By Mark E. Brouker, Captain, United States Navy, founder of Brouker Leadership Solutions
Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line? We hear of the leader’s ability to influence others in powerful ways in politics, academia, sports, among other areas. However, in business, profitability is where the rubber meets the road. How impactful is the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism in creating a healthy bottom line?
One of the truly remarkable and rewarding tours of duty I had during my Navy career was with a small group of highly motivated doctors and pharmacists from all three services – Army, Navy, and Air Force. These professionals were all hand-picked to join a newly-formed team which was directed to reduce the escalating cost of prescription medications provided for all Department of Defense (DoD) active duty (Army, Navy and Air Force) and family members. Our task was made more challenging because we were to reduce costs without decreasing quality of care. At that time, there were over eight million men, women, and children eligible for prescription medications throughout DoD. The annual cost was over five billion dollars and climbing fast.
Our boss, Dan, was a brilliant, hard-working, and extremely passionate leader who was highly respected by all. Dan cared for us and we cared for him. We were a tight group. We treated each other as family. Dan’s passion was contagious, and he quickly established a culture of caring, hard work and trust. We were poised for success. Because I was senior to other members of the team, Dan selected me to be his deputy.
The idea of creating a small team to bend the cost curve for the entire DoD pharmacy benefit was novel – it had never been tried before. While the team shared a genuine passion for this noble and ambitious undertaking, early wins were few and far between.
After the 6-month honeymoon period ended, enthusiasm was slowly replaced with frustration. Every morning we’d meet with Dan to share the progress or, more accurately, lack of progress with our respective projects. It was slow and insidious at first, but sarcasm, frustration and pessimism crept into the meetings. A few of the more vocal naysayers would spew their negative venom and Dan and I would make meager attempts to mitigate the damage, or in times of weakness simply join in. These meetings frequently went much longer than scheduled, drained everyone of energy, and were generally recognized to be a waste of time. In short, neither Dan nor I led these meetings. We attended them. One could feel the energy, passion and trust dissipate like air leaking from a balloon.
It was clear that Dan and I needed to change our attitudes. We candidly discussed the culture of pessimism that we were creating and, more importantly, how it was sucking trust and the creative juices from the team. Over a handshake, we agreed to help each other curb our negativity and celebrate small victories that were indeed happening. We’d address the challenges, but not mire in them. We agreed to not let anyone hijack the meeting with their negativity.
We were more careful in the words we chose – we rid ourselves of cynical remarks. We were careful with our body language. No scowling or worried looks. Above all, we focused on staying positive. We’d invest a few minutes before meetings to reflect on past successes, however minor, and mention them at the beginning of the meeting. We’d then address the challenges, and close each meeting with a reminder, once again, of past successes.
Frustration and pessimism were slowly replaced with enthusiasm and optimism. Wins starting coming. More wins followed. Within 2 years, our small team was saving DoD over $100 million annually with no reduction in quality. Our small team was recognized within the industry as a center of excellence. Our success was nothing less than stunning.
How did this happen? It turns out that Dan’s and my behaviors had a much more profound impact on our team members than we could have ever imagined. In fact, studies have shown that the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism directly impacts their team members level of enthusiasm and optimism. Why is this the case? A study by Gallup found that employees who are supervised by highly enthusiastic leaders are 59 percent more likely to be enthusiastic than those supervised by unenthusiastic leaders. In other words, the leader’s behaviors, in this case optimism and enthusiasm, are contagious. Further, studies have indeed shown that businesses led by enthusiastic and optimistic leaders were significantly more profitable than those led by apathetic and pessimistic leaders.  
Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line? Unquestionably the answer is yes. The leader’s ability to influence in politics, academia, sports and yes, profitability in business, is profound. Those businesses led by leaders who understand, respect, and embrace the strong correlation between the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism as it relates to performance and profits – and most importantly practice these behaviors – are at a distinct competitive advantage.
