DRI Interviews Drayten Howell, Founder & CEO at indacut

Max Resnik, Medical Cannabis Practice Leader at Direct Recruiters, had the opportunity to interview Drayten Howell, Founder and CEO at indacut, for a series of questions surrounding how he got his start, the cannabis industry and the expansion and success of his company.

Indacut aims to bring knowledge to the therapeutic benefits cannabis offers consumers. They want to break the stigma surrounding cannabis and give clients a natural and effective remedy. With exclusive selections, friendly staff and quality, lab-tested products, clients receive nothing less than a rewarding experience. Indacut is your premier cannabis delivery service.

Drayten Howell
Founder & CEO
indacut

How do you go from college basketball player to one of the youngest cannabis industry entrepreneurs in America with the launch of indacut?

It has definitely been a rollercoaster of a ride. My mom and I have a close relationship. She supports me 100 percent. It was just her and I growing up. There was a time when things weren’t as optimistic, when we lived in a hotel. My dad was in the system, a victim of the drug war.

My freshman year of college, I got a job, and she was livid. “Why would you want to work for somebody? I raised you better, and I raised you to be your own boss. You've seen what I went through,” she said. I told her I wanted to leave my scholarship behind, and she was hesitant at first but then it was a no-brainer to her. That stuck with me, so I showed her my business plan and what I wanted, and it was a no-brainer. I am forever blessed. I did my property search from my dorm in college and found a facility from my dorm room. I used the street view on the map, and the hotel we used to live in was behind it. It is humbling because it is a reminder you are one decision away from going back. It’s a testament to your goals that you can do anything you put your mind to, no matter the circumstances.

To be fully honest, I was oblivious to what was going on in the cannabis industry. After meetings, I had to read up on regulations for the next 2-3 hours to get caught up. Fake it till you make it. Athletics played a part in the transition. With me being competitive – and it’s a competitive market – the discipline athletics instilled in me has made it easy to walk in and go after a plan, execute and get a team around me to help me do that. Since I was able to play point guard and quarterback, the leadership roles transition into being a young CEO, helping my team and getting into these other markets.

How important is your relationship with your mom?

My mom has done 700 deliveries herself. When I trained her, I had to do it in a different way because she has a rare brain disease, but she brings so much to the table when I am away. She does things for us every day and is a big part of my business. We are solely expanding in-house. My mom sold her rental house for us to operate in to start, and we are operating right beside a hotel we were living in. My mom works with me every day. It’s pretty easy with her right by my side.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting your delivery service?

One is getting people's attention. Marketing strategy is very important, and in the beginning, we didn't have a lot of capital to run typical SEO ads and pay for premium listings. The second challenge was access to banking. It's very hindering when you do enough volume and scale business up (but still can’t access capital). We have been able to scale up, so banks are inviting us to open an account with them now. Third is growing pains. I had no mentor. The market is new to everyone and no one is an expert. Dealing with curves and punches the regulators are throwing at us and expecting us to abide by is a challenge. It is both an advantage to us and disadvantage. It keeps operators out who aren’t serious.

Is it fair to say the COVID-19 pandemic helped spur your business? If so, what impact did it have?

COVID has been a blessing and curse. We launched in the middle of the pandemic, and then we were deemed essential. We launched on 4/20, and everyone in California was full-go in a stay-at-home order, so that helped us. We capitalized and provided customers with great experience, quality products and we make them feel at home. Especially during hard times, the least we can do is bring some joy to people and bring quality product at a fair price. This is medicine for people and a getaway, and it's at an all-time high with all the uncertainty. We take it seriously and work with our software to create a great customer experience through texts to consumers and communication throughout the process of the delivery. It has set us apart in California right now.

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“Why would you want to work for somebody? I raised you better, and I raised you to be your own boss. You've seen what I went through.”

Racial disparities in ownership in the cannabis industry are well known. What has this journey been like for you?

I have to prove myself. During this time with Black Lives Matter and the awareness rising, people have given me a chance and I'm able to lock them into our loyalty program because we make them feel like family. I became a consumer of my own business and put how I would want to be treated at the forefront. At the end of the day, everyone is human and all have things they are going through. So, the least we can do is be nice to each other. The disparity in this industry, every city and county has to have some sort of social equity program going through this. I’m working with a social equity applicant in Michigan. One thing I’ve come to understand is that each program should have their own sets of requirements geared towards social equity applicants, especially as it pertains to capital raises. Only people with money can get into this industry. The playing field needs to be leveled a little, especially for people disproportionately affected by the drug war. There needs to be appropriate changes to benefit the people who put this industry on their back when it wasn’t a legal and essential business.

What advice do you have for other Black entrepreneurs?

My advice for black entrepreneurs is keep going. You have to keep going. If you run into a ‘no,’ you have to break the wall down. It's tough to process, and we aren’t used to having to go through this. Keep going, roll with the punches, persevere and you’ll reap the benefits.

And what in the industry must change?

Overregulation needs to change. As a delivery service, I should be able to build SOPs and what I want out at a specific time. When there is a high-volume base, the cap on what we can have on a truck is limiting. They also make the hiring process so hard, so we have to wait two weeks to hire someone. No other industry has those holes and handcuffs like we do. We are overtaxed, overregulated and we have no access to banking, but we have to wire money to the bank to pay the state taxes. It’s hypocritical. They're doing it because people lobbied.

You have your sights set on Michigan. What plans do you have in The Wolverine State?

