Testing equipment at First Line Technology, a manufacturer of first responder products in Chantilly, … [+]
First Line Technology
“Mission First, Family Always,” said Bob Eisiminger
It was March 25, 2020 and the spread of Coronavirus in the U.S was only getting worse. Bob was speaking during a webinar for business owners on how to lead in a time of great upheaval. He stressed that we, as business owners, had to be clear about our company’s mission at all times but that “you always have to put the health and safety of your team’s family ahead of the mission.”
Bob knows what he’s talking about. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then went into the U.S. Army before starting Knight Point Systems which he sold 15 years later for $250 million. His point was simple: unless what you do is deemed “essential,” send your folks home. If they are outside or in the office, they and their families are at risk.
What does it mean to be “Mission First, Family Always” in the time of CoVid-19? Two threats dangle over our heads right now. The first is we get sick, the second is we go broke. An employer has a chance to help with one, perhaps the other, rarely both.
Continuing to bring your employees to work during a contagion staves off their financial insecurity but increases physical danger. Being sent home probably decreases the threat to their health but, unless they can work remotely, it likely means no paycheck. What’s a business owner to do?
In 30 years of entrepreneuring, I can hardly think of a moment when the average business owner was thrust into a position of leadership where the consequences were so high; literally life and death.
Mission first. Family always. Keep the mission top of mind but never ask an employee to put the mission ahead of their family.
I called Matt Kosinski to ask him how he was handling this difficult decision. Matt is the owner of USA Staffing Services which supports staffing companies so his business is directly connected to employment in America. On top of that, Matt moonlights as an emergency room physician (yes, you read that right). He started USA Staffing to make money while he went through medical school. After he became a doctor he did a typically entrepreneurial thing: He chose both the staffing business and the doctor business. One week a month, he works the night shift at a hospital in Wisconsin.
I asked Matt how entrepreneurs can put their mission first without jeopardizing their employees’ families in the time of CoVid-19.
“My impression is that as part of being an entrepreneur, you accept the responsibility that your employees are your family.” Matt said. “So if that means getting those masks at all costs, if that means keeping people six feet apart, if that means, changing up the shifts so that they’re working six hours or eight hours, I think that balancing the relationship between the mission of the business and ‘family always’ is based on how you understand the risks and how you manage that risk.”
Amit Kapoor, CEO of First Line Technology in northern Virginia agrees. “In small businesses, your employees become your second family.”
Amit, who’s company makes products for first responders and the medical industry, first heard about Coronavirus while on a business trip to Singapore in early January 2020. “It’s nasty stuff,” his clients told him. When he returned home, he briefed his team. “I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to be right. But if these predictions are right, it’s not good.”
Since then, First Line Technology has been all hands on deck. Even his corporate team is now on the factory floor, getting products out the door and on to waiting trucks. And yet his concerns for his team’s safety trumps the demand for increased output. Machines that usually have two people operating them now have one in keeping with social distancing guidelines. Each machine is disinfected between every shift.
When I spoke to Amit, he was exhausted, taking a rare day off to spend some time with his family and catch up on emails. “There’s a business side and a humanity side. Blending those two is so difficult. As a true leader, you have to put the physical and emotional health of your workers ahead of the business.”
“I’m a manufacturer. We make things. The challenge is that while we’re making things that save lives, I need my employees lives and mental health to come first. If a product fails because an employee is not executing, that can lead to disaster.” More starkly, he added this outlook on the current pandemic, “There’s no point in saving a business if there’s no economy to come back to.”