Jim Kircher, the Chief Commercial Officer at FAULHABER MICROMO shares with us his thoughts on how FAULHABER MICROMO is managing through the pandemic as well as insights into what the future of Robotics and Automation may be.
Business Perspectives and the Impacts of COVID-19 - Q&A with FAULHABER MICROMO
Q&A with Jim Kircher, the Chief Commercial Officer | FAULHABER MICROMO
How was your workforce directly impacted by COVID-19?
The impact has been significant, but manageable. We made the decision early to react to the threat, particularly as a company based in Clearwater, Florida, where there was not much attention or guidance provided in the early phases of the COVID-19 environment. The executive team made a company-wide announcement on March 12 that we would be making changes immediately in an abundance of caution to the virus. That was a Thursday. By the next day, we had moved a significant portion of our workforce to a “work from home” status; all of the sales, business development, marketing, and account management teams were working from home. By Monday, the engineering teams were doing the same.
In parallel, new policies were being put into place to protect our manufacturing and assembly employees, who continued to come into work each day. We’re lucky enough to have abundant space in our facility and operational areas, so we were able to put social distancing efforts into place immediately for those workers. Extraordinary efforts were made to disinfect all areas on breaks, between shifts, and in common areas throughout the day. Social distancing was put into place immediately for all common areas. All employees were made aware of the circumstances in which they should not come to work, so as not to put others at risk. In addition, our PTO policy was adjusted to ensure that anyone who needed time off to manage their personal circumstances (school closures, no child care, elderly parents, etc.), would have the latitude to do so.
Meanwhile, for the “work from home” employees, our IT department did an outstanding job ensuring that everybody had the equipment and system access needed to do their jobs. Luckily, over the last year we have been investing in widespread virtual meeting capability, so we were prepped with some of the basic technology and familiarity to make the transition as seamless as possible.
How are you seeing COVID-19 changing the way people do business?
The most obvious change is the conversion to virtual meetings, for everything. The sales team already used this approach extensively. But it was an extension in support of the face to face sales engineering meetings that are essential in our technology market. Now virtual has become the only way to do business. Other areas of the organization were not as accustomed to conducting business via virtual meetings, or working from home – and the combination of those two things can be daunting, especially if your home environment is not the most conducive to holding professional meetings.
But for our internal meetings, we’ve tried to have some fun with it. Encouraging people to be visibly virtual, not just audibly. We’ve run a few “virtual presence” contests to promote that. Having visual context to conversation adds value and understanding beyond what an audio call can provide. We may as well make the most use of the technology at our disposal – and be as collaborative as we can be.
I expect that there will be some long lasting effects from this period, and more virtual meetings will definitely be one of them. I also think there will more flexibility on how “work from home” is thought of, and how productivity is measured between “work from home” and ‘work from office”, extending this mode to functions not previously considered as viable for this option.
Have your growth and investment plans changed in the wake of COVID-19?
This is a question of short term vs long term. Our long term growth plans have not changed at all. Our investment choices are built around our long term growth strategy, so these haven’t changed much either. Short term, our growth for 2020/2021 will be effected. Like most companies, we’re not quite sure yet of the extent of that impact. With medical devices being one of our most important markets, we have some upside urgent business to offset some of the customer base pushing out demand.
For these pushouts, the important question for us is, will this be a temporary suppression of demand that will find recovery through pent up demand downstream? Or will it be a black hole, where we simply lose a quarter or 2 of demand that is lost forever, as we return to ‘normal’ demand levels.
Then of course there is the question of the financial health of our customer base. Most of them will weather through this crisis just fine. But there will be several that were in an unfortunate liquidity position going into this pandemic, which will have some impact to their business structure. We are hoping that we continue to fulfill the end market demand no matter what structural impacts occur with this portion of the customer base. We are trying to help wherever and however we can.
How do you expect your revenue to change overall in 2020 because of COVID-19?
We expect our revenue to be flat (to previous projections) to slightly negative. We’ve had a mix of downside and upside across our customer base which so far is balancing out. While the consolidated revenue seems to be steady, the makeup of where it’s coming from has had many significant changes to earlier forecasts.
Moving forward what are you anticipating for and how are you preparing for those challenges?
Beyond the well-being of our own employees, the most important factor for us is our customers. What changes will they drive in their business models and the way they want to do business? We will need to react to these. Flexibility and responsiveness to those needs will be the keys to our success. We are anticipating a higher level of virtual business to be in place for the foreseeable future. Less business travel. A higher degree of risk mitigation across our customer base (and within our own organization).
Can you share what you have learned about your business and its employees from this?
Because we supply technologies that are instrumental in some of the key COVID-19 response equipment, we’ve been very involved and have learned a lot. We’ve learned that when called upon, we have an immense ability to operate in an environment that demands a high level of flexibility and responsiveness. We’ve learned just how collaborative we can be with our customers, and internally, in order to engineer and deliver quick solutions. Much quicker than we are normally called on to deliver. Although our work environment has been turned upside down, I’ve never seen our team more cohesive or effective. Customers, especially those with urgent requirements, have definitely taken note. Everybody is chipping in and helping each other in ways large and small. I’ve never been more proud to work within this team than I’ve been throughout this situation. I think we’ll have a lot of positive carry-over into the new normalized future, whatever that future entails and demands.
About Jim Kircher
Jim is an executive leader specializing in team building and business growth. He has two decades of hands-on P&L and operational management. Jim brings proven executive leadership in building, developing and managing multi-$100M level businesses. He has extensive experience in managing international operations, strategic development and business development, specializing in start-up and expansion businesses. He brings a strong focus and track record of success in business growth and financial performance. Jim believes in collaborative team building as the essential platform for success: his passion is building winning teams that build winning businesses.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow
Since 1961, FAULHABER MICROMO has partnered with OEMs to deliver high precision, high performance, custom micro motion system solutions to markets such as medical, robotics and automation in North America. FAULHABER MICROMO's tradition of innovation started decades ago in Germany. The groundbreaking invention of the FAULHABER coreless winding started it all for a market that produces millions of motors today. How can the FAULHABER MICROMO team help you deliver your next innovation to market first? Learn more about MICROMO's solutions for the most demanding applications, our diverse motion products and technologies, online ordering, Engineering and R&D teams, Clean Room Assembly, Machining Center and other services at our Clearwater, FL facility at https://www.faulhaber.com.
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