An interview with KBE Drinks' Head of Operations, Kate Stew

August 2020

An interview with KBE Drinks' Head of Operations, Kate Stew

As part of our series of interviews with KBE Drinks' leadership team, we sat down with Head of Operations, Kate Stew, to discuss how lockdown affected her department.

Hello Kate, thanks for taking the time to catch up. How are you?

I am very well thank you, pleased to be catching up with you to give you a little more insight into the Operations department.

Operations is a department with a lot of moving parts. How soon ahead of lockdown were you able to prepare?

Yes, Operations is a function with many moving parts. When we knew we were heading towards lockdown it was important to ensure that we lifted as much as possible of our existing ways of working to a working-from-home solution. We had just under two weeks to consult with each department and prepare a normal way of working for both our employees and customers.

Did the scale of the lockdown come as a surprise to you, at all?

We could all see the extent of the lockdown coming into effect across Europe, but it’s not until you are actually in that situation do you really understand the scale and feel.  Our business literally changed overnight, whilst we were expecting it, it was clearly going to be an unprecedented situation for us all.

When the lockdown hit, how did it change the day to day of your department?

Massively, as I am sure you can appreciate the effectiveness of the Ops team relies on the proximity of all the members of the team being in one place, so it took a couple of weeks to find our feet, to review existing processes and to adapt to new ways of working.  When the furlough scheme came into effect, the change in the department with the reduced team intensified and many of us found ourselves completing tasks that we had not for many years. It was a team effort to draw on our shared knowledge and understanding.

What would you say the biggest challenge was during this time?

Our biggest challenge has been working relentlessly to keep our Grocery and Convenience customers in stock.  We saw an increased demand for Kingfisher, Sagres and Theakston products across all Off Trade channels. With the support of our production partners, our sales and Ops colleagues we were able to react to all requirements successfully, a great achievement in such challenging times.

On the 4th July, restaurants were allowed to reopen again in England. How did the department get ready for this date?

Whilst running the day-to-day, we spent many hours scenario planning for this date.  We needed to ensure that we were able to support our wholesaler partners with the uplift and replacement of stock where appropriate. We had to give our restaurant customers access to an easy way to claim the value of duty back on kegs. Alongside those tasks, we needed to make sure we had appropriate levels of stock to fulfil the initial and ongoing demand.  All of these tasks were challenging; managing the return of kegs, filling orders, assisting customers with enquiries.  The team embraced every aspect of these tasks, which further highlights our ability to adapt and change at pace.

What would you say you have learnt during the pandemic?

That you should never take anything for granted, that there will be things that push you outside of your comfort zone, that test any business continuity plans that you have in place. Ultimately, the pandemic has reaffirmed to me that anything is possible and flexibility and adaptability is the key to our success.  

If you could pinpoint something positive that has come from this experience, what would it be?

How strong our team are, how determined we are to succeed, and how every single person within the business embraced this new challenge.  I have such a sense of pride.