The new normal

By Caro U. Rock

Never in my wildest nightmares did I think we would still be in partial lockdown as the July/August issue of Family Business went to press, but here we are. While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our well-being and most industries have suffered, family companies have shown amazing inspiration and fortitude.

Our media company immediately shifted to working remotely, leveraged our teleconferencing capabilities for team meetings and doubled our webinar offerings. In June, we organized a five-day virtual conference featuring 10 family speakers who discussed the lessons learned from COVID-19. We continue serving our audience in print and digital formats with an eye toward resuming our in-person conferences in the fall.

Over the past few months, countless stories emerged of family companies that quickly adapted. Many pivoted their manufacturing operations to make PPE or other items that would help fellow citizens. Family company GOJO, makers of Purell hand sanitizer, dramatically increased its output, working day and night to supply retailers.

Day & Zimmermann, a global provider of engineering, security and infrastructure services and solutions, realized the need to provide a safe working environment for its 48,000 employees. Chairman and CEO Hal Yoh says the company “mobilized a COVID-19 Return and Recovery Task Force made up of key leaders and cross-functional subject matter experts.” He recognized that communicating with empathy as a values-based, family-owned company was “critical to making employees feel informed and safe.” The company’s response included health screenings conducted by nurses and “longer-term plans to help our country and our customers recover from this unprecedented situation.”

In my hometown of Kansas City, our family flour business saw a surge in demand for retail-size pack flour. According to my nephew-in-law, Wes Fehsenfeld, vice president at the Uhlmann Company, an extraordinary number of people stranded at home turned to baking! “We closed our offices, transitioned to remote work and fortunately didn’t miss a beat in covering the increased workload efficiently,” Wes says.

Wes says the main difficulty was managing the increased demand amid “the constraints caused by an overwhelmed supply chain in the milling industry, which will most likely continue through the summer months.” Luckily, Wes and his father-in-law, my brother, speak multiple times daily and live less than a mile apart.

The restaurant industry took an enormous hit, but that didn’t stop John Durante, owner and operator of several McDonald’s franchises in New Jersey, who quickly turned to helping his community. “As owners of a family business, we have been fortunate to effectively operate our restaurants during the crisis, and it has been a privilege to provide food services to our communities,” John says.

John’s company has donated over 20,000 free meals to first responders, including delivering meals to his local hospital’s emergency department each morning.

These family companies, and thousands of others, have had the flexibility to quickly and successfully shift their business models while preparing strategies for the future. Our hope is that Family Business Magazine can be of help to our audience in formulating strategies and highlighting opportunities for new and better ways of doing business. We hope you and your families stay safe.

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    


July/August 2020

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