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Leading through a Global Crisis: A Conversation with GOJO CEO Carey Jaros

Bain's Manny Maceda welcomes Carey Jaros, whose company makes Purell hand sanitizer, to discuss how the business quickly pivoted its operations as the Covid-19 pandemic surged.

Video

Leading through a Global Crisis: A Conversation with GOJO CEO Carey Jaros
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The coronavirus pandemic drastically altered many businesses, but few companies saw a surge in demand like GOJO, which makes Purell hand sanitizer. Carey Jaros, chief executive officer of GOJO, joined Bain's Worldwide Managing Partner Manny Maceda to discuss the rapid operational shifts GOJO made and the future of omnichannel work.

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Read a transcript of the coversation below:

MANNY MACEDA: As part of my Go Boldly series, I'm sharing lessons and dialogue with chief executives around the world wrestling with the challenges of Covid. I'm excited to be joined today by Carey Jaros, president and CEO of GOJO, makers of Purell, and someone who's actually a Bain alumnus and took over as CEO at the start of the year. Carey, welcome, and thank you for joining us.

CAREY JAROS: Thanks, Manny. I'm so happy to be here.

MACEDA: We're so happy to have you. And I thought that we should start just by reflecting on how you did start the year. You became CEO. Typically, most CEOs have a 100-day plan of some kind. And right in the middle of your start-up, Covid happened. How did you deal with that?

JAROS: It's a great question, Manny. It was not a typical beginning, I don't think, to any CEO's tenure. The good news is that I wasn't starting with an aggressive 100-day plan. I was moving out of my COO role into the CEO role. And we were very much in the middle of executing a five-year strategy for the business.

And so I started the year feeling really good about our progress against that strategy over the last couple of years and looking forward to continuing to execute against some of our critical enterprise initiatives. Pretty quickly, everything changed. In the middle of January, we became aware that Covid was going to be a more significant issue through our detect and alert teams in the US. And almost overnight, we found ourselves very much in response mode.

MACEDA: And number one, going from executing a strategy as CEO to crafting a new one and then dealing with a different set of conditions—that must have been fascinating. Your industry and your company has probably dealt with things like dramatic surges in demand and pandemics in the past. Was this meaningfully different?

JAROS: One of our senior advisers says, when you've seen one surge, you've seen one surge. So he conditioned us to believe that they're all different. But we have had experience, certainly, with H1N1. We had experience with SARS. Even the seasonal flu can have very different levels of impact on our business. So we have all kinds of infrastructure set up to deal with surge, to both detect it and to deal with it.

We keep inventories. We never run at full capacity so that we have excess capacity. I will say that Covid-19 has been unlike anything we experienced before, both in terms of the magnitude and in terms of the duration.

MACEDA: And so for something that dwarfs anything you've done, would you be willing to share some examples of what did you really have to do differently this time in supply chain or go-to-market in some way?

JAROS: Sure. So I think the single biggest learning for us is that when a surge lasts this long, it wears through all of your surge inventory, not just in finished goods but also in components. And so the surge actually reaches back into your supply chain in a way that we had not, frankly, seen to this degree in the past. I think that led to us being very creative.

So, for example, we ended up sourcing all kinds of alternative components. You may have seen some of our special SKUs on the market that don't look like normal Purell bottles. I promise what's inside it is the real stuff. But we had to get really creative about sourcing components.

We obviously have had to think about raw materials like ethanol in very different ways. And so I think we've learned a lot about the limitations of our supply chain and our prior surge planning through this. And as a lifelong learner, what that means is we'll be much, much better prepared next time.

MACEDA: Well, thank you as a longtime user of your product and someone who actually has used it probably more than ever the last few months, and the difference you're making in our collective safety. The fact you were able to mobilize to do this kind of surge has made a difference, so thank you.

JAROS: Thanks, Manny.

MACEDA: We've had to deal with surges ourselves even though our business is so different. But one thing we probably do share, potentially, in some way, like most companies, is that we had to do this while sending meaningful parts of our workforce home and do all of this crisis management while dealing with virtual new technologies. How's that experience been for your company, Carey?

JAROS: It's been a really interesting leadership challenge, Manny. I think as a company that is a family enterprise, a third-generation family enterprise, we care deeply about all of our GOJO team members. We have had some really different sets of challenges. So as essential workers in our production facilities and in our distribution facilities, many of our GOJO team members have had to work 24/7 since this pandemic started.

And so for those team members, it's been all about creating a really safe environment, increased social distancing, masking, all kinds of tactics to improve, really, space on the floor and increase safety. We've also brought on board nurses and done all kinds of things like that to both support our team members and to ensure we really have our hands on what's going on in our production facilities and distribution facilities.

At the same time, we also have a workforce that doesn't need to be physically in the office, necessarily, to do their job every day. And we sent that portion of our workforce home and have actually provided guidance that we will continue to have those team members work remotely through March of 2021. So we've really made a relatively long-term commitment to having people out of the office.

In terms of how we've done that, I think we probably have relied on many of the same tools that you have and others have. We were fortunate to be in the middle of piloting Microsoft Teams on a small scale right at the beginning of this. And our team worked tirelessly to roll it out enterprise-wide almost overnight. Now I think none of us can imagine a world without Microsoft Teams. But at the beginning, it was incredibly disruptive to have to move everybody onto new systems on such short notice.

MACEDA: I recognize you have a different workforce, and you have essential frontline workers. Again, thank you. Our business is all knowledge workers, as you know. And the adjustment from six months ago—can you imagine a world without Microsoft Teams or Zoom or whatever technologies, and how fast we've adjusted? I like to call it—in fact, in a recent article—omnichannel work, to take a page from our Retail practice. Because sometimes you go online, sometimes you do it in person. And that's what's happening with work.

Now, a theme that has come across in peer conversations like this is the theme of culture. And some call it social capital, that the organizations that have already learned how to work with each other, we've harvested social capital over the last few months. But coming out of this, we need to invest and build new social capital. So given all of these changes, Carey, how do you think work and the nature of work will change for GOJO?

JAROS: So, Manny, I really like your concept of omnichannel work. We've been thinking about it similarly. Our language right now is the work ecosystem of the future, and we've talked about hybrid working as part of that.

I anticipate that the world will be forever changed by this moment. And our desire to be able to work across locations, to have some team members colocated and other team members not colocated, perhaps even to be able to work asynchronously at different times, will all be things that we demand from our work ecosystem of the future so that we can get the most out of people and our teams. And so I think it will go that way.

That said, I believe that the need to be able to build and maintain really strong social connection will continue to be critical in all companies, but especially in companies like ours and like Bain, where culture is so essential. And so the tools that we rely upon will have to get better, but we'll get better too. We'll learn how to collaborate digitally in ways that really build the culture instead of feeling like they're taking from it.

MACEDA: I agree. And we definitely believe that's how it will evolve, especially running a global seamless organization. And when we do get together in person, we'll always have to keep our hands clean and keep safe. So with that, Carey, thank you so much. We've learned so much. Let's continue the dialogue as we advance our respective companies' purpose. And please come back and see us again. Take care.

JAROS: Thanks, Manny. Thanks for having me.

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