I chose Michigan because it’s a new, emerging recreational market. Secondly, my buddy went to school in Michigan, and we are ultimately opening a storefront in Big Rapids next to Ferris State University and offering delivery into Grand Rapids. He saw what I was doing in California, and I saw the players in Michigan running the show. I thought I could find my little piece of the pie and bring my skill set from California and offer it to consumers in Michigan. My business partner Marielle Johnson and I talked for a couple of weeks and decided this is something we should do. Mari is my Social Equity Applicant, and his story is amazing. We found a property and got active on the licensing process. Fast forward and now we are about three months from getting our license. We finished pre-qualifications to meet state and local regulations and are about to break ground for construction. We have a great design group for the dispensary. We want it to be free flowing like an Apple store, so we are able to educate the customer. It’s important to me because consumers are so dedicated to THC percentage, but the plant is beautiful and provides so many different qualities. I want to push education and interaction within the dispensary so customers can feel comfortable, provide fast checkout and bring some of the California feel to Michigan.

The dispensary will be running deliveries. It will be the same model as California in Michigan. Once they loosen regulations, which I think they will, I’ll get a leg up servicing Grand Rapids.

DRI Interviews Chris Joseph, President of WYLD

Max Resnik, Medical Cannabis Practice Leader at Direct Recruiters, had the opportunity to interview Chris Joseph, President at WYLD, for a series of Thought Leader Interview questions. The interview includes thoughtful responses surrounding challenges in the cannabis industry, the best ways to break into the space, as well as post-election insights.

Based in Portland, Wyld is Oregon’s leading cannabis edible brand. Wyld creates products infused with real-fruit ingredients & flavors that embody the true Pacific Northwest culture.

Chris Joseph
President
WYLD

What are the origins of WYLD? And how were you and your team able to take it from its earliest stages to being dubbed “The Edible That Devoured America” by Forbes?

WYLD started with a simple vision, to create a high quality edible that is consistent and reliable. We noticed a lack of brands that fit that criteria in the market. There were unprofessional looking products that lacked consistency. We knew we could do better and were determined to deliver a brand consumers could trust. Coming from the liquor industry gave us an advantage. We had experience in a highly regulated industry - marketing, sales, and manufacturing. We put together a small team with global ambitions and took over one state at a time. We are big believers in going deep before going wide.

We are disciplined and focused on growing WYLD brand to a point that is bigger than ourselves. This brand stands for much more than a consumer packaged good. We want to use it as a tool and showcase how business should be done. Reinvest in your community, employees, and make a global mark.

THC_Pom-CA
2020_11_Wyld_Lifestyle-233.
Water_Bld_Orng

You weren’t always in the cannabis space. How did you find your way in?

We started in liquor. I founded a spirits company, Wild Roots, in 2012. It helped coming from a highly regulated and over saturated industry. Being part of an industry that is being legalized for the first time is exciting. It was an opportunity we did not want to slip by. That was one of the main reasons why we started WYLD. That and to create a high quality, consistent edible that consumers could rely on.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted WYLD’s company operations?

We were fortunate in that our executive team was already set up to work remotely, which in some ways gave us a head start on work life in a digital world. Of course, we still had and continue to have employees on the production and operations side who need to work in-person at their respective sites. We had to learn how to make adjustments, including developing different production teams to make certain that our operations could continue. For example, we might have Production Team A followed by Production Team B. We’ve also implemented enhanced cleaning practices and worked to make sure our employees are operating with good habits.

We saw a clean sweep of ballot initiatives on Election Day, as well as a change in administration. What’s next for cannabis?

Decriminalizing cannabis. That is what we want most. It is what is right and what should come next for this industry and country. It is long overdue.

What are the biggest hurdles still facing our industry?

Banking and setting up operations in each state. We don't have the same benefits as other companies do in regards to banking and credit. It can be a struggle to balance growth and cash flow. Also, setting up operations in each state, rather than having larger production facilities and fulfillment centers is an added step we are forced to take. Regardless, we find ways to make it work! We understand those are the rules and we follow them and focus on growing our brands the best way we can.

We hear from people every day who want to get into the space. In your opinion, where’s the best place for them to start?

Start small and grow from there. I have seen a lot of people invest significantly in the industry just for them to miss. That can be an extremely costly mistake. Build a localized concept that has scalability and continue to grow as the concept is proven. You don’t need to create a national / global brand right out the gate.

Also, focus on what consumers would enjoy and what you love doing, not what looks good on a spreadsheet. If you are only focused on spreadsheets it is unlikely you will ever get out of them.

Lastly, sometimes the route with the most resistance, is the one with the most reward. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and innovate.

DRI Interviews greenbox Robotics Executives

November 16, 2020

Max Resnik, Medical Cannabis Practice Leader at Direct Recruiters, had the opportunity to connect with Caroline Murphy, Director of Operations at greenbox Robotics, for a series of Thought Leader Interview questions. The interview includes Caroline’s insights on the state of the cannabis industry, the innovation of greenbox Robotics, along with post-election reactions from greenbox Robotics CEO, Zack Johnson.

Manufactured in the United States, greenbox is the first fully automated CBD kiosk. From the moment we step out the door, our daily lives are simplified by the wonders of modern-day automation. Whether it’s pre-ordering your Starbucks on your phone, printing your plane ticket at an airport kiosk, or simply ordering your groceries online, automation is the grease that keeps this high-paced world spinning. So why should buying your CBD be any different? greenbox Robotics has harnessed the most sophisticated automation technology to make your buying and selling experience fast, easy, and way ahead of its time.

Zack Johnson

Caroline Murphy

Caroline Murphy
Director of Operations
greenbox Robotics
Zack Johnson
Founder & CEO
greenbox Robotics

How did you find your way to the cannabis industry?

The concept of the greenbox robot was conceived by Zack Johnson, while he was waiting in line at Erba Markets in Los Angeles to purchase the same products that he gets every time he shops: cartridge, eighth of flower and a couple of pre-rolls. While waiting in line, he was pondering how there could be a way for him to get in and out of the shop quickly because he knew exactly what he wanted. That was the problem he wanted to help dispensaries solve.

