“You have to do the right things, and you have to do things right”
It's Tuesday, February 24th, 5:30 a.m. Marco Ugolotti stands at the factory gate of his company and welcomes the first employees of the early shift. On this day, Ugolotti talks to every single employee of his company. This is not an everyday occurrence, but on this day it is a matter of course for Ugolotti. The day before, Italian authorities have begun to seal off eleven municipalities in northern Italy in the fight against the spread of the corona virus, following the first reported COVID-19 deaths among Europeans in Italy during the night of 22 February. On the very same 22 February, Ugolotti has already called a team of management and experts for a crisis meeting. The aim is to counter the growing threat posed by the Virus, in order to protect employees and maintain business operations. For Ugolotti a sign of accountability. His company is located just 30 minutes by car from Milan, the metropolis of the region in Italy which is most affected by the Virus.
Since 2008 Ugolotti has been Managing Director of Terninox, the leading stainless steel center in Italy and a subsidiary of thyssenkrupp. The 51-year-old family man has experienced many things in his professional life and has been through one crisis or another. But the force with which Corona is not only hitting his country, but has the entire world under control, is beyond the imagination even of the experienced manager. And yet: With his crisis team of experts from occupational safety, sales, HR, communications and employee representation, Terninox has succeeded in a very short time in developing a hygiene and protection concept that lives up to its name and enables the company to continue working in the midst of the crisis. Until the Italian authorities decide in mid-March to Close down Terninox, along with tens of thousands of other companies, for around two weeks because they are initially considered not to be critical to survival in the crisis. Instead of resigning, many colleagues from Terninox Administration and sales simply carry on working. From the home office they call customers, advise them, talk about incoming and outgoing shipments, outstanding and expected deliveries, look for replacements for unavailable materials, calm nervous customers or convince them with alternative offers. They sit in the eye of the storm, but keep working. Because they owe it to themselves and their own company.
When they are officially allowed to resume work in the company at the beginning of April, everyone is relieved that things are finally moving on, that all colleagues are still healthy and on board, and that they can also meet again for a short chat in the canteen, for which there is a comprehensive hygiene concept. With protective masks and the appropriate distance, of course.
Even if, as in many countries, Italy is now beginning to implement initial easing measures, Ugolotti knows that the crisis is not yet over. The risk of infection remains high. And the economic consequences will be felt for a long time to come. When he thinks about success and failure in crisis management today, he lists six reasons:
Timing: act early and act fast, so you're not rolled over by the wave.
Accountability: Leaders are role models. Only what they exemplify is accepted by the rest of the team.
Measures to protect employees: A well thought-outconcept of protection and hygiene measures, adaptation of shift and work models prevents the spread of infection.
Discipline: Only if the measures are implemented consistently, they will be successful. Discipline has priority over perfection.
Communication: open, honest and continuouscommunication with all stakeholders - employees, customers, trade unions, media, politics - ensures trust right from the start.
The close collaboration with the OU Distribution Stainless and Acciai Speciali Terni, the leading stainless steel producer in Italy, which is the first Italian company to be certified for its exemplary crisis management during the pandemic.
"You have to do the right things, and you have to do things right," says Ugolotti. And with a sly wink he adds: "You also need luck". Luck or no luck. These measures prove Ugolotti, his team and the 100 or so employees of Terninox right: to date, the company has not had a confirmed Covid-19 case.