My Third Pandemy
During these days of Social Isolation by the Covid-19, we look back to our past experiences, failures and mostly important, lessons. And I am experiencing my third Pandemic. They changed forever my personal and Corporate lives. Let me share a narrative of impressions from that unforeseen event.
I landed in Asia in January 2002 to lead a Processing & Packing equipment German multinational in Singapore with Operations in Manila, Saigon, Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei. We were in the eve of a Turnaround process, trying to surpass the consequences of 1997´s financial crisis.
In 1999 I visited Asia for the first time, noting that plenty of people used facial masks, hearing comments that epidemic diseases were quite common, though Epidemies come about rarely, bursting out when very specific covenants align. It was the result of traditional hygienic conditions allied to billions of people living very close together.
SARS made its first victim in November 2002 in Foshan, Guangdong province – the most densely populated area with 115 million people. And I was just caught in the middle of it.
By that Ides, China was not like today. I recollect clearly China building up itself at very astonishing pace its industrial capacity and the new Shanghai in Pudong. My company received several orders from China via traders based in Taipei and even from overseas Chinese living throughout Southeast Asia. Business could not stopped in China. Perhaps they played this epidemy down. We had to move on with negotiations and striking deals.
That time, it may be that idea of Home-office was for unemployed or retired Executives. No visible signs of social networks. E-mailing was getting common, usually employees made use of internet at work, not at home. Best mobile phones (not Smart yet) could only send SMSs, a growing feature in popularity. We cared to place doctors during our working hours at very office and factory of ours. All had their body temperatures with Mercury thermometers taken every 3 hours. By our side, we returned all expats to their origins, except the Ceo, due to a Lose-face question. Our clients used to say, if you wish to close that deals, come in person – not by phone.
We had to be strategically keen to organize our trips, load them with most of prospective leads and plant individual trips. We came to a point were we started to see very few people at our operations – many of our team-mates retuning from China and facing quarantine. Organization was key focus on priorities and overloading the extinguished fax-machine. Second semester 2003, the Pandemic gave signs of containment. Life started to come to terms, however with new procedures at airports, Malls and other gatherings. The official controversial outcome, 1047 deceased, Asian Economies in general did not suffer. There was a consumption spree in China. We were into the Consumer goods markets, our budget was well hit.
In September 2008 I arrive in Mexico, coming from Colombia. I had left behind 14 years in the previous company to lead a Swiss packaging company there, in need for Growth in a very recessive market. I get to my second Pandemy. H1N1 originated in Mexico in March 2009 in a large pig slaughter and the virus spread out indistinctively among healthy young and adults. TV-media spread it was similar to the deadly Spanish Flu. Mexican Government promptly closed schools, industries, commerce, promoting horizontal social isolation. Country was already in bad economic shape and simply halted – except for hospitals and supermarkets.
We avoided all usual corporate travelling to Philadelphia, our regional HQs, replacing them by video-conference. We shut down the office in Mexico, Team resumed working from home and directly connected to a company´s VPN, so we could valuate the tasks accomplishment. The Lockdown lasted until end of May. Controls in the airports in Mexico became a daily measure since them. 30% of the restaurants and Mom & Pops never reopened. 26% of the Expats left and did not return. Tourism went burst. Corporations and Consumers learned new habits, making more with less. Unemployment reached alarming 22% of the population. Winners were Retailers, Supermarkets, Convenience stores e moms & pops. Our packaging company was directly involved in this supply chain, growing a healthy 29% that year. Mexican GDP plummet to minus 6,5%, while 200,000 people deceased worldwide.
The Takeaway, in a crisis scenario, all can be losers, if collaborative planning and respective quick actions are not taken. We learned that Risk mitigation is an on-going process in the organization, not eventual. Distressing situations can be growth opportunities if the “right cards” are played. Management has to address and balance the expectations of all Stakers, namely Employees, Shareholders, Customers, Public Health and Government. And that the Business must always move on.
About the Author
Ricardo Lozano holds a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering form UFRJ (Brazil) and Karlsruhe University (Germany), Post-graduated in Engineering Economy and Administration. Participated in Senior Executive Trainings in Finances, Marketing and Strategy, from Harvard Business School, Wharton and IMD.
In 25 years of a diversified career, experienced Plant Operations, Materials Procurement, Logistics, plant operations for Ambev, Basf, Astra-Zeneca. During 13 years grew ranks in the German group GEA, acting in Packaging, Power Generation, Oil & gas, Fast Moving Consumer goods and Life Sciences, leading sales in Brazil and Denmark, then appointed Managing Director in Singapore (including Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan) Argentina and Colombia. Was Managing Director for the Swiss packaging group SIG Combibloc in Mexico and Central America, later on Started-up the Swedish Packaging group Ecolean in North America. Spent fruitful 3 years as CEO at the Dairy and Beverages group Leon Group in Mexico and was CEO of the Agrochemicals group Agrihold in Brazil, China, Paraguay and Uruguay. Nowdays, besides its executive roles, devotes time to help Companies and People to turn great ideas into Business.
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