Shortly after, our greenbox robot was built specifically to dispense cannabis products and made it more efficient for customers to pick up their favorite products at their local dispensary. Our main focus has always been to provide education surrounding the products stocked in the robot in addition to finding a quicker way for customers to checkout. Little did we know the potential of our machines would expand much further than selling cannabis in a dispensary.

We want to help the world positively incorporate plant-based wellness products into their daily routine. We provide a retail outlet for easier access to products commonly purchased, such as cannabis and CBD. Greenbox’s goal is to promote the use of plants and alternative therapy products which we call modern wellness.

greenbox is more than just a kiosk. How is it also a data hub?

We are constantly collecting data, from seeing what types of products are purchased, to who is buying them. Our favorite feature of greenbox is the ability to shop by desired effect or by product category. The greenbox desired effects collections include drift & dream, beauty & pleasure, relief & recovery and relaxation. If a customer chooses to shop by our “drift & dream” desired effect collection, they will find the products that we would recommend for sleep and end-of-the-day relaxation.

Another feature that makes our greenbox robot unique is the brands can market their products directly to the consumer to ensure the most accurate information is available. We list everything you would want to know about each SKU on our Product Pages, which display an image of the product, product details and description, along with onset time and ingredients.

Additional ways we collect data are through our tradeshow mode, which is a valued feature of our robot. In tradeshow mode, we ask our customers a few questions about themselves and their CBD experience, along with their email address to release a free CBD product of their choice. This data has allowed us to maximize the potential of our outreach by collecting this information.

What challenges do you face?

Each industry comes with its own challenges. To sell cannabis in a legal dispensary, staying compliant within the state’s regulations is always our number one priority. This requires daily maintenance by restocking the robot with the necessary inventory and making sure the customers are successful while using the robot.

A challenge we have faced in the CBD industry is the product menu being dependent on the approval of the host location. Big surprise! Certain products are not allowed at specific locations due to a lack of regulations on hemp-derived CBD products. For example, we found hemp flowers or concentrated hemp products, such as vaporizers, were not allowed to be sold in our robots due to difficulties getting these products approved.

Aside from federal legalization, what are the biggest obstacles facing the cannabis industry today?

Staying compliant within the state’s rules and regulations is a challenge that we all face in the cannabis industry. Our focus at greenbox is normalization within the cannabis industry by promoting modern wellness and alternative plant-based products. Our company was started to help the customers that shop daily get in and out of the dispensary quickly but has proven to be a repeatable business model for pop-up stores in convenient locations to moderate their CBD transactions. We have placed our robots in locations such as 7-Eleven, local shopping malls, retail locations, apartment complexes and have seen different levels of success for certain products in various parts of the country.

Of course, with the conversation leading to federal legalization in the future, we believe greenbox will be a safe and sustainable solution for providing alternative medicine in beneficial locations. Right now, we are on the right track with being able to test various locations nationwide. We are finding the sweet spot for our CBD Robots is located in apartment complexes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is staying inside their homes, and with a high-rise apartment complex, this is the perfect addition as a vending solution.

We hear from people every day who want to get into the industry. In your opinion, where’s the best place for them to start?

You can never do too much research before diving into a new industry, and in our opinion, that is always the best place to start. Your research needs to start with having a comprehensive understanding of the cannabis plant from seed to sale.

Always consider the ancillary opportunities in the cannabis industry such as accounting, legal and marketing just to name a few. When you are ready for an interview, a great way to be prepared is to have an understanding of the basic terminology used in the cannabis industry. There are many roles to be filled in the cannabis industry, and as more states are moving forward with recreational cannabis, numerous opportunities are becoming available!

What did you think when you saw each of the cannabis ballot initiatives pass on Election Day?

"CLEAN SWEEP! I am thrilled with the progress of cannabis reform across the country. This plant has so many wellness benefits and needs to be more accessible across our nation. It's time to legalize cannabis at the federal level so that we can bank like other industries, operate across state lines like other industries, and most importantly amend non-violent convictions for possession of cannabis." - Zack Johnson, CEO

Human Resources

DRI Interviews Rich Hall, VP, Proprietary Product Sales at Ingenia

Direct Recruiters and Ashley Gannon, Executive Recruiter, recently had the opportunity to connect with Rich Hall, VP, Proprietary Product Sales at Ingenia for a series of Thought Leader Interview questions. Mr. Hall shared insights on the plastics and flexible packaging industry, how Ingenia has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and his personal career in the industry.

Rich Hall
VP, Proprietary Product Sales
Ingenia

Please tell us about yourself and your company, Ingenia.

Ingenia was founded 34 years ago in Brantford Canada by John Lefas and the company is still privately held with John as the CEO. We currently have 5 manufacturing sites – 2 in Canada, 2 in the US & one in KSA with continued focus on expansion. Our business is split into 2 divisions – the Primary Division services resin producer post reactor needs with custom compounding, grinding, research and product development support and our Super Blend technology. The Proprietary Division that I am responsible for services plastic processors with our White & Black concentrates, Additive Masterbatch formulations and our Superlink cross-linkable rotomolding compounds. My background is in Sales and Operations management – much of it in Plastics Distribution.

What led you to pursue a career in the Plastics industry?

I really had no intention to pursue a career in plastics – but had an opportunity to join a plastics distributor in Detroit, MI after graduating from Walsh College in a management training program and progressed through operations management and into sales and then sales and senior management roles.

What or who has motivated and influenced you to be successful in your career? Have you been involved in mentorship throughout your career, whether being mentored or mentoring others?

