Insight article

‘Winning hearts and minds’: talking to Pano Christou, CEO of Pret A Manger

In the most recent episode in our ‘Stories from the C-suite’ webinar series, we talked to Pano Christou, CEO of Pret A Manger. Pret has been through a lot in the past six months – like many businesses that rely on high-street footfall, it has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and lockdown, having to shut all of its stores back in March. 

Listening to Pano, however, there was no hint at defeat. And as the challenges created by COVID show no sign of slowing down, Pano is ready to face the pandemic head-on. Pret is adjusting to the seismic shifts of the pandemic by staying nimble, flexible and creatively reinventing its brand. This resilience may stem from Pano’s own personal story: he has worked at Pret since the age of 22, slowly working his way up from the shop floor. 

Our conversation with Pano was packed full of fascinating stories. We have identified five key insights from the webinar: 

  1. COVID was the catalyst for three years’ worth of changes that took place in just six months: if anyone had told Pano that Pret would experience three years’ worth of effort in one year, he said he wouldn’t have believed them. However, for Pret, this agility and fast-paced response to the pandemic is one positive out of an immensely challenging situation.
  2. The lifeblood of Pret is its culture of innovation: in the change narrative Pret co-created with us, one objective was to ‘rediscover the sparkle of Pret’. The transformation, which was accelerated by COVID, aims to ensure that this sparkle remains integral to everything Pret does. An example of this is its latest coffee subscription initiative
  3. “Leaders need to inhale stress and exhale serenity.” Pano was firm that he has never been a command and control leader. Rather, he believes people should be given the opportunity to flourish. Completing the Pret story before COVID has helped with this, as the leadership team were aligned on the direction of travel and are able to communicate this to their people. For example, Pano holds a weekly broadcast to Pret branches across the country to keep teams informed and engaged in a difficult time. 
  4. The Pret story is a red thread running through the organisation: the Pret story has served as an anchor, continuing to influence decision-making throughout the business. For example, even though there was a desperate need to reduce costs during lockdown, Pret has not reduced portion sizes. The fundamentals of Pret won’t change, as Pano told us: “when you are driving change through a business you don’t forget where you’ve come from.”
  5. “Hearts and minds.” Engaging the emotional side of people is key to Pano’s leadership. As a big believer in purpose, he wants his teams and colleagues to enjoy an emotional connection to the brand they are part of. And how does he cultivate this connection? By communicating through human stories and making people feel part of the journey Pret is on. He told us that co-creating Pret’s story meant pulling people from every part of the organisation to co-create the narrative – something they hadn’t done in the 37 years since Pret was founded. It resonated so deeply with teams that when the story was shared, many people were in tears. 

Ultimately, Pano sees COVID as an opportunity for Pret. With the Pret story empowering teams to own the part they play, there is a sense of alignment and also optimism for the journey ahead. As working from home continues, Pret is seizing the opportunity to reach out to new areas. Pano finished on a positive note as he described how he sees the future: the business will now be “following the people”, and no longer just the skyscrapers.

To catch-up and find out more about Pano’s story, have a listen to the webinar in full by clicking hereAnd don’t forget to sign up to our next webinar with Alex Perry, CEO of Bupa Insurance UK on 10th November, 13:00 GMT here.

Robert Tennant

Associate Director Client Strategy

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