On Thursday, July 9th, I hosted the seventh installment of our Future of Branding roundtable series, featuring a conversation with five marketing leaders about how they are leading their global marketing teams in the presence of a pandemic.

From India to the U.S., from Africa to Europe, our panelists have distinguished themselves as global leaders. Our discussion touched on several areas, from how brand purpose has come to life during the COVID-19 era, to the unexpected advantages that have emerged, the somber challenges that must be acknowledged, and why we should view the future as a new beginning rather than a new normal.

Brand building is inherently a team sport. To build a brand, a leader must first inspire his or her team. In closing, I posed the questions: What have you learned during this COVID-19 time that will change your leadership in the future, and what is your commitment to building cohesiveness across your global team? Here’s what our panelists had to say.

I certainly have a new skill under my belt with being able to work from home. What I’ve learned about myself as a leader is how much opportunity there is to share more of what’s going on in my home life. It has been a joy to do that and to get that from others too. Weirdly, as monotonous as video meetings can be, it is a peek into everyone’s home and their lives, so that part of sharing that has been great. The other thing that I’ve learned a lot about is in the Black Lives Matter movement and how much there is for us to learn when we focus on understanding an issue more thoroughly. That focus has given us a lot of time to dive deep into a subject and learn as a team. I think that the conversation that we thought would be uncomfortable has been very fruitful.

I’ve had a lot of global marketing jobs, so my goal has always been to create global cohesion in the teams and the strategy. What’s working best now is with diminished budgets, we’ve had to make things work a lot more across markets. The commitment to them has all been for even mutual sharing. Not top-down sharing but picking things up from the Sydney office or the Tokyo office and bringing them to the States; picking things up in the Mexico office, and bringing it to the UK. That’s one of the great things about corporate America. Working during a crisis tends to make the teamwork spike. While we may face significant struggles, teamwork is not one of them. My commitment is to ensure there’s as much coming from the markets to headquarters, as there is going from headquarters to the markets.

—Clayton F. Ruebensaal, EVP, Global B2B Marketing, American Express


I took over this role in February, so I have a new global team of 500 people. Interestingly, I always held the philosophy, “I want to change the world, but I want to have fun doing it.” So that leadership style helped me because we had to keep this light and fun. But one thing that I have noticed a lot of insecurity people now. Continually assuring people about job security and their role is a new thing I am focusing on more.

My commitment is to intensify engagement. While we are all trying to sound positive, there’s a grief among us about not being able to do the basics things that we used to do. We need to recognize and acknowledge that, and not make everything sound fun because everything is not okay. To understand that and react to that is my commitment to my community, company and team.

—Rajashree Ramakrishnan, CMO, Tata Consultancy Services


Personally, the whole working from home for me has increased my productivity, albeit at a cost. You no longer have those personal interactions by the coffee machine or in the corridor. But it can be productive if planned well: greater time management and sticking to a routine. However, it’s crucial to avoid both underworking and overworking. The ability to switch off within our four walls is challenging, and I think we’ve all felt that.

The stress and the challenges we face have brought out the best and maybe even the worst in people. Hence, for me, a more adaptive leadership style has come to the fore. Trying to adjust to what works for different people, especially when they’re under stress and recognizing that our employees are at various stages of their lives–whether they’re single and live alone or are married with young children.

Regarding cohesiveness, I’m committed to pushing the subject of engagement much harder post-COVID. We’ve always talked about engagement at a company level, but there needs to be engagement at a private level. A good mix of that is required because one of the things that we can all share is, we probably now know more about our colleagues because of the nature of being on the other side of the camera and getting a glimpse into people’s personal lives. We certainly have an awesome brand for global cohesiveness, and we believe we’re living up to it every day on the ground. Even though we can’t come together, it’s energizing to bond with people about the bigger picture via remote communication.

—Paul Chaggar, Chief Commercial Officer, Tugende


The most significant learning is that I don’t require anywhere near as much—personally or professionally—as I thought. There is a sense of freedom and liberation around how I was living my life until now and how I was running my team. My commitment is to continue to check in with myself on how I’m doing, be honest, be vulnerable in the right settings and the proper forums and ask for help. I was raised on the type of leadership where you feel that you’re the one who’s got to provide the answers, so sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. But I’ve become a lot better at feeling, saying and acting because we’re all in this together.

I saw an audience question about what the panelists are reading right now. And this may sound a little morbid, but I’m reading a fascinating and inspiring book called “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. It is about the difficult conversations you need to have with your loved ones about end-of-life protocols. My father survived COVID, but he was in intensive care for nine days, and it prompted me to ask myself some pretty existential questions. So that’s what I’m focusing on thinking about life in a much more holistic way and having those difficult conversations.

—Muriel Lotto, CMO, Western Union


I believe that this is a bit of a reset for many people, whether that’s professional or personal. What’s happened to us as a people has provided the opportunity for reflection. What I’ve learned the most was the ability to pivot and move fast can be done–even in a big organization, even in a very structured kind of corporate entity. But it requires leadership; it requires the ability to say no to do other things. It requires empowering your people to take some risks. My commitment is to continue to do that for the team and even my peers and those around me.

The other thing I’ll say is that I hope that this has also enlightened people on different lifestyles and different ways of working. At the beginning of the pandemic, you would hear many comments on calls like, “I’m so sorry I have to go at 4:30 because my child’s done with homeschooling.” But it has started to dissipate; you don’t hear that as much anymore. I hope that this has unlocked an understanding and an appreciation that everyone has a different situation and a different lifestyle. What you see in the office is not necessarily reflective of what may be going on at home. And how are we simply more appreciative of each other.

—Monique Elliott, SVP, Global Marketing, Industry Automation, Schneider Electric


This is a biweekly series for brand-side senior marketers. To request an invitation, visit events.siegelgale.com