I was fortunate to have some great mentors that challenged me and shaped my career path through very diverse roles and career opportunities - including Dan McGuire of General Polymers and Michael Rademacher while at Ashland Chemical.

How did/has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Ingenia Polymers? Has your organization had to pivot or take specific or unique initiatives throughout the pandemic?

We have been fortunate that much of our Proprietary Divisions focus is in flexible packaging which has been very strong in 2020 because of Covid 19 – especially in food packaging. Our “heroes” in our manufacturing plants have been able to keep running safely and at a high level while our sales and customer service teams have learned to adapt to work remotely and support our customers with exceptional service. 2020 will be another record year for Ingenia.

Describe the ways you and the leadership team have been keeping your teams engaged and motivated throughout 2020.

We were able to understand the impact of Covid 19 quickly and get in front of the curve to keep our employees safe, our plants running and provide high levels of service to our film customers – many who have had very strong demand in 2020.  We have successfully adapted to using more technology for both customer and employee interface and have “over-communicated” to insure alignment.

What challenges do you expect the industry to face in the next 3 years?

Our biggest challenge in the Plastics industry is sustainability and balancing public perception with the value that plastics provide. We need a much-improved focus on the collection and reuse of post-consumer plastics and it is rewarding to see the public and brand owners supporting those efforts.

What interesting new products is Ingenia Polymers working on?

Ingenia has a Research & Development team led by Zach Charlton – our Chief Technology Officer who are very focused on creating new products especially in the area of sustainability through our INCIRCLE product family made up of INABLE (recycle friendly), INHANCE (support recycle with enhanced properties) and INBIO (biopolymer based products).

Engineering Recruiting and Executive Search

DRI Interviews Packaging & Industrial Machinery Executives Regarding COVID-19 Crisis

Over the course of the past several months, Direct Recruiters has been committed to sharing helpful and relevant information in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic to the Packaging, Material Handling, and Industrial Equipment industries by interviewing Thought Leaders within the space. Led by Partner and Director of Packaging, Material Handling and Food Processing Equipment, Cherie Shepard, the DRI team spoke with Corey Calla, President, White Systems at SencorpWhite about the innovative things they are doing during the pandemic, and how they are keeping employees motivated and engaged.

Corey Calla, President, White Systems
SencorpWhite

Is your company pivoting at all during this pandemic and are there any initiatives you would like to share about what your company is doing differently either to assist in the fight against Covid-19 or generally how your leadership is handling the situation?
 

We have pivoted significantly. First off, many of the initiatives we had coming into 2020 were uniquely aimed at problems created by the pandemic such as touchless grocery pickup, micro fulfillment for grocery and automation around grocery because it seemed to be such a hot market. The pandemic drove the need for the applications that we have been putting together and we are having a lot of great conversations with customers. Secondarily, the pandemic drove the need for N95 masks, and as you have heard the President talk about the Production Act, Honeywell reached out to us to purchase 9 machines to make N95 masks. Our machines weren’t originally made for that, so our team went to work and found a way to mold masks in production, which was usually manual. We have shipped 3 machines so far, and other manufacturers having similar PPE equipment are coming to us for our machines.

To see additional photos and videos of SencorpWhite's mask making machines, click the links below:

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Video

How are you keeping your employees and teams engaged and motivated? 

It has been a mix. The majority of our employees are just happy to be working. They know a lot of friends and family who have lost jobs, especially with our facility being in Cape Cod. Most of the industry here is driven by tourism and hospitality types of jobs. It is empty, quiet and nobody is here this year. So, number one, employees are very happy just to have a job. Number two, is to know they're contributing to something considered national security and home shoring manufacturing. To us, again, these machines would have been made someplace else, and the final product would have been made someplace else, and to know we are bringing it home, and making it in America has motivated our team members to the point where some of them are working overnights to make sure equipment gets overtime. Our employees are seeing that what they are doing and having these machines on the market to help produce equipment, is very meaningful.

What message would you like to share with our industry as a whole in regard to the pandemic? 

From my perspective, what I have been doing is looking at opportunity differently. What is out here to pivot slightly from and serve a new market, or how can we find a new way to serve customers that’s unique and makes them more comfortable? Different people are bothered by the pandemic in different ways, so this is really going to change the face of retail, grocery, distribution and manufacturing for quite some time. I'm happy that we are onshoring and bringing jobs back. I’m a big proponent of trades and that type of talent will be in high demand for the next five to ten years. Bringing back industrial America is one of the positive things that has come out of this pandemic.

How Executives in Smart Buildings, Energy & HVAC Industries Are Adapting to COVID-19

As we continue to face the COVID-19 crisis, Direct Recruiters Practice Leader - Energy & Sustainability & HVAC/R, Matthew Cohen has connected with leading executives within the Smart Buildings, Energy and HVAC industries to discuss their response and perspectives on the pandemic. We know that each industry has unique challenges and hurdles related to COVID-19, and we appreciate our Thought Leader series participants for their helpful insight, advice, and perspectives.

Jump to Interviews: Richard Newberry - KMC Controls, Nick Gayeski - KGS Buildings

Profile photo of Richard A. Newberry

Richard Newberry, CEO
KMC Controls

https://www.linkedin.com/in/richardanewberry/

What has been your biggest challenge during the COVID crisis and how were you able to overcome it?

Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic caught us off guard, however, we were not unprepared. Due to our already robust system of technology, we were able to quickly pivot nearly 100% of our office staff to a remote workforce.

However, as a manufacturer, the largest portion of our workforce can’t work from home. This meant that we had to quickly adapt the rest of our workforce to adhere to CDC best practices for the workplace. After implementing a strict social distancing protocol and ensuring all surfaces were being routinely sanitized, we swiftly equipped our factory employees with face shields and face masks to help prevent the spread of the virus. We also encouraged any employee who was in the high-risk category, or any employee who felt unsafe at work due to the virus, to stay home with no penalty and without risk of losing their job.

