For years, I’ve envisioned the 2020s as a decade of business growth and innovation. Although we faced serious social and economic challenges in 2019, I felt optimistic at the close of the year. My company, UPS, was speeding up its network, accelerating deliveries, and investing in next-generation technology. I kept thinking of the Roaring Twenties of the 1900s, a period when the U.S. economy grew by more than 40 percent over eight years. I even pictured the year’s Halloween costumes -- flapper dresses and boater hats, straight out of The Great Gatsby.
Would the 2020s roar, too?
Who would have thought the world would change so drastically, and that a year later, we would still be coping with a devastating pandemic?
Now, in 2021, we are starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel in the U.S. I believe that our Roaring Twenties are still ahead. However, we must first ensure our families, communities, and employees are in a safe and healthy environment.
This takes smart logistics. It calls for creative solutions. And it requires leading our teams with generosity and care.
What I’ve learned during COVID is that working in our industry in a crisis means considering both the professional and personal dynamics at stake.
Merging the professional and the personal.
The technology and logistics industry has played a critical part in keeping the economy moving during COVID. The crisis revealed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, especially when commercial flights, which typically carry half of all global air cargo, were grounded. But UPS operations continued. During the lockdowns, we moved masks, PPE, respirators, groceries, medicine and medical supplies, and other goods. Now, UPS is moving COVID vaccines around the world.
Our real-time, end-to-end supply chain visibility allows UPS and its customers, to navigate problems and reduce risk. But we cannot forget the people who make this happen. In the midst of crisis, our employees worked long hours under difficult circumstances to help customers meet surging e-commerce demands.
"Takes smart logistics. It calls for creative solutions. And it requires leading our teams with generosity and care"
At the break of COVID in March 2020, our Global Freight Forwarding team, which includes industrial engineers, operators, and other logistics professionals, mobilized our efforts to keep goods moving for our customers. I called in 125 employees based in locations from Atlanta to Shanghai, to São Paulo, Brussels, Mexico City, and elsewhere, to meet on Zoom to discuss operational logistics, including customer problems and solutions. This group met every day for 65 days straight and continues to meet twice a week.
Strong leadership isn’t just about guiding strategy and directing supply chain solutions. Our Zoom meetings are an opportunity to check in with each other. They are often educational and uplifting – and we have a little fun, too. After all, many of us are working while taking care of families, teaching our children, and juggling the personal health and financial issues that come with this pandemic. We need to find ways to come together to combat isolation.
Connect with employees in new ways.
Our team manages to engage on a personal level through regular contests, such as a costume contest at Halloween, and educational sessions, including a three-part history lesson on the Lunar New Year. I reward contest winners with gift cards and handwritten notes (sent via UPS, of course).
Had we not gathered so frequently on Zoom, I may not have met one of my managers in Shanghai and his daughter, dressed up as Mario for our Halloween contest. I would not have heard one of our employees share a hilarious story about getting an embarrassing tattoo. Moments like these brought us closer together.
Vaccine logistics and lessons.
Once Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was emergency-use approved in December, our team started to form a freight forwarding strategy. Transporting millions of thermal shippers at -94 degrees Fahrenheit from manufacturer to healthcare provider required developing a special container that we could track via GPS with absolute precision. By December, we were moving the vaccine.
I wanted to highlight the connection for employees between our work and personal lives. It was important for me to help educate my team about the meaning of their work, as well as to encourage them to get the vaccine themselves, once they are able.
My sister Sue, a nurse at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis, has seen COVID from the frontlines. After she was vaccinated in December, I invited her to join one of our calls on her break. Sue discussed her experience, the vaccination process, and the importance of receiving a follow-up dose. She thanked the team for their hard work.
A light at the end of the tunnel.
During this crisis and beyond, we continue to keep supply chains running smoothly for our customers and stakeholders. As leaders, it is equally important to guide our teams to stay vigilant, connected, and be able to take care of themselves and their families. We cannot deviate from the best practices that have gotten us this far in battling COVID. We need to bring our A-game.
I still envision a Roaring 2020s ahead of us. After all, the original Roaring Twenties era followed on the heels of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
Nevertheless, we can’t let our guard down. As leaders, we need to focus on our people as much as we focus on our business operations.