Surviving and Thriving
How we navigated the Covid-19 Pandemic as a company and why we are a better organization and I am a better leader because of it.
Being a young CEO and entrepreneur for the last 12 years, straight out of my undergrad, I thought that I had experienced the “ins and outs” of growing a business–from the scrappy beginnings, to barely hanging on for dear life, taking a big pivot, to finding hyper-growth. However, nothing over the last decade has provided me with more learnings than Covid-19. 2020 expedited my hair loss and likely shaved a couple of years off of my life, but it left me wiser personally, evolved me professionally, and thankfully slowed down our freight train trajectory making Brist Mfg focus on necessary initiatives that would be critical in continuing to scale and add value to our customer base. Granted, if I could have said one thing to 2020 it would have been “F*** You!” but today I have mostly overcome my grudge.
Well, we’re officially more than halfway through 2021. Generally speaking, this year has been a breath of fresh air. Sure, it's come with extreme supply chain disruptions, labor challenges, and now the unpredictable Delta Variant strain but overall none of these pretty severe disruptions even came close to the turbulence felt by the 2020 economic shutdown. Especially for an organization that ramped up in 2019 ready to continue a 40%+ growth trajectory in 2020–“operation kick ass and take names’ as we’d call it. Instead, we had to furlow 30+ people, shoulder a 25% decline in business, shut down our brand new offices, and make some very quick pivots. But we survived and learned, and 2020 positioned us to be stronger than ever (both mentally and physically).
What were the key learnings and takeaways from this period? Well, here are a few:
Covid reiterated the importance of having a unified management team. Having a well-experienced team that is aligned with the company vision and values of the organization makes all the difference. A unified team around goals moves much faster than a team that is not unified by critical initiatives. During challenging times, especially when time is of the essence, this is critical. Unfortunately, you don't have time to wait and see how things “pan out”... This leads me to my next point:
Being adaptable, flexible, agile, and nimble is needed when pinned down in a difficult position. There is no linear path to operating a business, and we must have an open mind due to the constantly changing environment. This does not mean we are abandoning our mission or vision but merely changing how those are executed. Plans change, and that’s a good thing!
When presented with significant uncertainty it's easy to put big decisions on hold. Waiting can be the detriment to any business, and sometimes quick and decisive decision-making is required. Had we waited to make some of the critical decisions we moved on during 2020 we would have never furloughed, and had we not furloughed we’d be out of business. As a CEO it's your job to make a final decision, consult your team, analyze both sides, and press go.
Looking back on 2020 this was probably my biggest miss; over-communicating every decision you make can be a powerful tool. Helping your team understand the why is important. In 2020 things were moving fast. I often couldn't communicate to the entire organization why a particular decision was made. This can create room for teams to interpret and create their own narratives, which can distract from company values and vision. Communication is critical to keeping the team unified and open to being fluid.
So we survived! And inevitably, we thrived! We made it through, and not without a couple bumps and scrapes, but certainly with a fresh perspective that will pay dividends in the years to come. Brist Mfg is a company that strives to make a positive impact in the branded apparel industry and we are committed to accomplishing that regardless of the circumstances.