We were able to rapidly respond to this crisis due to a culture of open communication and collaboration at KMC. Early on, we made sure that all senior staff was on the same page and could communicate KMC’s initiatives to their staff. We also clearly communicated a detailed plan of action to all staff. This meant that there were no lingering questions and helped to stifle inaccurate rumors before any had a chance to start.

How are you adapting your company to still provide the same services to your customers?

Through technology and open communication. At KMC we have always prided ourselves on our technical knowledge, support, and responsiveness. When a customer calls us with a question, we have the answer and if we don’t, we make sure that we find it and communicate it to them quickly.

Further, by using state of the art technology our customer support team can work safely at remote locations, and since our business is essential, when customers place orders they can be filled right away. This trifecta of technical knowledge, live customer support, and prompt order fulfilment has been key in ensuring our products and services maintain or exceed our pre-COVID levels.

What are you doing internally to maintain your company culture during the COVID crisis?

By ensuring that each of our remote employees is utilizing state-of-the-art technology we have been able to use this crisis as an opportunity to reinforce our culture. Using Microsoft Teams, our employees can still “pop-in” on each other in much the same way they would in an office environment. Each group or team (such as IT, customer support, or marketing) has their own channel, individuals can chat with each other, and every employee can use the software to schedule video conferences with outside individuals (such as “in-person” sales calls).

By using technology in this way, many of our employees view this time as no different than any other time – with the small caveat of working from their own homes rather than in our headquarters building.

How should building owners change the way they see their energy usage and maintenance in the this COVID crisis?

The first thing they should ask themselves is, “do I have to being in the building to see and manage my energy usage?” If the answer is yes, then they need to ask themselves, “why haven’t I modernized yet?” The pandemic has shown a spotlight on many building management gaps. That’s not a bad thing, rather, it’s an opportunity. Addressing those gaps needs to be a high priority. Building managers should be able to have eyes on and manage their facilities regardless of where they are located.

Buildings are not just buildings anymore. They are data points. Every building, large and small, produce millions of points of data every day, and if you don’t have eyes on that data YOU ARE LOSING MONEY. Building owners should have sensors in place that monitor critical building functions and metrics, those data should be sent to a single interface, where it can be deciphered and displayed in a clear, readable way. This approach ensures that decision makers have all of the information needed in order to best manage their facilities.

Ask yourself, “Are the lights on in my building right now? What’s the temperature? When is the last time someone swiped their badge to get in? Could I be doing anything to save on utilities expenses right now?” If a building owner can’t answer positively to all of those questions, then it’s time to invest in a modern building automation system.

What changes do you see on the horizon to the Building Automation Industry as a result of the COVID crisis?

Indoor air quality will be in the spotlight in a big way. Building automation companies need to be ready to answer questions about how and why they can improve overall IAQ. We’re already seeing that in ASHRAE’s reopening guidance and you should expect to continue seeing the importance of IAQ in the coming weeks and months.

On a positive note, what can we look forward to for the Building Automation Industry in the next few years?

You’re also going to see a renewed interest in remote building management – especially in the healthcare space. It’s likely that many decision makers at healthcare facilities would have a strong preference to limit the number of individuals exposed to the virus, this would include facilities management professionals. However, if they did not have the means to achieve that before the pandemic, it’s likely they couldn’t get it installed in the middle of the outbreak. That said, it’s likely that those same decision makers would prefer their facilities staff have the option of monitoring and managing their buildings remotely, rather than having to put their lives at risk to ensure their critical infrastructure stayed operational.

This is a huge opportunity. The challenge will be getting the right technology in front of the right people at the right time. Those people will likely be industry outsiders, so it is fair to expect that they will want an option that is scalable, so they can ease into a full adaptation. This means building automation companies should be prepared to answer questions about cyber security, cost, scalability, and the intuitiveness of the solution being proposed.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to add that would help fellow executives during this time?

This situation is something we’ve never seen before, however, we shouldn’t assume we’ll never experience it again. Take the things that you’ve learned and share them with your peers. The more we share and communicate the better prepared we’ll be to adapt in the future. As stay-at-home orders around the country continue to be lifted, make sure that all of your bases are covered – and then keep them covered. So, when this happens again, you might be caught off guard, but you won’t be unprepared. 

Nick Gayeski
Nick Gayeski, Partner, Co-Founder and CEO
KGS Buildings

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-gayeski-4b82b69/

What has been your biggest challenge during the COVID crisis and how were you able to overcome it?

Our clients’ priorities have shifted rapidly during the COVID crises.  First, it was that they were all working from home and unable to get basic facility operations and maintenance tasks done.  Then, it was determining what operational changes to make in light of shutdowns and unoccupied periods.  Now, it is looking towards reopening buildings in a safe manner and following new guidelines around outdoor air, airflow, and humidity control to be as safe as possible.  With these shifting priorities, our challenge has been to shift the way we work with clients, and the way diagnostic findings are prioritized, so that the information Clockworks creates is aligned with their priorities in this changing facility operations environment.  It is both a challenge and an opportunity to help our clients in a difficult time.

How are you adapting your company to still provide the same services to your customers?

We have been able to continue offering services in a fairly consistent manner since we already work with clients all over the world.  We have had to shift internal meetings to be remote-first relying heavily on video calls.  What we have had to do, however, is to adapt our services, not offer the same services, to ensure the priorities we are focused on align with the priorities of our clients.

What are you doing internally to maintain your company culture during the COVID crisis?

