James Michael Lafferty, CEO, Fine Hygienic Holding Image Credit: Supplied

If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught leaders anything, it is the need to prepare for the unexpected. Rewind to January 2020, who would have predicted a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing, and an unprecedented global shift in social interaction?

Regardless of brand, location or sector, businesses were impacted in a huge way. For many, it was just about staying afloat. For others, it was about making as much progress as possible in an uncertain landscape. As leaders, we must face future challenges regardless, and we must use all the resources at our disposal to plan, strategise and forecast as best we can.

It is up to leaders to stay strong and explore possible opportunities and challenges as they come their way. At Fine Hygienic Holding, it is no different. Our move into the Fine Guard mask line is a classic example of having the foresight to see an opportunity where others see a challenge.

A major business transformation may have appeared a risk to some, especially when there was no mandate or directive on masks at the start of the year. But we saw it as an opportunity, and we took a considered approach to this major business transformation, fully supported by data and evidence.

Predicting change

Some may call it foresight, and in a sense it is. Essentially, we could only predict if the move would be a success. But it is my job to predict change based on data – I understood the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic when very few people were even talking about it. Few people know, but we had already been experimenting with the textile technology in our efforts to improve and develop the hygiene of our paper products.

I had seen the data and tapped into my extensive circle of contacts in the scientific and medical industries around the world, and I made a bold decision – to use the textile tech on reusable masks.

Entry into a whole new category might well have been viewed as a risky endeavour, but to me it was a logical step, knowing as I did the word in the medical and scientific world coming from Wuhan around the airborne nature of the virus, and knowing the strength of the textile tech we had at our disposal.

As a company we had the foresight to see it as an opportunity to develop. And look at how the market reacted. The success of these products acted as a springboard for Fine’s wider ambitions to expand into the industry of wellness. Throughout 2021, our pipeline of product launches will encompass a full range of products that will cater to several verticals. By pushing forward in 2020 and taking those risks, we began earning the confidence of consumers, we now have the opportunity to double down our commitment to producing safe and sustainable products.

Leaders need to understand the importance of technology and data as an enabler to help any creative ideas get off the ground. Used properly, tech can provide us with real-time data, which we can interpret and analyse, giving us the ability to make more informed decisions that allow the business to grow.

And it is becoming increasingly important to the modern-day leader – we need to think quickly and for the sake of the business, we cannot afford to make snap calls. Informed decisions, based on data and key information, are all-important. Do not fear tech and data – embrace change and harness those tools.

Do not forget the human side of the business. For all the technological developments available to us, it is important to remember the human aspect of any business. With the rapid advancement of machine learning and AI, we see many getting carried away by the potential of technology. While tech is undoubtedly helping many businesses advance, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a workforce to any progress. It is the bedrock of our business at Fine Hygienic Holding.

As leaders, we need an engaged workforce. I have worked for many committed, employee-centric companies all over the world, and I have seen the benefits of this approach. With that in mind, we have worked extremely hard at Fine to develop a culture that supports and empowers the team.

The world is an uncertain place, we have seen that last year, and we want our team to feel they are supported by strong foundations.

We view our employees as the heart of our business, and therefore it is a no-brainer that we look after the physical and mental well-being of all at Fine. As a lifelong sports fan, and an Olympic coach, I know the importance of physical fitness to overall well-being – not just the body but the mind. And we need to be firing on all cylinders mentally and physically in this uncertain time.

We are the first company to have built a comprehensive corporate wellness centre on our premises in Dubai, fully equipped with 17 brand new machines, a spacious yoga room and a high-intensity track.

Work from anywhere

In terms of mental well-being, we have a culture that supports and nourishes the individual. Our unprecedented Employee Assistance Program, administered by qualified psychologists, provides 24/7 confidential hotline counselling and support in many languages to all employees and their immediate family members for free.

We also updated our Work From Home policy to Work From Anywhere, allowing the team a few days out of the office per week during normal times.

Another way that we have been addressing the workplace culture is by building a more diversified workplace and fostering a culture of opportunity and fairness. We have worked relentlessly on closing the gender gap and are taking an active stance on female empowerment. The female representation in leadership roles has grown from zero to nearly 30 per cent over the past three years and through our best practice and leadership programmes, we work on promoting female talents from within to assume executive and managerial roles.

And while we believe in the power of female leadership, we want to ensure that we keep our best talent. We do not want to force our females into a situation where they are forced to choose between career and family.

That is why we have a world-class maternity leave policy which provides 16 weeks at full pay for new mums, and also allows for an additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave.

All mothers are also eligible for flexible working arrangements and a range of benefits including part-time options, workday reduction and breastfeeding breaks. Additionally, all females are provided an additional day of leave per month.

Of course, with our focus on work life balance and the importance of family, it is also important to point out the responsibility that fathers have. With that in mind, at Fine we continue to set the standard in pursuit of gender equality with a paid-paternity leave policy which offers three weeks leave at full pay and an additional week unpaid.

As a lifelong learner, I understand the importance of education and of challenging your own status quo. At Fine Hygienic Holding we offer the region’s best the chance to embrace growth, passion and success within a diverse and dynamic organisation.

We are confident that the top talent across the region understands this and wants to get on board.