Our team at the Sterling Woods Group has been hosting bi-weekly Campfire Chats for our community of executives throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We’re all leading through an uncertain, unprecedented time. We wanted to create a space where we could unite, share ideas, and help each other and those around us.
At our most recent Campfire Chat discussion, we were joined by Heather Becker, director of digital marketing at Vistage Worldwide. Heather and her team have been hard at work helping the CEOs they partner with unearth ways to lead effectively right now. What she’s discovered is that many of the best leaders aren’t just doing what’s right for their businesses; they’re finding innovative ways to serve their communities as well.
Vistage has shared some of these inspiring stories on the site they’ve created specifically for coverage of leadership during coronavirus, Leading in Challenging Times. Becker also outlined the major ways in which CEOs are leading right now for our audience, and participants in the Campfire Chat shared some of the strategies they’ve put to work within their organizations.
Always Be Innovating
When the world changes rapidly, leaders don’t have time to sit back and consider their options. The ones who are finding success now took early and decisive action.
Becker shared the example of Case-Mate. As a brand that sells phone cases and accessories, they realized early on that their typical retail channels were going to take a hit. A large percentage of their business ordinarily comes from brick and mortar transactions. Many consumers will pick up a phone case or screen protector when they buy their new smartphone at the Verizon or AT&T store.
Case-Mate’s CEO Steve Marzio saw the writing on the wall and realized they needed to pivot fast. So he challenged his team to think creatively about the current situation. Most people wouldn’t dream of leaving home without their phone in hand. In a pandemic, suddenly, bringing your phone outside means potentially exposing it to germs.
The Case-Mate team shifted from a focus on selling phone cases to creating a brand new product: CleanScreenz by Case-Mate. They’re rolling out these disinfectant wipes as we speak. The wipes serve immediate customer needs while providing Case-Mate with a way to make up for some of their lost in-store revenue.
Switch to Support
When it comes to the next approach to leadership, Becker shared a quote from Vistage’s CEO, Sam Reese: “The way you manage in a crisis like this will be a key part of the legacy you leave and an example for those who follow in your footsteps.”
And there’s something to be said for that. Crises tend to bring out the best and the worst in people. If you’re leading a business, you want to show the best of who you and your team are.
Take Kydex, LLC, for example. Typically, they create thermoplastics for aviation. But as soon as it became clear that the aviation industry would experience deep disruption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Ronn Cort realized that the typical way of doing business just wouldn’t serve them.
But he didn’t think only of his organization; he understood that the skills and tools that Kydex had at its disposal could be redirected to create something that serves a vital need. He looked to the automotive industry. Through the Defense Production Act, Kydex partnered with auto plants to create desperately-needed medical supplies.
Because he acted swiftly, Cort was able to get essential business status for his team early on. This helped him to keep his team employed with no downtime and allowed them to get right to the important work of building medical equipment. Cort was able to keep all of Kydex’s plants open. Plus, he provided his hard-working team with bonuses to thank them for their dedication.
Lead by Giving
Kydex has managed not only to serve its broader community but continue to support its employees and keep its operations running smoothly. Kydex is lucky. Some businesses, despite best efforts, have taken a revenue hit. But many leaders remain focused on doing what’s right, regardless of where the profits lie.
Bill Duerr, the president of Hatteras Press, saw his commercial printer business drop 40 to 50 percent overnight. It was challenging to find a way to plug into a new business strategy profitably.
But rather than obsessing over profit, Duerr decided to let the needs of his community guide him. He pivoted to making face shields, creating more than 7,000 of them swiftly and distributing them to hospitals.
He wasn’t able to tap into the supply chain for PPE providers for hospitals and medical facilities. So he instead took matters into his own hands. He filled up his car with the newly-made face shields and drove from hospital to hospital in New Jersey to distribute them himself. This approach might not yield immediate benefits to the bottom line. But we like to believe that karma is real, and Hatteras Press will see this kindness come back to them at some time in the future!
Find the Right Business Partner
Many leaders already have relationships with other executives in their networks. Is there any way you can tap into those relationships now to create a mutually beneficial circumstance?
One of the participants in our chat provided the example of a local brewery. While the brewery ordinarily relies on distribution to bars and restaurants in New York City, the coronavirus has changed that. When that distribution channel dried up, they teamed up with local pizzerias to do pizza and beer deliveries. In these hectic times, who wouldn’t want a cheesy pie and ice-cold beer brought to their doorstep?
Another leader on the call noted that, as a certified public accountant, his business is heavily reliant on referrals already. He immediately tapped into his network, reaching out to other top service providers to ask, “What’s something you’re doing that the competition isn’t, that I could easily explain to my clients? I’d love to make an introduction.”
For example, he found that most business insurance providers are advising their customers not to bother with filing for business interruption claims. But one provider noted that the government might very well force an exception. And that unique point of view allowed our CPA to make six or seven introductions with contacts.
This strategy relies on the idea that best-in-class will continue to be in high demand. If you can align your business with other top-notch providers, you’re creating a network of high-achievers who will continue to thrive, even in difficult times.
As business leaders, we have more power and influence in our spheres than most. Now is the time to use that standing not only to do what’s right by your team and customers but to serve the broader community. Indeed, many chat attendees shared that even beyond their work, they’re doing little things within their hometowns. Some are giving to their local food banks. Others are ordering pickup from local restaurants and tipping like they were sitting down for service.
Even small acts of kindness can add up. And like we said, we’re big believers in the idea of karma. Doing right by others in dark times can yield some amazing results down the line.
About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC
The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to predictably grow sales. We apply data science to help you optimize your sales funnel, improve your marketing ROI, launch new products successfully, and enter new markets profitably.
We use a hypothesis-driven, data-supported methodology to discover insights that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right sales strategies, marketing plans, technologies, and resources to seize this opportunity.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Starting his career at McKinsey, his focus has always been on embracing digital technology and data science to spur strategic growth.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob lives outside Boston, MA with his wife, Kate; daughter, Leni; and black lab, Royce.