Video collaboration tools have been critical in this time.  It’s important to be able to see each other, and recognize that communicating is more than just words.  Seeing people, understanding what is not said, and asking the right questions is as important as ever it was.  We’ve also increased the number of all hands calls, one-on-ones, and management meetings because there aren’t the in the hallway, in the kitchen, and drop-in checkins the way there used to be.  On top of everything, we’ll have virtual happy hour now and then on a Friday.  That’s been fun.

How should building owners change the way they see their energy usage and maintenance in the COVID crisis?

Many of our clients have looked to implement setback schedules and different occupancy schedules to save energy during this strange time.  Focus has shifted however into reopening and maintaining buildings in a new normal.  ASHRAE guidelines around bringing in more outdoor air, ensuring the right amount of supply flow, maintaining proper pressurization, and managing relative humidity have put greater emphasis on these issues in facilities management.  Our fault detection and diagnostics platform, Clockworks, finds the issues and prioritizes them relative to other problems and opportunities.  During this time, we have increase the maintenance priorities of these issues across the board as that aligns with the priorities of our clients.

What changes do you see on the horizon to the Building Automation Industry as a result of the pandemic?

Long term, I think we will emerge from the crises with a greater focus on building resilience, the ability to monitor and detect issues with systems without being physically present, managing remotely first and on site second, and indoor air quality management as a more important dimension of risk management.

On a positive note, what can we look forward to for the Building Automation Industry in the next few years?

The trend towards using analytics to manage buildings, predictive and proactive maintenance, remote services, and connected buildings is speeding up and this crisis puts an exclamation point on the need.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to add that would help fellow executives during this time?

Ask the right questions of your customers and your team to understand how to adapt, and listen to them and take action quickly and effectively.  It’s not a matter of overacting or panicking, but it is a time to act quickly and deliberately to help clients and employees through a very challenging time.

Operations Executive Search

COVID-19: How the Plastics & Flexible Packaging Industry is Impacted

Direct Recruiters would like to wish all clients, candidates, and their families health, wellness, and safety as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. During this uncertain time, we are connecting with successful Plastics & Flexible Packaging industry organizations and individuals to provide helpful insights regarding how their business is responding to the pandemic. Thank you to all participants for the helpful insight for the industry as a whole.

Jump to Interviews: Jay Freund - Stratford-Cambridge Group, Mark Hischar - Koenig & Bauer, Andrew Wheeler - Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation

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Jay Freund, Managing Director
Stratford-Cambridge Group

Describe the importance of a COVID contingency plan and what that might look like. 

Stratford-Cambridge Group is a Private Equity investment firm with five companies, one being in the plastics industry. Broadly speaking, the contingency plans in today's environment are critical. In mid-February, we started seeing hints of what would happen in North America, specifically the United States, as it relates to the COVID-19 virus. We started making plans with each of our five companies to guard liquidity and other things that we think could be issues in the future months. When the state of Ohio and the Midwest went to stay at home orders, we really kicked into gear our contingency planning. Seven weeks ago, we had our first “war room” meeting to address significant priorities for all portfolio companies. We walked away with four initiatives for each of the companies. First is health, safety and welfare of our employee-base at each company. We want to make sure we are following appropriate guidelines to keep safe and follow facility hygiene practices that limit any issues for the virus. That was our number one priority and a guiding light for each of our companies. The second initiative is to guard our cash and liquidity reserves. Going to stay at home orders, there is so much uncertainty in terms of liquidity. We developed extensive plans and re-forecasted to look at liquidity out into the future. Third, we are focusing on the supply chain and making sure we understand it, review it thoroughly and communicate to vendors how we will manage short falls, delivery times, reorders, etc. The last initiative is customer communication or as I have coined it, defending our revenue opportunity in this environment. All companies have had extensive outreach to let customers know we are there to support them and their businesses.  

It is important to make sure we get to the other side of this troubling time. We continue to talk to each company every week about some aspect of our contingency plan. What is interesting is that we have gone from defensive planning to thinking about what the other side of this economic ditch will look like, how fast things will come back, and how we need to be ready.  

What is the key to encouraging employees to be open about potential exposures, so they don’t transmit COVID-19 to others?

This is really the heart of the matter. The right culture is needed at each company. We try to instill accountability throughout our organizations, whether you are leading or on the shop floor making great product. If you have accountability that runs through the core of your business, you have the opportunity to ask people to be honest with themselves about whether they have had exposure to COVID-19. Employees also have a responsibility to their coworkers to do that. Each business has built that kind of culture where we are in it together no matter your role. Everyone must adhere to the same procedures and processes to deal with the virus, so no one is left feeling they’re not required to comply with these measures. With the culture and accountability that’s set, we haven’t had any issues with people not being honest. At one company, an employee had a daughter who is a nurse on the front line. They were doing proper distancing and hadn’t seen her often; when she visited, she would stand on the front step and he would open the front door and stand several feet back. A few weeks ago, she stepped in the house quickly to pick-up something. A couple days later she found out she was infected with COVID-19. That same day our employee told the President of the business, and we sent him home for two weeks. We are appreciative that employees have felt comfortable to tell us. 

How are you keeping your team positive in the face of an overwhelming amount of adversity?

Every day is different. “Positive” means that employees feel that everyone at the company is doing everything possible to maintain their health and safety.  Employees are confident when they’re in an environment where people care. We have had good communication from the leadership of each business throughout the organization. Everyone knows what's going on. Everyone is up to speed on information, both positive and negative. That leads to a productive worker who can focus on the job. 

 What you see for the industry over the next 4-6 months?

This second quarter in 2020 is going to be really tough. Beyond that, it all depends on what your views are as you look into later summer and early fall. The question is, are we going to crawl, walk, jog or run out of this ditch? We aren't sure, but we are planning for tough scenarios in the second quarter and not a great deal of growth coming into the third quarter. It is going to be a hard rest of the year, broadly speaking.  

