Three private company leaders shared their plans for recovery and what they view as winning strategies for moving forward beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
The impact of COVID-19 are being felt by private businesses of all shapes and sizes, across all sectors. I recently had the opportunity to chat with three private company leaders about how their businesses are responding to the pandemic, their plans for recovery and what they view as winning strategies for moving forward beyond the crisis.
- Beth Goff-McMillan is CEO of SKG, Inc., a furniture dealership designing and innovating workspace which connects people to their work.
- G.J. Hart is the CEO of Torchy’s Tacos, a craft casual dining restaurant chain
- Albert Salama is founder and CEO of Sabert, Inc., a food packaging manufacturer for restaurants, quick service eateries and supermarkets.
While each CEO is executing on a playbook that takes into account the specific dynamics of their sector, all stand out as purpose-driven leaders who prioritize transparent communication, a commitment to employee health and wellbeing and innovation as a path to growth. A few of the most important insights that were shared from this candid conversation include:
1. Lean into genuine, transparent, two-way communications
Frequent and honest communication plays a pivotal role in COVID-19 business survival and recovery – private company leaders who were in direct dialogue with their employees at the onset of the pandemic, are better positioned now to work together for the recovery. Empathy doesn’t mean dialing back on transparency. In the words of G.J. Hart, CEO of Torchy’s Tacos: “I think the most important thing from a leadership point of view is to be authentic, to communicate, to be as transparent as possible to all team members about the current situation.”
Leaders must also communicate vulnerability. “The first thing we wanted to make sure of was that while we were making really tough decisions, we weren’t sugar-coating that this was going to be easy,” says Beth Goff-McMillan CEO of SKG, Inc.
Ultimately, communication serves to build confidence in the enterprise – and that must come from authenticity. “There’s no magic to trust,” says Albert Salama, CEO and founder of Sabert. “It’s who you are and what you do every day. “
2. Lead with employees first and hear their voice
Private company CEOs are known for being purpose driven – and that purpose is often grounded in both an entrepreneurial dream and a personal commitment to the organization and its people. “We’re like family” is a common refrain during good times – in times of crisis, it’s a guiding principle. A workforce first mentality, concentrating on safety as well as emotional well-being, means keeping the lines of communication open and adjusting based on employee needs.
“How we communicate, care for employees, is a big thing we talk about . . . making sure our employees understand how much we care about them,” says Salama. “We conducted a Gallop poll survey to determine what our employees needed from the leadership. We learned a great deal and made a lot of adjustments as a result of that.”
Both Salama and Hart also seized opportunities to personally acknowledge team members and recognize individuals for going above and beyond, to help them feel part of something special.
“At the end of the day, it takes people that are committed, who are passionate around the mission of the company,” says Hart. “So if we treat people properly with respect, give them a voice . . . that they feel genuinely that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, ultimately you will drive success.”
Mental health is particularly important for Goff-McMillan. “There’s so many family dynamics that are now under the microscope and that are putting additional pressure that perhaps wasn’t there before. . . . Focusing on what the employees need is paramount for us.”
3. Find the silver lining, opportunities for growth abound
Although the challenges of COVID-19 can seem daunting, crisis can also give birth to new opportunities. Private companies can be agile and harness the potential for innovation: new segments, new customers or channels may present themselves. New business models or advances in technologies can create new efficiencies and unlock opportunities for growth.
“We spent the first quarter in total ideation mode . . . of what was next for us as a business,” says Goff-McMillan. “When [COVID-19] happened, we leaned into our business continuity plan. But, as we went through the traditional benchmarks in crisis planning . . . we did not lose focus into what we were already ideating.” As the market shifted, SKG, Inc. took advantage of new digital platforms, radical new products, investments, and opportunities to add top talent, to charge forward.
In the sage words of Salama, “We can’t let this crisis go to waste.” The eruption of COVID-19 has given his company some great new product ideas and fostered cost-cutting initiatives, which he plans to embrace moving forward beyond the pandemic. “Our customers come first, so we have renewed our emphasis on understanding their business, being flexible and adapting the design and engineering of our products to better serve their needs.”