Long before Branson and Bezos there was Claus, Santa Claus. While we are seasonally accustomed to jolly bearded surrogates, the real founder and CEO of Christmas Inc. is notoriously media shy. The truth of the matter is, Claus doesn’t need to speak. So, perhaps it was in a Frost/Nixon moment of madness the one and only Santa Claus agreed to divulge to Richard Wynn what it takes to lead the biggest global brand in the world.
Mr Claus, may I call you Santa?
Santa, how have you maintained such an enduring and beloved brand for all these centuries?
I follow two simple principles. I never lose sight of our customers’ needs, and we stand firm on what we are about… what you would call ‘brand integrity’.
Your Elves are part of that renowned brand, but have you ever considered automating your factories and replacing headcount?
Poppycock. Our people are not part of our brand; they are our brand.
Believe it or not, Elves are exceedingly smart; an IQ of 145 is considered average (Will Farrell has a lot to answer for). They’ve been creating consumer electronics since the late 50’s and consulting to the big tech companies for decades now… You wonder why I’m not scared of Amazon (*touches his nose and winks).
The popularised ‘wooden-toy workshop’ is a nod to traditionalists, but in reality the Elves pioneered the first truly automated operations. From procurement, manufacturing, warehousing, and supply chain… they literally wrote the book on modern industrial practices, (seriously, I have their book around here somewhere if you’re interested).
Where do you think Big Data originated? We know where everyone lives, we’ve collated billions of wish lists, and we’ve been collecting intel on the naughty and nice for centuries.
Suffice to say, my teams are incredibly well trained, loyal, and part of the family – we are in this together.
What about your Reindeer and Sleigh, have you ever had to consider alternate logistics and delivery operations?
Our proprietary logistics, distribution and transport platforms are all highly classified…. buuut I’ve had an eggnog or two so I will say that ‘Reindeer’ is the name of our Operating System. In fact Dasher, Dancer, and the gals are now all active board members of Christmas Inc.
Your Reindeer are female?
Firstly, they’re not Reindeer, they’re Non Executive Directors. Secondly, yes, most of them are female. Blixem, Dasher, Dancer and Comet are the four fellas on the team. Dasher and Dancer have been together for years now, they’re a sweet couple. Comet doesn’t want to settle down (broke poor Prancer’s heart… but that’s another story all together). Rudolph is actually Donna and Blixem’s boy (we’ve always found it odd that carols never mention that).
How do you get up and down the chimney?
That my friend shall remain classified.
There’s a lot of disruption in today’s business world. Santa, have you changed your operations in any way to accommodate this?
Fiddlesticks. There weren’t even retail stores when I started let alone online giants like Amazon (*touches his nose and winks, again).
For us disruption is just part of a continually evolving landscape. The trick is to evolve with them, collaborate where possible, keep your teams well trained and motivated and always, always stick to your values and purpose.
How does one evolve with disruption?
We’ve always taken an insights-first approach; we listen to our customers. Let’s not forget, we pioneered direct market research with wish-lists and our network of mall-agents. If we only listened to suppliers, or only used past behaviours as predictives, we’d have a warehouse full of Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies and Jar Jar Binks dolls.
Many experts claim consumer demands have changed dramatically. Do you find this is the case?
Change is inevitable on so many levels. However, what will never change is our purpose.
I set out a long time ago with the message of joy, love and peace to the world, especially for children. And just like Rudolph’s bright nose, this is our guiding light, this is still and always will be our purpose.
You mentioned your values before. Can you elaborate on this?
Some people think my business is about the toys that we make and deliver. But the real gift, the true meaning of Christmas, is that of kindness, of generosity and gratitude. Our entire operation runs on these values, it’s in our DNA (actually, pathologically speaking, it is part of the Elves DNA). It’s the stuff that seeps through from the workshop floor to the gifting itself. You can’t whack a bow on that.
Santa, have times ever been so tough that it has been difficult to stick to those values?
Codswallop. It’s when the chips are down that you really need to stand by those values and reaffirm your purpose. That’s when my team rallies the hardest.
To come full circle on your first question, the reason we have lasted for as long as we have is because, despite blizzards and Grinches and Scrooges and the myriad of disasters that have befallen humankind, we haven’t wavered on what it is we are about…
To bring joy, love and peace. This is our purpose. That’s what we’ve all signed up for.
If we were to just throw in the towel because things got tough… well, that’s brand death right there. It wouldn’t be tech giants or disruption that did us in…
Losing sight of our purpose; that would be the end of us.
So you have no fear of being replaced or made redundant?
Twaddle. Take it from an old hand at this – humankind is unwavering in its desire for a great experience.
Here’s your Christmas checklist young Richard: Make sure you’ve got the right people on your team; get them all on the same page; motivate them; train them; trust them. Respect your competition; use insights; collaborate; evolve, and you’ll be able to deliver amazing experiences forever more.
Richard was informed he’d made the Nice list this year, which some consider in itself, a Christmas Miracle.
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