Labatt Breweries of Canada’s Lindsay King and Agostino “Ago” De Gasperis have brewed a strong relationship for over nine years. From day one, De Gasperis acted as a mentor to King, becoming an exemplar of how the company recruits and promotes talented people. In November 2015, King became Labatt’s vice president of people when De Gasperis left the role because he was appointed vice president of strategy and partnerships. Here, the two talk about how developing relationships translates into a better, more fulfilling career.
Tell me about your working relationship.
Lindsay King: Ago has always been an informal mentor to me. He’s given me a lot of feedback and coaching over the years that’s been extremely valuable in allowing me to move forward.
Agostino De Gasperis: It’s impressive when someone’s energy is immediately apparent and they obviously understand what we’re trying to accomplish at Labatt. When I see someone like Lindsay who knows how to get things done, it’s a part of our culture to help them in any way we can, regardless of whether we’re in the same function or department. We saw Lindsay’s potential right away and we were pleased that she came on board just a couple of weeks after she was interviewed.
What influenced your decision to promote King to her current role?
King: At Labatt, we really believe in promoting from within. Promoting one of our own team members is a great achievement because it means we’ve successfully supported and contributed to their learning and development. Ago helped me progress by getting me involved wherever possible to ensure I had a wide range of learning opportunities.
How have you fostered a welcoming and encouraging culture at Labatt?
De Gasperis: Labatt’s selection process tends to be more detailed and in-depth than is typical, but that’s by design. We’ve learned through past experiences that it’s important for people to understand and embrace our culture before committing to us. We want people who are a natural fit from the beginning.
King: We invest time and effort to onboard them in the right way, and we make a point of staying close to employees both formally and informally. At Labatt, our belief in open communication and close relationships is apparent. We don’t have any offices or walls—even our president sits with all of us.
Labatt’s market position in Canada
TOP AWARDS: Canada’s Top 100 Employer Awards overall and in environment and young people categories
BREWERIES: Six regional and two craft breweries
Year founded, in London, Ontario
Canadian retail outlets selling Labatt
Recycling rate thanks to a concerted effort and employee suggestions
Annual investment in local sponsorships and donations
In wages, for 3,000 employees
Taxes paid to fund public goods and services
According to Labatt’s guiding principles, the company’s greatest strength is its people—you recruit, develop, and retain people who can be better than you. Why is it so important to invest in your employees?
King: People are our competitive advantage because they’re the ones who make and sell our beer. We make the company better by hiring the best people. We’ve made a point of honing our ability to select and hire top talent, and we retain them by immediately investing in programs and training to ensure their further development.
De Gasperis: Our whole culture is based on this idea of meritocracy. You select great people, nurture them, and give them the opportunities to grow and develop, and then you reward them.
How do you discern which employees have promise and talent?
King: Our annual review process is robust with well-designed, 360-degree competency evaluations that consider our people from all angles. Every single Labatt employee is assessed based on past performance and future potential. Start to finish, it takes us about six months to review each employee, so obviously it’s a process that we really value and take very seriously.
De Gasperis: The science and checks and balances behind the review process provide structure and consistency, but over time you develop a real feel for it. You can see the spark in people when you meet them. You can sense their passion and the energy that they bring, the willingness to learn, and to reach for more.
DeGasperis has worked in both finance and HR for Labatt, a type of functional move that’s not uncommon at the company. What are the benefits to moving people cross-functionally?
King: We believe that the broader your experience at Labatt, the better you’ll be able to progress throughout the organization. That’s why we encourage our cross-functional approach, especially for those in our development programs. Our global-management trainee program allows people to rotate through different functions. Those who have come up through this program might have started in a brewery but ended up in sales, while others might have moved from procurement to finance and then to sales. Taking on a variety of roles makes us all stronger as professionals and as individuals. It’s about contributing more professionally, while also feeling more personally fulfilled.
What’s your advice for fostering a good unforced mentor relationship?
De Gasperis: It starts with a genuine interest in people. You have to be open to adapting your style to suit the person and do what works best for them. It’s important to take the time to get to know them, and find a way to connect in a way that’s real and personal.
The company’s dream is to be “the best beer company bringing people together for a better world.” How does your “better world” focus translate into the volunteerism you expect of your employees?
King: The spirit of giving back has always been a huge part of our culture, so we’re interested in people who want to make a positive impact. Whether volunteering on personal time at foodbanks or for minor sports, or participating in Labatt-led activities on World Environment Day or our annual Global Be(er) Responsible Day, we celebrate people who not only lead in our company, but also in our communities.