Prior to COVID-19, United Source One had experienced multiple "near deaths," according to President and CEO Michael Imgarten of the exporter that specializes in supplying premium beef and other food products to high-end restaurants. By June 2020, exports were down 95%. At that level, many companies would close operations, he said, especially "a young entrepreneurial company specializing in international business, which is an extra layer of complexity."
But the Belcamp, Md.-based company pivoted, in part, by focusing on and providing cold-storage space and other services for importers serving the U.S. market. "We finished 2020 strong and knew we could persevere through 2021," Imgarten said. "The past year was survival in its purest form. We now feel we're done with these (near-deaths) and ready to move on."
Imgarten recounted his firm's survival steps, along with four other executives representing Maryland-based exporting companies recognized for perseverance in the COVID-19 pandemic, in Maryland Business Adapts. The virtual event on June 3, 2021, was hosted by the Center for Global Business at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
In fall 2020, the CGB issued a statewide call for nominations for companies that had "exhibited resilience and innovation to continue their global operations." A committee including Maryland Smith Research Professor and CGB Academic Director Kislaya Prasad and Maryland Deputy Secretary of Commerce Signe Pringle selected the five honorees. A focus was on small- and medium-sized enterprises stemming "from the often-overlooked importance of these companies to the health of the Maryland economy," says CGB Executive Director Rebecca Bellinger.
In addition to United Source One, Bellinger introduced and highlighted the pivots of the other selectees:
Miltec UV (global supplier and manufacturer of UV curing equipment and UV spare parts) and Miltec President Bob Blanford "for maintaining cost efficiencies and restructuring its operations, and for deterring competition from abroad through the diversification of product lines focused on both high, value-added technology and clean and sustainable energy products."
RIFE International (energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable construction firm with international offices in Ghana and South Africa) and RIFE President and CEO Kwabena Osei-Sarpong "for reimagining the future of renewable energy and positioning for long-term global growth through innovative, value-added services that have led to cost-saving operations and increased profitability."
Get Real Health (global distributor of digital health solutions) and President Robin Wiener "for adapting quickly by enhancing its existing products to empower patients during the pandemic thereby allowing individuals worldwide to utilize telehealth and remote patient monitoring to connect directly to their doctors from the safety of home."
Rovner Products (designer-manufacturer of woodwind instrument accessories) and President-Owner George Reeder for the firm's "customized ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that helped the company optimize its resources, strengthen stakeholder relationships, invest in new technology, and train employees to take advantage of opportunities while maintaining IP protections in China."
Each leader elaborated on their company's pivots in breakout panels moderated by Maryland Smith faculty experts, and afterward Maryland Smith management professor Oliver Schlake delivered a presentation on being resilient, titled "Industry 4.0: Is Your Company Ready?"
The collaboration reflects "the best of we do as a business school, harnessing the impressive intellect and expertise of our faculty, our centers of excellence and our wider community," said Maryland Smith Dean Prabhudev Konana, who delivered welcoming remarks at the virtual event.
Also offering remarks were special guests Maryland U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz.
Cardin, who chairs the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, thanked Konana and Maryland Smith for "recognizing small businesses that have shown tremendous resiliency. It shows one of the things we know about small businesses, that they have ingenuity, innovation… they figure out ways to get things done, including dealing with unexpected hurdles…"
Schulz described the state's support of Maryland-based exporters: "[The Department of] Commerce converted its usual trade show and mission schedule into a series of virtual missions – online meetings that connected Maryland businesses with potential clients in Japan, Colombia, sub-Saharan Africa and Mexico," she said. "We also co-sponsored a series of (CGB-affiliated) MAPIT Alliance events… We've been working on these initiatives for the past 15 months."
Participants also got perspective on a Maryland-based Fortune 500 company pivot, through a keynote address by Anthony Roche, McCormick vice president for Human Resources – Global Functions.
"At the start [of the pandemic], it really wasn't about strategy – it was more a 'test and learn' approach," he said. "We wanted to send a signal to employees that everyone was going through this together… We put some resources together quickly on how to train and guide all the managers in McCormick around the world on just how to have this simple conversation… We (seemingly) never had previous license to have such personal conversations with employees – not just about getting the job done on a 9-to-5 basis, but about 'How is life at home?' … 'How are you coping with things like stress, mental health, childcare, even death and bereavement?'"
It wasn't just about conversations, Roche added. "We did some pulse checks online… on things like 'How are you feeling in general?' and 'What tools and resources are needed?' – whether [in terms of] IT equipment or time-work scheduling."
Going forward, Roche said McCormick has completed "a role assessment of all positions around the world to determine the positions that must be onsite and those that can be remote, or partly remote."
But underpinning the new normal, he said, will be "prioritizing the total wellbeing for all employees" with "a much more holistic view of employee health and wellness."
Bellinger, after the event, said disruption in the global economy will continue to drive the "new normal." And each company featured in Maryland Business Adapts shows how to effectively adapt to such disruption. "Each company's story is different," she said. "But there is one thing that they shared: They were all committed to continuous improvement and adaptation, using experimentation, measurement, and feedback loops to pivot as business conditions changed over time and new opportunities presented themselves, and this is the true measure of resilience."
Maryland Business Adapts was supported in part by a Title VI grant program, CIBE (Centers for International Business Education), administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.