Be a great leader – lead with enthusiasm and optimism.
Mark E. Brouker, Captain, United States Navy (retired), Pharm.D., MBA, FACHE, BCPS, is founder of Brouker Leadership Solutions, and author of Lessons From The Navy: How To Earn Trust, Lead Teams, And Achieve Organizational Excellence. For more information visit http://www.broukerleadershipsolutions.com/.
 Gallup, “State of the American Workplace, 2017.” Accessed February 12,2020.
 Michael Bush, A Great Place to Work for All (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2018), 26
 Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 40
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Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile
By Gilles Guillaume
PARIS (Reuters) – Renault said on Friday it is still fighting the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of semiconductor chips, that could make for another rough year for the French carmaker.
Renault reported an 8 billion euro ($9.7 billion) loss for 2020 which, combined with gloomy take on the market, sent its shares down more than 5% in late morning trading.
“We are in the midst of a battle to try to manage a difficult year in terms of supply chains, of components,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo told reporters. “This is all the collateral damage of the Covid pandemic… we will have a fairly volatile year.”
De Meo, who took over last July, is looking at ways to boost profitability and sales at Renault while pushing ahead with cost cuts. There were early signs of improving momentum as margins inched up in the second half of 2020.
The group gave no financial guidance for this year, although it said it might reach a target of achieving 2 billion euros in costs cuts by 2023 ahead of time, possibly by December.
Executives said they were confident the carmaker could be profitable in the second half of 2021, but that they lacked sufficient market visibility to provide a forecast.
Renault struck a cautious note, saying it was focused on its recovery but warned orders had faltered in early 2021 as pandemic restrictions continued in some countries.
The group is facing new challenges as the European Union tightens emissions regulations and after rivals PSA and Fiat Chrysler joined forces to create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.
The auto industry endured a tough 2020 but a swift rebound in premium car sales in China helped companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler to weather the storm.
Auto companies globally have since been hit by a shortage of semiconductors that has forced production cuts worldwide.
“The beginning of the year has shown some signs of weakness,” De Meo told analysts, but added the chip shortage should be resolved by the second half of 2021. “We have taken the necessary measures to anticipate and overcome challenges.”
Renault estimated the chip shortage could reduce its production by about 100,000 vehicles this year.
The group was already loss-making in 2019, but took a sharp hit in 2020 during lockdowns to fight the pandemic, which also hurt its Japanese partner Nissan.
Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected a 7.4 billion euro loss for 2020. The group posted negative free cash flow for 2020.
The 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly lead the alliance between Renault and Nissan, plunged the automakers into turmoil.
In a further sign that the companies have been working to repair the alliance, De Meo told journalists that Renault and Nissan will announce new joint products together in the coming weeks or months.
Renault has begun to raise prices on some car models, and group operating profit, which was negative for 2020 as a whole, improved in the last six months of the year, reaching 866 million euros or 3.5% of revenue.
Analysts at Jefferies said the operating performance was better than expected. Sales were still falling in the second half, but less sharply.
Renault is slashing jobs and trimming its range of cars, allowing it to slice spending in areas like research and development as it focuses on redressing its finances. It is also pivoting more towards electric cars as part of its revamp.
It was already struggling more than some rivals with sliding sales before the pandemic, after years of a vast expansion drive it is now trying to rein in, focusing on profitable markets.
De Meo told journalists on Friday that the French carmaker will make three new higher-margin models at its Palencia plant in Spain, where manufacturing costs are lower, between 2022 and 2024.
($1 = 0.8269 euros)
(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White in Paris, Nick Carey in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing, David Evans and Jan Harvey)
UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.
Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.
“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.
($1 = 0.7152 pounds)
(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)
Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights
By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.
The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.
Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.
“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.
To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.
The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.
Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.
Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.
That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.
“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.
Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.
Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.
Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.
($1 = 0.8279 euros)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)
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