During World War II, American industry mobilized to support the military. Now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, American industry is stepping up to support the battle against COVID-19. Companies both large and small have shifted gears to produce needed supplies, fill gaps in the supply chain, and offer their expertise to bolster public health efforts.
In this week’s episode of “Leadership Next,” Fortune CEO Alan Murray’s podcast on the changing rules of business leadership, Murray and senior editor Ellen McGirt interview two chief executives on how their companies are adjusting in an effort to beat the coronavirus. KR Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, and Jane Mosbacher Morris, founder and CEO of To the Market, discussed their businesses’ approach to this crisis.
“Even though these are terrible times, I can’t help but feel we are in the middle of a global master class in crisis innovation,” McGirt said. “People are conjuring up new solutions to help the world with the capabilities they already have.”
Bloom Energy, a clean-energy company based in San Jose, is what Sridhar calls “a mission driven company,” making it a no-brainer to deploy some of its employees to tackle pain points caused by the coronavirus crisis. Namely, Bloom employees are working to refurbish ventilators that have been stockpiled in state supplies.
The company is classified as an essential service, so as it continues to manufacture fuel cells, employees are taking on this ventilator work as an addition. At the time of this interview, Bloom had refurbished 1,200 ventilators, but it is capable of refurbishing around 2,000 per week in its East and West Coast facilities.
“The good news is we don’t need it right now because we are flattening the curve,” Sridhar said.
Around the nine-minute mark, Sridhar explains that refurbishing the ventilators wasn’t enough for the Bloom team. They wanted to improve the design of ventilators. Bloom employees worked with Stanford Medical School to create a device that allows one ventilator to be shared among multiple patients. The invention is now waiting for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
When asked what all of this work is costing the company, the Bloom CEO said he’s not in the ventilator business and doesn’t care to be, so he is not prioritizing profit.
“If we cannot be there for people at a time of need like this, why would we want to be here?” he asked.
Mosbacher Morris agrees with Sridhar’s sentiment, telling McGirt that her company got involved in coordinating the production of much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) “because we thought it was the right thing to do.”
To the Market is a company that works to disrupt the traditional supply chain, elevating women-owned, sustainable makers rather than factories with “challenging social and environmental footprints.” It works with hundreds of makers from over 20 countries to “power an ethical supply chain.”
Usually, the company focuses on apparel, accessories, and home goods, but in the face of COVID-19, To the Market pivoted to PPE to fill the shortages hospitals are experiencing globally.
The company has received orders for over 2 million units of PPE, and at the time of the interview, it had fulfilled 1.1 million of those.
“I thought we almost had an obligation to try because we have this expertise and because we have a syndicated supply chain,” Mosbacher Morris said. “It felt like a tremendous opportunity for us to add value, and I felt like our team was equipped and ready to do it.”
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