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 the SES took to protect the company and your employees?
Steve Collar: As a global organization, we started to get a sense of what might be coming from our team in Singapore in early 2020. But like most organizations, it was probably March when we understood the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis. Our employees, partners and customers were our top concern, and we immediately began to implement a series of measures to protect their health and safety.
We put in place a “work from home” policy for the majority of our employees and transitioned relatively seamlessly. We have important operations teams around the world who need to access the facilities, so providing them a safe and secure environment was paramount. We assembled a COVID-19 Task Force with employees from SES offices around the world who are fully empowered to take decisions in the best interests of SES and our employees. The Task Force met daily throughout 2020 and continues to meet regularly to this day.
AMCHAM: How has business demand from your customers changed during the crisis period?
COVID-19 profoundly impacted a number of the industries that we serve directly. The two fastest growing segments in our Networks business prior to the pandemic were providing internet services to commercial aircraft and to cruise lines. Almost overnight, cruise lines stopped sailing and air travel evaporated. Our focus became supporting our customers through what was clearly going to be an extended period of disruption. The good news is that both are now coming back strongly.
Elsewhere, things were more positive. With more people at home and a desire to understand what was happening from reliable sources of news, the demand for linear video and public broadcasting increased. The unprecedented shift to remote working and remote schooling meant more pressure on communications networks everywhere and intensified demand for connectivity and bandwidth from our service provider customers.
AMCHAM: Has there been disruption to the logistics stream from your subcomponent suppliers, and how have you handled disruptive supply flows?
A certain level of disruption has been somewhat unavoidable, since travel has been severely restricted at various points during the pandemic. But we have a very strong partner network designed with redundancy that includes many long-time local suppliers, and we’re fortunate that we’ve been able to minimize business impact.
AMCHAM: How has the impact of Covid evolved over time and what adjustments has the SES had to make to protect the company, the employees and your customers?
More than 18 months on from the start of the pandemic, I think we have been remarkably resilient. Had you described to me at the start the far-reaching impact that the pandemic would have on almost every walk of life, I would have assumed that the business impact would have been substantially greater than we have seen. The SES team has been remarkable through this period and, as humans, it shows what we are able to achieve in the face of extraordinarily challenges.
That said, it is important to remember that, at its heart, this is a human tragedy. Many have lost loved ones and personally experienced the full impact of this truly nasty virus. Similarly, the challenges to mental health imposed by long periods without face-to-face interaction and social engagement are non-trivial, and we are doing what we can – at SES – to make sure that we all come through this period together.
AMCHAM: What challenges have you had to overcome with home working?
Our employees adapted very quickly to remote working. Our IT team swung into action immediately and the speed at which our collaboration tools and efficient video meeting environments were set up was impressive. It was without doubt the fastest companywide deployment of a brand-new enterprise architecture in our history. It has turned out to be a great long-term investment as we adopt a hybrid model of remote and in-office working going forward.
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 were there some solutions imposed in some jurisdictions which you greatly appreciated or some that you considered ineffective?
For SES, one of the most important aspects was the ongoing support to cross-border working. Many of our operations teams, those who need to be on site to keep our satellites flying and our networks running, live across the border in France or Germany. Allowing them to travel safely and to continue to access the headquarters was critical. The Luxembourg government has managed this unprecedented situation extremely well, taking decisive action where necessary and communicating clearly. The support for families with young children has been important, reducing the stress on parents by allowing them to take leave from work during school shutdowns while providing reimbursements for employers.
AMCHAM: Please comment on the sufficiency and effectiveness of the governmental financial support measures made available to your company? Were these measures adequate?
Given the resilience of our business, we have not had to look to the Luxembourg government too much in terms of support measures. We have mainly appreciated the flexibility the government has shown around cross-border working and issues that impact our employees such as cross-border taxation.
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?
I think the world will look a little different for us all ‘post pandemic’. We were already heading towards more flexible working conditions. The pandemic has definitely made us see how our people can manage their own time, with the emphasis on outcomes and productivity rather than time spent in the office. Nevertheless, I am a big believer in our culture and the need for us to spend time together. As such, we are evolving the use of our offices and thinking about how to get the best out of our office spaces.
Separately, we have to make sure that we remain close to our customers to understand their needs as the world recovers. As a global company, we see differences in terms of rules, behaviors, opportunities and challenges. Being as close to our customers as we can be at this time will be important, and not assume that the same approach fits everywhere.
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?
It is a really important aspect, as I touched on earlier. The medium- to long-term impacts and implications of the pandemic for employees and their families are not easy to anticipate and something that we think about a lot as a business. In terms of practical action, we have encouraged teams to hold virtual social gatherings and have expanded our online training and corporate education. We have rolled out Unmind, a workplace wellbeing platform that gives our employees tips and tools to help support them and have recently complemented that with Wellbeats, an on-demand fitness and collaboration app. We are now taking steps to limit the number of online meetings and blocking time in everyone’s calendar to allow time and space for focused work. We do regular spot surveys to check how everyone is managing and, in general, the results have been both encouraging and inspiring, but there is no question that everyone is finding this period challenging, and we have to do whatever we can to support one another.
AMCHAM: What have you learned, and how has your personal management style evolved as a result of this Covid experience?
I am enormously grateful to, and inspired by, the incredible people we have at SES. It has been a tough period for us all, but we have stuck together, supported our customers, and we can see the end in sight. We look ahead to satellite launches and growth, and the future is exciting. I am an optimist at heart, and I hope that this pandemic has taught us all to look out for one another a little more.
Amcham would like to thank Mr Steve Collar for this excellent interview!