COVID-19 Business Survival: Stay Calm and Focused on the Short Term

Just like with the numerous hurricanes his company has experienced over the years, Randy Carr, President and CEO of Florida-based World Emblem, plans to weather the COVID-19 crisis by staying calm and trying to keep his focus on the short term, something he recommends to other leaders.

“The object is to get through this, to get to the other side,” he says. “So, I’m not looking past 90 days.”

A veteran of multiple business storms, CEO Randy Carr advises remaining calm and short-term focused to survive COVID-19 crisis.World Emblem produces 100 million custom emblems a day with 1,000 employees in five countries and states. In February, usually a notoriously slow month, Carr and his team found themselves at the top of their game. With China shutdown due to the COVID-19 crisis, World Emblem was able to pull over some big names in the sports business.

“We offer rapid manufacturing domestically,” says Carr. For a product that might take six to eight weeks coming from China, World Emblem can turn it around in two days. That has a lot of appeal in the current business climate with so many changes happening daily. With China’s production at a standstill, World Anthem was able to step right in. In February, the company “destroyed” its sales record, with sales up 80% from the same period in 2019. Even at the beginning of March, sales were up 40%.

“In a lot of respects, it was great, it was awesome,” says Carr. “But then the tail started whipping back round.”

With the growing number of international COVID-19 cases and most U.S. states ordering shelter-in-place for all of their residents, Carr knew then that he and his team had to start running different models for what might lay ahead.

“I have kind of an ingrown fear about losing everything, and then I have my counterbalancing fear about wanting to rule the world,” says Carr, who describes himself as a very aggressive, growth-oriented CEO. Much of that fear, he says, comes from seeing his father’s emblem business go belly up years before he started World Emblem in 1993 with his father and brother.

With World Emblem’s headquarters in south Florida, Carr has experienced numerous hurricanes and their aftermaths.

When Irma struck in 2017, much of the company’s data had yet to be moved to the cloud, so Carr still had all the computer servers in his south Florida building. “We took them all, threw them in the trunk of our cars, and drove them halfway across the country.”

COVID-19 Crisis and beyond

Between hurricanes and his family’s experience with losing it all, Carr has taken a very aggressive approach to disaster recovery by building up the company’s infrastructure. Before cloud computing, they put in a USD300,000 generator behind their building. They reinforced their server rooms and took out contracts with companies like Iron Mountain. “We’ve always had a disaster recovery policy in place for the tech side of the business,” he says.

With the advent of cloud computing, the company is now completely cloud based. “We’ve moved all our entire data structure to Tier 1 data centers,” says Carr. “Not that we are protected from a pandemic, because with this whole thing, we’re in sort of uncharted territory as far as the last 200 years are concerned.” But it has helped the company remain agile when manufacturing needs to change location suddenly.

In March, Carr and his executive team started running models of what is it would look like if they were to take a dive of anywhere from 10% to 80% for the rest of the year.

Rather than focus on the company’s gangbuster sales in February or the lower numbers they might be experiencing as the pandemic grows, Carr says he went back to the budget with his CFO. “Let’s drop it 10-20-30-40% and see what that looks like. Are we still in business? So, we’re not in business at 40%. What do we have to do to stay in business at 40%? We’ve got to do this, this, and this.” And that may include letting some people go or having others take big salary cuts, says Carr. But it’s better than the alternative of closing shop. “And what about 50% and 60%? Who doesn’t get paid? We shut off the ACH payments. At 50% I don’t pay my rent. But the business is still here.  Yes, the landlord is going to come down and kick me out, but I’m still here.”

Where Carr turns for support

Rather than share all that he is feeling with his work team, Carr talks with people in his YPO forum. “My forum has been really helpful on both getting and giving information.  Also, just knowing I’m not in this alone is comforting,” he says. For Carr, this is the third economic cycle he has been through, and by far the toughest one, he says, because of all of the unknowns: how long it is going to last, and what it will look like when it is over. “My forum, more than anyone, has been an outlet for a lot of my confusion – and putting words to the emotions and fear that I don’t want to push onto my team at work.”

In addition to YPO, Carr says that his two decades of martial arts’ training have also helped him immensely, and much of what he has learned can be applied to business.

“Everything comes from the core. There are no wild swings, way to the left or way to the right. Everything starts in the middle and works its way out.”

For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.

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