As I saw the uncertainty and fear on the faces of my employees and in the various notes I received since the COVID-19 crisis amplified, I knew I had to make one of the most important decisions of my life. Forty-eight hours ago, I personally guaranteed the salary and benefits of all 64 of my employees for the next 3 months and I have never been more certain about a decision in my 30-year career. I additionally paused my own salary through the end of the year. I could have easily downsized to reduce payroll costs and preserve cash, but that felt to me like letting my most valuable asset, my team, slip through my fingers. I recognize not every business can afford to do this, but if you can, can you really afford not to? Was it scary, of course; can I afford to do it; barely, but moments like this are defined by our moral compass and not a spreadsheet.
I started my business almost 25 years ago and have enjoyed many ups and downs over that time, but in general, the business has been good to me and my family. I have personally benefited from prosperous economies and taken my lumps in tough times, but as an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have it any other way. What has hit me and most business leaders the hardest throughout this COVID-19 crisis, is the complete lack of control we all have right now. It’s time to take back control and make some tough decisions. Being an entrepreneur is often about taking risks. I weighed the risk vs. reward ratio and made a decision now, rather than kicking the can down the road when there might be more certainty one way or the other.
The sole reason I (we) have a successful company is because of my employees, past and present. I want to thank each and every one of them, yet they need more than just platitudes right now; they need decisive action and selfless decisions. None of us could have seen the COVID-19 crisis coming, nor were we prepared for it, yet here we are. Our companies and more importantly, our employees, need true leadership right now and they need us to step up as business leaders. It’s not the time to posture, it’s the time to act and now.
It’s a defining moment for business leaders and all eyes are on us, especially our employees, but it doesn’t stop there. The next generation of employees that we haven’t hired yet are going to be looking for a company that has a soul and prioritizes ALL their stakeholders and I promise you, they will want to know what decisions your company made throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Then there’s your customers, clients and prospects, who today more than ever, want to do business with companies that have a soul and actually stand for something. And lastly, there’s the person in the mirror who you need to answer to when all the noise stops and it’s just you and your conscience.
Our company is currently considered “essential” and we pivoted a large portion of our business operations into the production of emergency medical equipment for the front-line medical community fighting this war. Our decision to enter this space was purely about serving a greater good and keeping our employees working. We are not profiting from this and are offering any products produced at our cost.
Obviously, our team members' health and wellbeing are our top concern. We have made a series of adjustments to our work processes; cleaning frequency and outside visitor polices. We further implemented mandatory social distancing, work from home where possible and are following all of the CDC guidelines around workplace safety. If someone is sick, they will stay home (and be paid). As I shared with my employees, it’s going to be messy and chaotic, but we will figure things out as we go, and we’ll do it together.
In closing, believe in your employees like I have. They won’t let you down, in fact, they will step up in ways you would have never imagined. We all made a big bet on ourselves when we started our business, well now is a time to make a big bet on your employees and then you can get down to the business of rebuilding your company.
One of my favorite quotes over the years has been Mother Teresa’s: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
I appeal to you now, be the drop.
Rick Skidmore is the Founder & CEO of Timberlane, a millwork manufacturer located in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania. Timberlane serves custom builders, architects, designers, historians, homeowners and more. Timberlane shutters currently hang on the windows of some of the nation's most prestigious historic sites, academic institutions, Palladio Home Award winners, and even Disney's Famous Haunted Mansion. For more information, visit www.Timberlane.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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