Amcham: Please share with us how you and your team became aware of the Covid medical crisis and what were the initial first steps that you took to protect the company and the employees?
Gus Boekhoudt – Guardian Glass’ first priority was and continues to be the safety of our people. Guardian benefits from a large global footprint and the application of a “one team on the field” mentality, so we are able to navigate economic and other challenges that can escalate from country to country and region to region. We’ve seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, we implemented good practices and worked to confirm that each team member understood and exercised self-assessment and good personal hygiene, social distanced and wore face coverings to ensure our facilities were safe for our people and our customers.
Concurrently, we were able to continue operations because we examined what operational controls were needed and created and implemented processes that would take care of our employees and customers and minimize the financial and physical damage to our assets.
Amcham: How has business demand from your customers changed during the crisis period?
Business demand declined significantly but it also recovered quickly with different dynamics by region. Today Guardian sees healthy demand. We are inspired and spurred by customers who believe in this industry and continue to invest. We believe the glass industry is poised for future growth.
An interesting positive during the pandemic was that as the world adopted new ways to do business and work, home improvement projects increased significantly, and commercial building designers and owners have taken a hard look at how to make their structures safer while still accessible and functional. High performance Guardian Glass products continue to be a great solution for making our homes and businesses comfortable, safer and beautiful.
Amcham: Has there been disruption to logistics stream from your sub component suppliers and how have you handled disruptive supply flows?
The shortage of plastic interlayers for laminated glass is one example of the supply chain disruptions Europe is suffering. It was a combination of Covid and Brexit. Glass exports to the UK were impacted heavily.
Transportation services uncertainty – both land and long sea distances – had and still have an impact on business due to scarcity, additional regulatory aspects and administrative practices. The lack of shipping containers is a serious issue. Additionally, business travel restrictions are an increasing concern, for example, between Europe and the U.S. or from India to the Emirates. This creates disruption.
Amcham: Has the impact of Covid been consistent across the EMEA zones on business flows and what adjustments have you had to make to protect the company and its employees?
It has not been consistent: The impact has been more severe in Western Europe and UK. Eastern Europe, Poland and Hungary managed this crisis with much less impact.
This challenging environment led Guardian Glass to streamline processes in some cases and make them more robust in others. Overall, we needed to be more agile while constantly looking for opportunities to leverage technology and reduce waste.
We have demonstrated our ability to transform, or our ability as an organization to react and respond to internal and external disruptions. As a result, we are successfully operating with consistently lower inventories versus the past while delivering consistent customer service. This helps us reach our goal to bring value to our customers and communities.
Amcham: What adjustment to physical working schedules and conditions, and what health and safety measures have been implemented to ensure the physical safety and health of your employees?
As I previously mentioned, Guardian Glass’ first priority was and continues to be the safety of our employees. We have continued to modify our operational controls to mitigate risks in each location. This included adjusting processes to ensure people were able to work while social distancing. I commend our supervisors and team members for their great work in adapting in many ways to ensure their own personal safety and the safety of their team members.
Amcham : As a company, have you been satisfied by the adequacy and timeliness of the actions taken by the various governmental entities with whom you are involved and where there some solutions imposed in some jurisdictions which you greatly appreciated or some that you considered ineffective?
And what governmental policy initiatives would you have liked to be implemented?
We deal with many different countries, and we are satisfied overall. We did find that countries were more focused on local measures instead of Europe-coordinated provisions, which sometimes complicated operations.
Grants and state aids are beneficial; however, Guardian Glass is focused on the broader issue of the free flow of goods and material. The EU has open borders in the Schengen area. In the Gulf we see inconsistencies. The situation in Qatar is an example: We can only sell through Kuwait or Oman, which is inefficient. Guardian would like to see the development of a Gulf Cooperation Council common trading block. (Gulf Cooperation Council is a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.)
Amcham: Please comment on the sufficiency and effectiveness of the governmental financial support measures made available to your company in different jurisdictions. Were some more effective than others?
As a subsidiary of Koch Industries, Guardian Industries believes in free markets. We won’t lobby for government influence; however, we do not want to be in a disadvantageous position. That said, overall, it was very welcome and effective. There was a true willingness to listen.
Amcham: What challenges do you face now that the economy is recovering and how is this “new normal” the same or different from the old normal?
Guardian Glass still sees a supply chain disruption due to container capacity and shortage. Shipments around the world are very challenging.
Market-Based Management® is the business philosophy and framework that we apply to innovate, improve and transform ourselves and the company in order to create greater value and find fulfilment. Our MBM® Guiding Principles are who we are as a company and they guide everything we do. Our vision is to become the preferred partner for our customer for glass solutions.
While we work toward that goal, we are faced with a marketplace that is changing at an unprecedented pace. Our desire to stay competitive manifests in two ways:
- Considering the rate and pace of change driven by creative destruction, Guardian Glasshas to transform faster than our competitors.
- As an employer facing a changing workforce, demographics, and war for talent, wehave to position Guardian as an employer of choice for contribution-motivated employees.
We have learned a lot about using technology to work, whether it’s remotely or on-site. By applying what we have learned, we will not bounce back to the way things were. Instead, we want to capitalize on our learning and bounce forward in our approach to work by leveraging technology and being flexible in work arrangements. Our EU headquarters in Luxembourg is one of many locations where we recently increased office employees’ flexibility to work in the office and remotely.
Amcham: How would you assess the current emotional and mental health of your employees and are there any steps you are taking to give additional support in this area?
Guardian Glass supervisors are encouraged to communicate openly, often and with empathy with team members, because this is a very personal question and depends on the individual. Everyone is happy that the restrictions are being lifted, however, it’s different from country to country, and some people have been more impacted than others.
In addition to those conversations, we have been constantly updating our health and safety resources, whether this means online materials or yoga classes. We are in unprecedented times, but we continue to be impressed with the commitment and hard work of our team members. This is just another area where we as a company must transform and identify new ways to support their health and safety.
Amcham: What have you leaned and how has your personal management style evolved as a result of this Covid experience?
Like every Guardian Glass employee, I am dedicated to working on my personal transformation and work to be constantly learning and evolving. These are four of the most important things the Covid experience taught me:
- It was another very good reminder that it is all about the team. It was impossible to manage in this crisis from the top down. It was important to get everyone connected and empower the team to execute.
- The importance of constant, real-time communication. Don’t hold back. Transparency is critical.
- It’s all around agility. The ability to adapt quickly to fast changing conditions. A decision is better than no decision. Reverse when better knowledge is available.
Thank you very much Mr Boekhoudt for this interview!