Weekly Thoughts


Working the Problem

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

How we are handling COVID 19 

Over the last few weeks, we have seen our fair share of COVID 19 related updates.  Some are relevant (i.e., local healthcare provider’s virus testing protocol), others less so (i.e., Eddie Bauer is here for us in this troubling time…).  We’ll admit we certainly don’t have much pandemic specific thought leadership to provide to our readers, but then again, when we first started writing this weekly newsletter, we didn’t have much small business related thought leadership to provide either.

Then as now, all we can share is how we have evaluated and responded to the events and circumstances we encounter, in the hope that others may find our experience interesting and inspirational, a cautionary tale, or something in between.  To that end, below is a summary of our key areas of focus as we tackle this crisis:

1. Employee Health.  While our core business operations remain ongoing, all Chenmark companies have been strictly following CDC guidelines for workplace response to the virus.  Most office, administrative, and managerial staff are working remotely and are staying connected with field staff via the variety of cloud based tools we have (fortunately) spent the last few years implementing.  In the field, we have staggered crew dispatch times to maintain low group sizes and have adjusted PTO policies to ensure those who feel sick, need to care for someone who is sick, or need to care for a child have the ability to do so.

2. Communication.  In order to maximize the sharing of information and collaboration across companies, we formed a Coronavirus Task Force with one representative from each of our companies that checks in daily.  This has spurred the creation of mini-task forces at the subsidiary level and has contributed to a step change in our level of communication and a sense of togetherness across the board. Our teams have also embraced digital tools for remote learning in innovative ways.  One company in particular has spent the last week converting what has traditionally been a one-week in person classroom style training course to a totally digital format using Google hangouts, Loom, GoPro cameras, and the learning management module associated with our HRIS system.

3. Delivering for Our Customers.  The crisis has impacted different industries in different ways.  Our businesses are not the hardest hit, and, as such, there has been a palpable sense internally that we should continue to be there for our customers so long as we can do so safely.  One of our companies in particular manufactures bread and bun dough for grocery stores and has seen its order volume almost double in recent weeks. There is a strong sense among the team there that the extra shifts required to meet demand are our way of contributing to the continuity of the food supply at a time when it is being stressed.  Doubling of capacity was part of the 3-5 year plan, but it was forced to happen in two weeks and our leadership is rising to the challenge.

4. Financial Planning.  As an enterprise, our current financial position is solid with adequate cash reserves, manageable debt service, and meaningful liquidity facilities in place at multiple financial institutions.  That said, the virus is creating the type of uncertain economic outlook that makes the preservation of cash even more important than usual, and we have been aggressively planning to ensure we can accommodate a range of future circumstances. We are keenly aware that things could change very quickly.  A few weeks ago, we certainly weren’t anticipating a wholesale shutdown of economic activity, but if it comes to that, we want to be ready.

Overall, our sense is that we are only just beginning to feel the economic impact of COVID 19.  It is imperative that we continue to plan and prepare for a potential worst case scenario, but we will also keep looking forward.  We feel extremely lucky that, at least for the moment, our collection of companies is partially insulated from this type of exogenous event due to the industries in which we participate, the geographies in which we are located, and the conservative manner is which we manage our businesses.  Of course, we don’t know what the future will hold, or if our luck will continue. But for now, we believe that if we wash our hands, deliver for our customers, and keep our employees safe, we’ll be able to keep our head, even when all about us are losing theirs.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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