that question- I may go to jail!”

Yet Ramat is adamant that more diversity needs to be brought to the group and has changed his perspective on staff movement. He says: “There was a big break in our culture because before when you were leaving the group it was like a divorce, but now we welcome them back also.

“As the organisation is stable, people need to move around otherwise you can get stuck. Our HR strategy is to take care of our own guys but also remember there’s a talent pool outside of our company too.”

It’s obvious that Ramat cares passionately about the work he does, the people he works with and the Pernod Ricard way of life. But does this mean he also practices what he preaches when it comes to enjoying life? “My life is balanced, sometimes I have to work like hell but balance that other times.

“Millennials say they want balance as if it’s a new thing but I’ve always had that. I am proud of something it’s that. It seems different with the younger population but when I’m doing something, I am here 100%, I’ll never be the kind of person who writes emails in a meeting.”

This piece appears in the April 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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