The pandemic created a ripple effect of other crisis situations that made a bad situation worse for millions of companies and organizations. Like other business leaders, the executives at Rosendin Electric and the Torchy Tacos restaurant chain faced and overcame back-to-back challenges and emergencies that tested the strength, determination, resilience, and resources of their companies.
Their experiences provide important crisis management lessons for all business executives.
About a month after Mike Greenawalt became CEO in January, 2020 of Rosendin Electric—the nation’s largest private electrical contractor with 7,000 workers, 16 offices, and $2 billion in annual revenues— he and his colleagues started to pay serious attention to Covid-19.
Their early focus was on the company’s supply chain and how the coronavirus—then confined to China—could impact the company’s projects in the U.S. Rosendin’s executive committee and regional managers started to discuss how different “what-if” scenarios could impact the organization. “It is clear now that we underestimated the gravity of the situation until the week of February 24,” he said.
Starting in early March, the company cancelled all non-essential travel, conferences, and large group meetings; established daily executive committee conference calls to discuss what was going on around the country; developed action plans; and told office employees to work from home. It also sent a series of video updates to workers about what Rosendin officials knew at the time, the company’s action plans, and thanking workers for trusting in the procedures and protocols that were being put into place.
But that was only the beginning. In the months that followed, Greenawalt said the company had to contend with:
- The impact of government lockdowns and stay-at-home orders around the country. The degree of difficulty depended on the location of projects; in several markets construction work was not deemed essential.
- A continuing and growing labor shortage of qualified workers.
- The large number of construction workers who chose to stay home.
- The risk of losing veteran key employees who had to homeschool their children after brick-and-mortar schools shut down.
- Challenges in processing payrolls for 5,000 field workers.
- Darling with issues related to social injustice and ensuring all employees felt welcome and safe coming to work.
- Spreading wildfires in the western U.S. that were a continual threat to operations and employees. In many cases, Rosendin had to pull its workforce from projects until air quality improved.
Prepared For The Resurgence
Although the pandemic has raged on and worsened across the country. Greenawalt said Rosendin was “…better equipped to handle [the resurgence] because of the first round. We developed procedures and policies and a response plan. Round One of COVID-19 was devastating because we were scrambling to respond.
“But because we have remained diligent and our employees remain vigilant, we aren’t feeling the impact nearly as much. Yes, the numbers [of Covid-19 cases] are higher, but they seem to be less severe. Had we seen case numbers like this in the first round, the impact would have been much more significant. But we’re actually doing all right—our response plan is working,” he said.
Advice for Business Leaders
Based on his experience, Greenawalt said there are several steps business executives can take to respond to, manage, and recover from back-to-back crisis situations.
- Don’t hesitate; time is not your friend.
- Utilize all of the resources available at the time and promptly develop an action plan for each crisis as they occur.
- Listen to the leaders you have surrounded yourself with before the crisis, as they are looking to you for support as well.
- The term “we will get through this together” should resonate regardless of which crisis you are dealing with.
- Communicate your plans frequently and with certainty to those you lead.
Hit Hard By Coronavirus
As it did to thousands of restaurants across the country and around the world, the pandemic hit the Torchy Tacos restaurant chain hard.
As reported by the Austin Business Journal, “In a flash the Covid-19 pandemic was upon the nation, and just as suddenly [Torchy Tacos] CEO G.J. Hart went from planning to open 20 new locations in 2020 to overseeing furloughs for hundreds of employees and a rapid drop in revenue. ‘We lost over 50 percent of our sales pretty quickly,’ Hart said.
The company’s expansion plans also were affected. The challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis “required us to pause and evaluate each opening as health guidelines [and] state and local ordinances evolved,” Hart recalled.
The opening of the chain’s new restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was delayed by four months because of the pandemic, and other new eateries faced other unexpected challenges.
Hours after a soft opening of its new restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana, the company had to temporarily close the location, citing higher than anticipated demand for its food and a limited availability of workers.
While continuing to navigate the pandemic, Torchy Tacos was able to open a new restaurant in Lake Charles, Louisiana. But two months later the region was hit with back-to-back hurricanes. “Despite all this, the restaurant team was able to pivot, use generator power to get the kitchen up and running to serve first responders, and within a fairly short amount of time, position the restaurant to reopen safely to the community,” Hart recalled.
A Significant Pivot
Looking back, Hart told Yahoo Finance his company “…went through all the thought process and the [uncertainty] that everybody else has. And fortunately for us, we were able to pivot pretty significantly and really find a way to attract our guests to 100 percent off premise. And since [the start of the pandemic in March] we’ve continued to move forward and grow sales and really pay attention to get creative around what we do.”
Last November, investors agreed to pump $400 million into Torchy Tacos so it could continue with its expansion plans, which calls for opening 100 new restaurants in 10 more states over the next four years. By the end of 2020, the company managed to open 12 of the 20 restaurants it had planned for prior to the pandemic.
Advice For Business Leaders
“One thing I’ve learned throughout my 30+ years in this industry is that open communication, transparency and quick, thoughtful action, always focused on safety and the guest experience, are critical to resiliency,” Hart noted.
“I focus on taking away a lesson from every experience, whether that be success, failure or an unexpected challenge. In the face of adversity is when you are shaped into a certain type of leader, and handling these situations with a genuine heart and courage to do the right thing will always guide you in the right direction,” he said.
Like millions of other companies, Rosendin Electric and Torchy Tacos have found ways to survive numerous crises and challenges. But the ongoing pandemic means business executives and the organizations they lead will continue to be at risk. They can increase their chances of survival by being as prepared as possible for the rocky days ahead.