Leading through COVID-19: Interview with Doug Paulin, Sealord


As leaders, the COVID-19 crisis has presented us all with unexpected challenges. Facing these unprecedented circumstances head-on has led to many stories of great leadership across all industries and sectors in Nelson, Tasman, and Marlborough. Our 'Leading Through COVID-19' interview series is designed to inspire and support a sense of togetherness as our region moves through and beyond this challenge.

In this interview, we talk to Doug Paulin, CEO of Sealord. Following this recent article on about Sealord's back to work solutions, Doug discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on the business and shares valuable insights on keeping teams engaged in this challenging environment. 

How has COVID-19 affected your business overall?

Operationally, whilst we have been able to operate, changes to keep people safe have meant productivity downsides although staff innovations and suggestions have lifted performance close to normal operational levels.

The biggest impacts are from a market perspective in terms of some markets slowing, or in some instances closing e.g. Foodservice in many countries is down 50% - 80%.  The follow on from this is that it is almost impossible to forecast the future impact to the business, other than as multiple scenarios all of which could be miles off.  Not very helpful from a Board perspective (apparently).

As a leader, what has been key in keeping your team engaged?

  • Significantly higher levels of communication
    • Initially, acknowledging that we are in unprecedented times so we won’t have all the answers -  however, priority #1 was our people’s health and safety and reassurance of our people was my biggest focus.  Taking people’s temperature every day before them coming on-site and having a site exclusion over 37.9° was as much about providing reassurance that it was fine for people to come to work with others as it was to pick up if anyone was ill.
    • Facts (from a COVID-19 perspective) from reliable sources MoH and WHO.
    • Business updates, where changes have occurred and impacts this has caused.
    • Humour where appropriate
  • Being visible (digitally)
    • As I was based in our operational base of Nelson and even though I could have worked from home it was more important that I was seen (at the appropriate distance) and that I was confident in all the changes we were making that I was happy to leave my bubble and join the work bubble.
  • Let people see into your life and that you too are facing the same challenges they are
    • Did a daily VLOG – Trawling with Paulin
  • Look for little things you can do to make a difference
    • Supplied hand sanitiser for home and refilled them when required
    • Subsidised on-site cafeteria for a period of time
    • Tips for working from home
    • Competitions (digital)

What has been your biggest personal challenge leading through COVID-19?

Dealing with our peoples' fears and then making decisions that recognised the individual’s concerns, whilst ensuring everyone was being treated equitably including the company.

Also - an inability to forecast the future.

Any learnings or advice you can pass on to other leaders? 

  • Act quickly - it’s not about strategy, it’s about taking action, you can always iterate and amend as you go.
  • Demonstrate you care about your people through your actions as much as your words.
  • Communication must lift - in the absence of this, people make up their own facts/messages.
  • Be seen, even if this can only be digitally.
  • Embrace technology.
  • Be innovative in your approaches to everything, the policy handbook whilst still important should be used as a guide.

Have you been able to identify any opportunities for your business as a result? 

Other sales channels have opened up, and of course, digital advancement has been significant and this will remain into the future.

Any thoughts on what will change for your business as a result of this disruptor?

Digital transformation, in particular:

  • Communications
  • Less need for travel given the success of digital platforms for meetings
  • The ability for people to successfully work from home

Moving forward we will need to think differently about sales channels, and there is also a potential position for NZ as a COVID free supplier of food (and by definition Sealord).

Enjoyed this interview? Read more from our Leading Through COVID-19 interview series here.

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