In the plastics world, businesses could be serving the automotive industry, which will be really hard. Those who serve consumer markets could have a tough time, but organizations serving medical could be doing just fine given the need of those types of products. It all depends on the end market, but I don’t think everyone will escape from some tough decisions and a tough market over the next four-to-six months.  

We had plans in our plastics’ related business to add four new heads in various functions across the business. We are softly continuing to pursue those initiatives, but we will be “turning up the dial” on looking for people. It is a good time to look for people given the environment, and we know we will get to the other side of this. We have great growth plans to fulfill.  

Are there any efforts you have made to help first responders, healthcare workers, etc.?

Indirectly we are adhering to all of the health and CDC guidance to keep people safe and healthy, so we are doing our part to keep the curve flattened. I think at some point when we get out of these very intensive planning processes, we will find opportunities to give back to the communities. We have terrific leaders who are very community-centric.  

Are there any other topics you feel are relevant, or would like to cover?

It is time to reopen and start getting back to business.  We need to give people who want to work the opportunity to do so. Business needs to get back into a normal environment as best as we can define it, and we need to give business owners and employees our support any way we can. I am worried about the current environment but also a little bit of an optimist that we will come out of this stronger. 

Mark Hischar, President & CEO
Koenig & Bauer

Describe the importance of a COVID contingency plan and what that might look like.

I believe companies should already have business continuation plans in place to address any event that may interrupt operations. Such events could have a cascading effect on customers and others along the supply chain. I like to refer to this as managing the crisis before it is a crisis. This is especially important for companies such as ours where we are critical suppliers to the various packaging industries.

Our plan provides direction for operating our business whether it is a phone system failure or a destroyed building. It is written (paper and electronic) and distributed both on-site as well as maintained off-site. Granted, at the time it was developed we did not anticipate a pandemic but the same principles apply and the business continuation plan framework was instrumental in moving forward. In mid-March we were able to quickly implement remote work procedures which are still in effect as of this writing. We also quickly developed procedures for supporting our customers from spare parts to remote press maintenance to on-site service support when needed.

The critical factor in any emergency situation is to be proactive in communicating with customers and informing them of what support we have available and how they can access it. The positive response we have received to our efforts is indicative of how the entire industry can come together to assure continued production of essential packaging products for society during this pandemic period.

How are you keeping your team positive in the face of an overwhelming amount of adversity?

This is the most important management challenge we face today and requires a discipline to keep this focus in all decisions that need to be made. I believe that the whole process starts with open communication and regular feedback. The first step is to describe the challenges the company and its customers face as a result of the pandemic. Many people might think this is obvious but it helps tremendously to communicate the same message to everyone. It needs to be a common message from the entire management team so there is no confusion.

I think senior management needs to be able to articulate the decisions being made and to show empathy and support for the concerns and fears that the employees have during this event. There is, in my opinion, no more effective way to keep spirits high than to show the team that management is doing its job and being totally transparent in the process.

What do you see for the industry over the next 4-6 months?

I am optimistic for the packaging industry in the months ahead. In many ways, we will be living in a different world but the need for packaging will remain strong. Many packaging manufacturers found their volumes of work increase during this time with much of the volume being for consumable products. Others may have experienced declines but even those are more the result of consumer inactivity and not indications of problematic industry fundamentals, in my opinion. With a reasonable return to our new “normal” we should see our industry continue to grow.

Any other comments?

I hope that our society will continue to work together to address the fundamentals of this pandemic and take the necessary steps to minimize any future “waves” of infection. The COVID-19 will be with us for a while and we cannot let our guard down. It’s not just the government’s job to get us through this, it is the responsibility of each of us to take the necessary steps to mitigate the problem. As managers, we play a huge role in helping to protect our employees. We have to lead by example. Done right, what we do now will spread beyond our companies and make a global difference in getting through this.

Andrew Wheeler, President
Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation

Describe the importance of a COVID contingency plan and what that might look like.

W&H in Lincoln, RI is the North American arm of our German parent company that manufactures machinery used to produce flexible food and medical packaging. In addition to marketing and selling the equipment, we provide customers in the U.S. and Canada with remote, on-site support along with spare parts delivery. That makes us an essential business.

Right now, our customers are very busy keeping up with demands from the pandemic, which means we need to be accessible 24 /7 to make sure their machinery is up-and-running and able to produce the goods that the country needs. Anticipating challenges that could arise from border closures or potential shipping issues, we quickly took action by “parking” some of our German technicians over here and increasing our RI-based inventory well beyond normal levels.

Globally, W&H has offered all our customers a service called Visual Assistance free-of-charge. It is an app which lets a technician, who under normal circumstances would be able to travel to a customer’s plant, view the external working environment of a machine through an operator’s smart phone. W&H field technicians around the world who are home or office-bound given travel restrictions are taking these calls.

How are you keeping your team positive in the face of an overwhelming amount of adversity?

We are certainly facing challenging circumstances, although for us, we see no other alternative than to work through it. As essential business and part of the supply chain for food and medical packaging, we realize how fortunate we are to be in this position. Creating a plan that would allow everyone to continue doing his/her job required flexibility and creativity. To keep our employee base safe, about 70% of our office staff is working from home and those in the office are practicing social distancing. Our team has been great in making our new work arrangement productive and successful. This optimism and attitude represents that we are indeed colleagues, but we’re also a tight-knit family with a tremendous sense of community and commitment to our customers.

What do you see for the industry over the next 4-6 months?

This is an interesting question. Right now, the packaging industry is overwhelmingly busy and is likely to continue to be so, certainly in the next 4-6 months. And while the food supply and manufacturing of food packaging are strong domestically, this pandemic and the scarcity of PPE, for example, have shone a light on the need for the renewal of a robust manufacturing economy in this country.

