How Pina Palumbieri used her MBA to steer Coles Online through COVID-19
Studying at Melbourne Business School prepared Pina Palumbieri for anything, even a global pandemic.
Pina is the Strategy, Governance and Program Manager at Coles Online. Her team helps plan, coordinate and implement all the moving parts that need to work together to provide a smooth experience to Coles' online shoppers.
Pina and her colleagues had been steadily working to increase the supermarket giant's online capacity when they had to double their efforts after COVID-19 struck. It was exactly the sort of challenge she had prepared for while studying an Executive MBA.
"It's interesting that the impact of external shocks was discussed in detail during the MBA program," Pina says.
"We reviewed the effects of an external shock on the economy, on government policy and on how it affects organisations and their growth trajectories. So as the pandemic unfolded, it was clear to me that the impact would be profound.
"I felt that, because I had an understanding of the magnitude and scale of an external shock, I was prepared and better able to deal with the pressure that followed in the months ahead."
Coles Online offers the choice of home delivery or click and collect at designated supermarkets. Both services had to be ramped up significantly when COVID-19 restrictions drove a sharp increase in the number of Australians choosing to buy their groceries online.
"We extended our call centre, our customer support hours, and specialised in training personnel to deal with customers that have never placed an order online before," Pina says.
"We also developed some how-to videos to support people through the order-processing journey as well, to try and make it as easy as possible for customers."
As well as expanding existing operations, Pina and her team had to pivot into new areas to meet the needs of customers during the pandemic.
"The impact of the COVID pandemic meant that in addition to our existing operating model as an online grocery retailer, almost overnight, we became an essential services provider," Pina says.
"We expanded our home delivery offer to even more remote and regional areas of Australia. In addition to that, we ramped up our click and collect network capacity as well, and this meant that Coles customers could shop online more than ever before."
Pina has always had a passion for the retail industry. Before joining Coles Online, she built her career at fast-moving consumer goods companies like Kraft Heinz, PZ Cussons and General Mills, gaining experience in trade finance, marketing and supply chain management.
Pina loves children too, which is why she interrupted her career three times to add to her family, which includes her eldest son in second-year university, her second eldest son in year 10 and her daughter in grade six.
After the birth of her daughter and an extended career break, Pina decided to enrol in the Executive MBA program to ensure she had a solid foundation for launching the rest of her career.
"Once I decided to return to the workforce, I felt it would be a great opportunity and good timing to refresh my skills and knowledge to help me make better decisions," she says.
Pina's commitment to making the most of the learning opportunities earned her the Dean's Award for Global Business Economics and more.
"I learned a lot of really great tools and frameworks, but for me, the biggest takeaway was about my ability to step back from situations and look at the bigger picture and challenge myself and my team to say, 'Are we asking the right question? Are we working towards solving the right problem?'"
As well as being able to see the big picture, Pina learned to break problems down into smaller pieces, which gave her the mindset she needed to steer her team through a challenge the size of COVID-19.
"If you can do that with some big dilemmas, then there isn't anything you can't navigate your way through," she says.