Kevin Riley: Mastering the art of leadership
Kevin Riley, the newly appointed packaging and engineering manager at Heineken's brewery in St Lucia.

FOR some, the idea of management is centred on power and control, but Kevin Riley understands that authentic leadership is a balancing act serving the needs of various stakeholders. "As a manager, you are often in the middle, figuring out how to communicate and manage between different levels of the team. I approach this dilemma by considering how I present myself to senior leadership and give them what they need to drive decision-making while also listening to my own team's concerns and ensuring that their needs are met so we can execute," said Riley, the newly appointed packaging and engineering manager at Heineken's brewery in St Lucia.

Riley's perspective on people and leadership has been shaped over the last 20 years as a member of the Red Stripe supply chain team. In 2002, he landed a job as a maintenance technician while still in university, earning his first promotion within two years. After graduating from the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica Riley got promotions that took him through key units in supply chain.

"I spent a few years in packaging as a shift manager, and then I transitioned to maintenance. I already had experience in packaging operations, so I saw this new position as a chance to enhance my capabilities. I was suddenly responsible for 18 operators and technicians. Managing that many people and understanding the complexities of each person to galvanise the team for optimum performance was a big learning opportunity for me," confessed Riley.

At every stage of his career, Riley pointed to challenges that cemented his belief in the power of inspirational leadership. For a trained engineer, order and process are important, but as a leader in a fast-paced, performance-driven organisation, Riley said he has learned that the right kind of leadership is even more crucial to business success.

After two decades of continuous professional growth, Riley has more than a few notable accomplishments under his belt.

"I was able to upgrade key maintenance activities and lead projects to improve how we use and maintain equipment. When new equipment comes in, we learn quickly about its upkeep and can perform repairs and maintenance ourselves without relying on overseas support. This translates to huge savings and greater efficiency for the business," Riley explained.

So what drives a high achiever like Riley to further success? The Kingstonian credits Red Stripe's strong focus on capacity development as a major success factor.

"Every employee has a personal development plan, and you work with your manager to achieve those specific goals, whatever they are. There are opportunities regionally and globally across Heineken, and once you perform consistently, you will succeed," he said.

While acknowledging the value of the work he's put in, Riley also recognises the contribution of his family along his professional journey.

"I know my family looks to me for support and guidance, so I have to be at my best. Yes, I may have bad days, but my family is important to me and they continue to push me and I continue to push for them," he said.

His advice for current and prospective managers: "Don't be fearful of teaching your direct reports what you know. Developing my team members and direct reports helped to shape me and created opportunities for movement through the organisation," Riley noted.

He concluded with some advice for young professionals entering the workforce: "You have to be very good at what you do and believe in what you're doing. Enhance your skills in your current role, but also you have to look above to see where you want to go next and understand what you need to do to reach that level. For management or leadership to take a gamble or chance on you, you must start showing them your potential."

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