Contact: Catherine Mattson, cmf@wuh-group.com, 401-744-0895

Supply Chain and Logistics Industry Leaders Share Perspective on COVID-19 Pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we are finding that each industry has its own unique challenges and experiences. A key area, supply chain & logistics, has been important as we navigate the pandemic. Collin Weiss, Executive Recruiter and our Supply Chain & Logistics team has been speaking with thought leaders in the industry in regards to their specific companies, the industry as a whole, and the impact COVID-19 has had. Thank you to all participants for your helpful perspective and thoughtful advice.

Greg Quast

Greg Quast, Vice President of Operations, Freight Consolidation
RLS Logistics

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gregquast/

In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has it impacted your business?

There are many tangible ways in which the COVID crisis has changed our business, but most importantly, the crisis has given us pause and demanded that we not only act, but it has forced us to think outside the box in order to manage the changing landscape of business as we have come to know it.

As a transporter of frozen and refrigerated foods, RLS was identified as an essential service, so we knew we would remain open. In late February we began to prepare for the possibility of a shutdown and began to equip and train our teams for remote work. Initially, (early March) we saw a huge spike in business followed by a slowdown in early April. Business is now steadily beginning to return to normal.

In a crisis, finding yourself behind the curve can be disastrous, so we anticipated the tough situations, brainstormed solutions and worked to be proactive, knowing it was only a matter of time before the virus would find its way into our workplace. As anticipated, we have had to deal with positive test results in our warehouse the associated labor shortages. We have increased our cleaning schedules, ramped up disinfectant fogging regimens and provided all employees with PPE. We take each employee’s temperature upon arrival and are paying employees to stay home if they display COVID related symptoms.

The costs associated with COVID prevention have been tremendous and are certainly a strain on our profitability but finding ways to reinvent and innovate our business model to accommodate the current climate will keep us moving forward. Things are not the same, and the reality is that change is the only way we can move forward together as individuals, teams, businesses, and communities.

The real question is how do we return to work? What does it look like post pandemic. That’s what keeps me up at night.

Has your service changed for customers that you work with and if so, how?

We have seen no change in service for our customers.

How are you keeping employees engaged and motivated right now?

We are paying incentive bonuses to our warehouse workers. Our office workers are all remote and we have team chats via Microsoft Teams 2X daily. We have really tried to over communicate to make sure employees feel engaged and informed.

What message would you like to share with the Supply Chain & Logistics industry in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Try to keep perspective. We have had other pandemics and have survived; this too shall pass. I am thankful that this is the industry I am in and I am thankful for all the carriers and warehouse workers who are out there making sure the job gets done. They are the heroes of this pandemic.

Clayton Holden
Clay Holden, Vice President of Sales

Mike Chalfant, President at MyFreightWorld Inc.
Mike Chalfant, President

Mike Chalfant, President
Clay Holden, Vice President of Sales
MyFreightWorld Inc.

In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has it impacted your business?

For us at MyFreightWorld Inc., it has been business as usual. We have been blessed that as a little over 20 years old, our company has a solid foundation of house accounts, and we have a deep understanding of their supply chains. While some of our accounts are down in their volumes, we have our account managers working from home and  haven’t seen any drops in service.

How has your leadership been handling the current situation?

Certainly, this has been a different type of challenge to tackle. Setting up the proper remote infrastructure was something we had to handle but we have a good grasp on it now. Our employees are very well-tenured, so there is a great amount of trust and strong communication links that allows us to work remotely efficiently and effectively. In addition, we are fortunate we have trust from our account managers, who have a mixture of tenures anywhere from 5 to 20 years. They are invested in the success of the organization. One of the biggest challenges is from a sales aspect, with so much of sales being in the moment, so it is hard to do it remotely.

Has your service changed for customers that you work with and if so, how?

Most of our service is phone calls, so that has not changed, but we do have to be more cognizant of what’s going on right now. Since we are setting up pickups and deliveries in different locations, each customer we talk to is different. Those in New York are having a much different experience right now than here in Kansas City, because they are extremely affected by coronavirus. We need to keep that in mind to be more patient and connect on human element first, then go into the supply chain aspect secondary.

It is also important to us to grow our business and employee base. People want to work, good or bad. One good thing is that people are taking a step back and looking at what is essential business and what will not be impacted by something like this. Being in supply chain and logistics gives a sense of security in times like these.

How are you keeping employees engaged and motivated right now?

Being understanding, patient, flexible, and allowing people to work from home while keeping the same expectations has been key for us. We understand that people have a life outside of work. Right now, all schools are cancelled for the year, and almost all our employees have kids, so we are cognizant of that as they balance working from home and taking care of their families. To add, we are constantly checking in, making sure they have resources they need to be effective with their job. We are communicating with the team throughout the day, providing updates on how the company is doing on a higher level, and just being aware of how they are doing. In the meantime, work is getting done. Our staff doesn’t want to let their customers down. Being open, accepting and instilling trust in our employees both before and after the virus started has gone a long way.

What message would you like to share with the Supply Chain & Logistics industry in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We need to do our part in helping end the spread of this virus. Aside from having employees work remotely, we’ve found other ways to help “flatten the curve” . For example, we work with a local company who has shifted their business model to start manufacturing hand sanitizer. We’ve done our portion of the work at cost, because every little bit helps and we want to do our part to keep people healthy and safe. Shipping volumes are down as the economy is down, but we will be ready when it comes back with a full staff eager to help.

Our main message is to stay positive, stay upbeat, follow directions of officials telling us how to stay safe. If we do our part, we will get through this together and we will be stronger in the end for it.