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#36 How a Family Business Survived COVID Using Enterprise Excellence with Xanny Christophersen.

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

Proudly brought to you in association with S A Partners, a world-leading business transformation consultancy.


Welcome to Episode 36 of the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. I am so pleased to have on the show with me today Xanny Christophersen. Xanny is the Chief Operations Officer of Priestley's Gourmet Delights, one of the leading cake and dessert manufacturers of Asia Pacific. Xanny has focused her career on excellence for customers, people and the planet. Let's get into the episode. Xanny, thank you for joining us today.


Xanny stumbled across Operational and Enterprise Excellence in a networking event. She was fortunate to meet colleagues and organisations that were already on the journey and decided to ensure any of her future leadership opportunities should follow this path. She appreciated that all departments speak the same language with an Operational & Enterprise Excellence (furthermore known as O&EE) approach and understand the same methodologies.

One of the best experiences for her is seeing the results of the O&EE journey in Priestley's. The vision for Priestley's is to ensure their business is around for future generations and that it leaves the environment in a better place. Culturally, everyone at every level of the company has bought in and believe in the organisation's aspiration. All employees feel that they can make a difference when they start work every day.

As the first step with their environmental vision, Priestley's have partnered with Suez, a waste disposal business, and have established recycling in their facilities. Already they have saved 75% from landfill. Removing the use of plastic is a big focus. They previously had many SKUs using plastic in their facility and are proud to say that they are now freeing the remaining two.

Xanny believes that this whole organisational culture has resulted from establishing huddles at every level of the business. They speak about their purpose - simply creating happiness. The word 'simple' is an acronym that fosters communication during the huddles. These are the key drivers of their business.

  1. Was it safe?

  2. Did we improve?

  3. Did we make it to the plan?

  4. Was it profitable?

  5. Did we lead by example?

  6. Was it environmentally friendly?

Before COVID-19, business was excellent, and they were starting to hit some of the EE goals. Their key goals were to embed the EE journey into the organisation through regular huddles, lead and lag measures and to ensure economic viability for their employees. And then COVID-19 hit. Xanny remembers the announcement from Scott Morrison to shut pubs, clubs and restaurants and that we were all going into lockdown. She recalls the tears and the surreal feeling that her family business could lose everything. Overnight, Priestley's lost 90% of their market share.

How did they pivot through this catastrophe?

Priestley's cut expenses and reduced their exposure to raw ingredients, with use-by dates. Their main focus was to ensure they had a business left for their employees to return to. They went through an Agile Sales journey, and for the first time, rearranged their regional sales teams into smaller, tight channels exploring untapped opportunities. Their experience in Enterprise Excellence prepared them well; they had to pivot fast. Problem-solving, troubleshooting, and carefully analysing untapped markets in the smaller teams opened up new opportunities in the market. Priestley's were back to 60% of sales by August 2020 and have since recovered completely, which we are thrilled to hear.

Considering this occurred during the lockdown, Priestley's operated in a virtual world, using video, predominately Microsoft Teams. They organised quick and small Teams huddles. They also used Teams Project Plans and created visual huddle plans. Well done, Microsoft, for continuous improvement in this area. Priestley's also used PowerPoint with their staff which worked well and was simple to understand. Keeping tech simple for their team in times of crisis was a focus of the senior managers.

What were the resulting measures?

The resulting measures were winning independent retail contracts and working with their crucial QSR partners to improve their customer journeys. Xanny had never seen the team more engaged. They have kept a national virtual sales meeting, exploring their sales pipelines. They thought outside the square and gathered data from Uber, finding the cafes to deliver more value to the menu by offering a dessert item. Xanny hopes that we all didn't put too many COVID kilos!

Every employee in the whole company is involved and engaged and are passionate about Priestley's purpose. They have gained 10% in their employee engagement survey. The previous cultural mentality that "this is the way we have always done it, so it's the right way" is starting to dissolve.

Two Minute Tip from Xanny - Focus on Your People

Focus on your people. Listen to your people - they will come up with the answers. They're the ones that are going to come up with the answers. You don't need to know everything; that they will supply that to you.

Before the crisis, Xanny did emphasise her people, but she puts more emphasis on it now because a lot of the time, it was her employees coming up with the solutions. When you look at quality at the source and Enterprise Excellence at the source, your front line workers are the ones that see the product every day. They know how to fix the problems. The executive team won't have all the answers.

Xanny describes the change in her workload pressure with the Enterprise Excellence approach in play. It means that she can focus on the more strategic side of the business. She's not involved in the day-to-day tactical side so much anymore. It has empowered her people. She also sees growth in the individuals throughout the organisation, which has been fabulous to see.

Lux Light Ratings - what is required in terms of lighting levels and the equivalent of one measurement of one lux in candle terms. Did I get that right, Xanny?

Reaching out to Xanny


Key takeaways

  1. Involve everyone in cultural and strategic planning

  2. Establish a system for people at all levels to retain focus and execute strategic and cultural improvement.

Takeaway number 1 is about involving everyone in the planning process to help the organisation and its people align and focus. Priestley's have taken this to a whole new level by focusing on their purpose and the bigger picture outcomes they want for people and the planet. By involving people at all levels of the organisation in strategic and cultural planning, you help them engage, build motivation, and ultimately create plans to help the organisation move forward and compete.

Moving onto key take away number two. Strategy and cultural improvement plans do not work well if they are not executed well at all levels of the organisation. Priestley's have done well establishing a multi-tier huddle approach. These are short 5-10 minute stand up meetings around a visual board every day to identify challenges and execute strategic and cultural improvement. This system allows for issues to be escalated quickly to leadership if needed. The teams own the scoreboard and the meeting. Xanny mentioned the benefits she as a leader has gained through the development of this system.

Thanks again for this chat Xanny. It was great to have a laugh with you, and see the excellence that you have brought into your family business. Bye for now.


02:43 min Obviously, people are our future, and so is the environment. So, we wanted to make that we were leaving the environment in a better place than what we started with. It's really important for us that our business is going to be around for future generations and that the environment is left in a better position for future generations.

04:08 min So, we partnered with Suez, a big waste disposal business and we implemented just recycling at our facility, and we're at 75% land diversion today, so that's a phenomenal record.

09:54 min from a sales point of view, we went down the Sales Agile methodology, where we brought the teams together and had lots of huddles. It was the first time in our history where we broke the sales team down from regions into sales channels which helped us focus on particular paths or markets that we thought that we had opportunities that we hadn't explored yet. I guess from an Enterprise Excellence point of view, all of the work that we'd done in terms of leader standard work, leading excellence and also from a huddle point of view, it really helped us execute quickly, because we had to pivot fast.

14:32 min we've actually kept a national sales meeting on a Wednesday where they talk about their leads, their opportunities, and what's in their sales pipeline.

16:29 min Um, just making sure that they were realigned with what our purpose was and our values were. And making sure that as they reentered the workforce that they had a clear understanding of where we needed to go.

21:27 min for me, it's about progress, not perfection. There's a lot to learn. You are never going to get everything right the first time around. So its focus on the progress, not on nailing it to perfection. I think for me, Enterprise Excellence is a journey that will never stop. There's always something to learn; there's always something to implement. There's always training to give to your staff. So, it's a lifetime journey.

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