The power of the pivot: what I learnt from leading a business through a rebrand

CEO and co-founder of corporate wellness brand Wellhub, Cesar Carvalho, has had to pivot his business more than most, most recently with a complete rebrand. Here he explains the art of knowing how to innovate as CEO – and when to realign your priorities

Rac50 Wellhub CEO Cesar Carvalho

As a leader you’re constantly juggling short-term objectives with long-term ones. The more established the company is, the more incentives might force you to think short-term.

Even if you’re a detail-driven CEO who takes pride in being an operational lead, the secret is to think about what’s going to happen eight quarters from today. It might seem that our job as CEO is to grow the business this year, but really our job is to maximise shareholder value in the long run.

Sometimes that might mean short-term pain, which doesn’t look great to everyone, but will build the fundamentals for future successes. 

Knowing when and how to adapt

Our first pivot was when we stopped being a direct-to-consumer business and started focusing only on employers, giving their employees access to best-in-class wellness services in fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. 

We then completely changed the organisation when we started expanding internationally, making our service available in 11 different countries.

Decisions can be made top-down but they’re implemented bottom-up

There was another pivot to create digital solutions that could be used by employees worldwide during the pandemic. This was followed by an expansion and rebrand. To us, change has always been part of our strategy.

Feedback from our clients made it clear that we needed to rebrand. Then the question was finding a new name that was as descriptive as our previous one, Gympass. It took us a long time.

Why rebranding starts with your people

Rebranding is not only about making tough decisions, but also aligning the organisation with the new brand. Using sports as an analogy: when you start practising something new, you’re not going to be very good at it. It’s going to be uncomfortable, your muscles will hurt, you will have to move in new ways. But with time and practice, you’re going to get used to it and it’s going to be better for you afterwards. 

When the path and the reasoning are clear and there’s transparency in the organisation, employees will enthusiastically embrace new strategies. They welcome having leaders that think longer-term and who can align people around shared objectives.

My advice is: never forget about your team. Decisions can be made top-down, but they’re implemented bottom-up. This means maximising transparency and communication and looking after people’s wellbeing, because the journey to implementing change is always complex. 

Make sure you have a culture of wellbeing that can support these changes because change can take six months, a year, two years to be implemented.

Leading by example

Every leader has to realise that leadership by example is mandatory, not optional. CEOs must lead by example with their own wellbeing – sharing their own struggles to create a culture of transparency. But they also need to create a culture of flexibility. Embarking on this journey of change is going to be difficult. It takes time and people are going to need to pause or switch paths. 

You need to think long term. Most pivot decisions don’t make sense if you’re looking at one quarter. But if you think two or three years ahead, then those decisions will make more sense. 

If you’re still struggling, your incentives might be wrong. The way you or your team is incentivised might push you towards short-term decisions. The challenge is not the decision itself but changing the incentive schemes to allow for those decisions. 

If you’re a leader, I recommend you take the time to understand the system and understand why you’re being pushed in one direction versus the other. But always ensure you’re making the right decision for the long run. 

Cesar Carvalho is a member of the Raconteur 50, a list of the UK’s outstanding CEOs. Meet the rest of the list here.