First 90 Days as CEO during a World-Wide Pandemic

Interview with Darcy Zbinovec, CEO, PANOS brands

Q:  Starting at PANOS at the beginning of a pandemic, did you need to change your approach given the turbulent time?

Darcy:  Yes, my approach would typically have been to spend face to face time with the employees, but since so many were working from home, it was necessary to meet virtually. Additionally, my onboarding was based on diving into the issues at hand versus an organized approach. The entire process took longer than usual due to the pandemic, and our focus/energy was preparing for employee safety and business continuity planning.


Q:  What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first 90‐days as CEO?

Darcy:  Starting a new position is always difficult, but due to the pandemic and working virtually, it is so much more challenging. My first order of business was to close the office and implement appropriate protocols to keep our employees safe in production facilities. I followed this with a Townhall type meeting, where I introduced myself and overviewed business continuity plans to keep the business functioning and orders filled.

Typically, an initial assessment of the business is conducted within the first 90‐100 days. In this case, it was necessary to assess the business, strategy, and structure virtually. While this was more challenging, I did receive input and support from many who have been associated with PANOS over the last several years.

Due to many PANOS products being in grocery stores, we saw a significant uptick in sales, going well beyond projections. The team needed to work together and manage through. All in all, a busy time, but everyone had such a positive attitude.


Q:  What have you done to communicate with your workforce during your initial, primarily virtual, tenure as CEO?

Darcy:  People and teams need communication, which has always been an essential component of leadership. We schedule Townhall meetings regularly to discuss culture, business performance, and projects. Given the limitations of virtual communication, I also planned a series of video conference 1:1s with the management and administrative staff and coordinated with employees a focus group series. During these meetings, we discussed what people like about PANOS, what they would like to improve, and the culture they are willing to work towards. These groups will establish the basis for change in how we manage and lead the business into the future.


Q:  Have you/PANOS needed to “pivot” the business model to stay above water the past few months?

Darcy:  We needed to pivot to fill orders since many of our products are imported, and we faced some supply challenges as the pandemic rolled through the world. We still have a few items in tight supply, but we are very close to normal levels.


Q:  From an operations perspective, how has HKW supported your efforts since becoming CEO?

Darcy:  HKW has been a supporter in collaborating on growth initiatives focused on structural and strategic change for PANOS. I have found my interactions with the team to be a true pleasure.


Q:  What long‐term impacts on the industry do you see from the pandemic?

Darcy:  We are seeing in our business and hearing from trend spotters that the consumer has changed grocery shopping habits and purchasing more food for eating at home. Before the pandemic, more than 50% of consumer’s food dollars were spent away from home. Now with restaurants only slowly reopening and consumers hesitant to dine out, eating at home is potentially a longer‐term trend. Another long‐ term impact is a strong uptick in grocery e‐commerce, this trend has been building over the last few years, and the pandemic gave it a push. Consumers are now confident that e‐commerce for grocer shopping is a viable option.


Q:  No need to play favorites, but do you have a preferred PANOS brand when it’s time for an afternoon snack?

Darcy:  I love sweets😊, so it is MI‐DEL cookies for me.