James Michael Lafferty

  • Chief Executive Officer and Member of the Board of Directors

  • Fine Hygienic Holding


James Michael Lafferty is The Chief Executive Officer of Fine Hygienic Holding and has often been described as one of the most unique and diversified CEOs in the world today. Recently, James was awarded as CEO of the Year by both the Burj CEO Awards associated with the Government of Dubai, and the GCC Best Employer Awards CEO of the Year. He is not only a successful CEO– but He is also an Olympic Coach. An award-winning journalist. A college professor. A competitive athlete. A philanthropist, husband, father of 5 and grandfather of 3.

James will be part of the expert speaker line-up at the ATD 2021 Middle East Conference and Exhibition taking place in June 2021 at the Address Dubai Marina and online, sharing his insights on a panel discussion: Learning and Development for Inclusivity and Diversity.

Question and Answer

Every major event or change in history was actioned by great leadership. Without leadership, nothing meaningful happens. A corporation is no different. Across all the major MNC’s I have worked in, Coca-Cola, P&G, and BAT, leadership was the single most significant outage among annual performance assessments across management. Leadership is crucial for any kind of change of culture and frankly, the reality is leadership is always a skill in demand.

In a word, COMMUNICATION. I talk to my team every day, either in writing or with virtual “Coffee with the CEO” sessions. Culture is facilitated by interaction, so in the absence of physical interaction, this must be supplemented by other forms. I write to my team, or speak to them virtually, every single day.

It starts with HR having a strong sense of empathy. Covid-19 was a storm we all had weather—but not everyone had the same boat. As such, people had varied reactions to the pandemic, and it had impacts in different ways. Some loved the remote work and time in the home with family. Some were lonely and struggled emotionally. And everything in-between. What HR teams need to do is to develop “menus” of options to help varying people adjust and find equilibrium. This can be from expanded training, to mental health programs, to evolving work-from-anywhere options. There is clearly no “one size fits all” as we have found during Covid-19.

For years prior to Covid-19, there was a general bemoaning of the decline of corporate loyalty. I am seeing a reversal of this among companies who held to good principles and seized on the Covid-19 pandemic to assert their values of caring for their employees as the company’s most important asset. Everyone during this pandemic saw friends and family lose their jobs, take involuntary pay cuts, and suffer greatly from job instability. Hence the companies that handled the crisis well, stood for values of caring for employees, and reassured their workforces are starting to see a resurgence of loyalty…something we thought was on a continuous decline. Corporate values matter—greatly!

Positivity has been hugely important during the pandemic. Everyone had worries. Not only for their own health but for their loved ones. We all know people who became ill with Covid-19 and even passed away. The stress was palpable in every organization. This was, and is, a time when leaders need to focus on positives and reassure their teams. It cannot. Be over-emphasized.

We have embarked on three strategies. We have first demystified mental health. It is “ok” to be worried, to be scared, to be depressed, to struggle mentally. For too long we have attached stigmas to this subject. We want our people to know it is ok to talk about, it is ok to have mental health struggles, and we are here for them. Secondly, we recognised we are not experts, and we employed a mental health provider, at company expense, for every employee and their immediate families. This included 24/7 counselling in 7 different languages. And thirdly, we beefed-up our in-house training around resiliency and personal coping strategies. The response has been tremendous and whilst we did well, we can always do things better.

I would encourage any leader to pursue digital learning, but don’t swing the pendulum too far. There is always a time and place for traditional training methods, in person and leveraging group dynamics to enhance learning. I have seen too often leaders take digital training too far and in doing so, failing to recognise you can always have “too much of a good thing”. There are trainings like People Manager College where the live interactions, reading of non-verbal communications, the group dynamics all play important roles. I believe digital learning is here to stay and great, but we need to be wise and balanced and define when it works best and when live training is warranted.

I see two skills emerging which will be critical post-pandemic. The first is communication, particularly in writing. As more work goes remote, the ability to write clear and concise communications is life or death for a career. I am telling my teams that mastering writing is an absolute must if you want to succeed. Writing also facilitates strong leadership as we now all must lead through written communications and across countries and time zones.

Secondly is self-discipline. Everyone says they are “Disciplined when they want to be” but this statement itself makes no sense. Discipline is, by definition, doing something when we don’t want to do it. In a more virtual world, the ability of someone to remain self-disciplined will define who is most successful and who is not. The old world of, “I need to be in the office by 9:00 am”, which some relied on to drive their own behaviours, is dead. The impetus needs to come from within. And the best of the new world will possess this internal discipline.