Tell us a little about how your company reacted to the corona situation?
Our company began preparations for the coronavirus in February of this year.
First and foremost, we have taken care of the safety and health of our employees. This included the establishment of mobile office, at the beginning for associates with increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus (age group > 60 years, associates with chronic health problems) and later for the rest of the organization, moving communication and meetings to digital. Furthermore, the installation of additional dispensers for hand disinfectants was ensured throughout the company. We have also secured the continuity of our own supply chain through organizational measures. These included strengthening further hygiene measures beyond the already high levels, creating redundant team structures in which one team can step in and replace another team in the same area in the event of an employee becoming infected, and increasing safety stocks of raw and packaging materials.
We have further decided to produce 500,000 units of hand sanitizer and to donate them to the Government of North Rhine-Westphalia. Preparing our initiative to take up the production took a cross-functional team (Marketing, Regulatory, Legal, Quality, Purchasing, and Production) only 3 weeks, which in my eyes is a record time to achieve this as this includes the full validation of the production line for a completely new product. Most critical and difficult was the setup of the supply logistics for ethanol, which is currently difficult to source, and packaging materials.
What was driving the decision to act this way?
Our decision to prepare the organization for the unfolding Corona-Virus-Epidemic was triggered by three data points:
How did the decision-making process differ from "business as usual"?
The way we aligned, decided, and executed was even swifter and quicker than usually is the case. Holding meetings remotely focuses the discussion to the point, presentations are shorter, everybody feels the responsibility to make sure all relevant aspects are covered.
What do you personally learn from this experience?
Learning 1: This is a situation that will be with us for at least 18 months until a vaccine will hopefully be available. We need to learn to live with the Corona-Virus. It is even more important than under normal circumstances to reinforce trust and transparency at all levels of the organization. Associates look at management for orientation. In a situation of crisis, the tone and the example management sets matter even more than normal. Everybody, at all levels of the organization, needs to be able to understand and agree that we do focus on the right things, both in the short and in the long term.
Learning 2: The circumstances force us to make an important shift in the way we operate, internally, and externally. The stationary trade will be and remain our key distribution channel, but we see that the consumer behavior shifts even more to digital distribution channels and this will have a lasting effect even once the epidemic will be over. Everybody feels the positive impact of digital technologies. The lessons learned will shape our future operations in a significant way.
Learning 3: I am impressed by the willingness of our associates to embrace change, to shape it actively. At the same time, there is a willingness to provide support, also emotionally, where needed. We are geographically separated, but still close to each other.
What is your message to business leaders who are experiencing difficulties at the moment?
Frankly, I don’t have a message to give. We focus first on the safety of our associates and second on the continuity of our operations. I don’t feel that what we do is “extraordinary”, defining a “best practice” for others to follow. We simply react to a situation that arose out of our area of control in the best way we can.
Who should we interview next?
Frederic Brunner, CEO of Genioo Consulting in Zurich, or Georg Nederegger of McKinsey (Director, Munich office), both of whom are experts in the healthcare sector to provide a broad perspective on current events and implications.