Editor's note: We asked Milwaukee-area business leaders to reflect on how they navigated their businesses through the challenges of 2021, what lessons they learned along the way, and what's on the horizon in 2022. Responses will run throughout the week in a multi-part series.
What business lesson did you learn in 2021?
“Businesses and people are resilient and can pivot to new ways of doing business when faced with prolonged, severe challenges. Communicating a clear and consistent vision allowed Medical College of Wisconsin to rapidly protect core business functions, keep our people safe, and rapidly pivot education, work and clinical care to virtual modalities, some of which will be maintained after the (COVID-19) pandemic.” -- Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer, Medical College of Wisconsin [caption id="attachment_540028" align="alignright" width="270"] Derek Deubel[/caption] “The lesson for us was don’t take anything for granted. The world and business are always changing. While our team managed through the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic quite well, some of the ensuing supply-chain and employment shockwaves have been reverberating throughout business for the last several months. We have seen materials costs skyrocket (stainless steel, electronics and international freight) while availability decreased over the past year, and we don’t expect this to balance out until late 2022.” -- Derek Deubel, president, TechniBlend and ProBrew [caption id="attachment_540031" align="alignleft" width="157"] Ann Leinfelder Grove[/caption] “There's an adage in nonprofit leadership -- ‘no margin, no mission’ -- that guides business decisions always, but perhaps especially in 2021. The persisting pandemic stretched our organization to meet urgent community needs for mental health services, family support and trauma informed care training. The most important lesson we learned was how compassionate and amazing our employees were at rising to the occasion, called to serve. It turns out perhaps the adage should be ‘no compassion, no mission, no margin.’” -- Ann Leinfelder Grove, president and CEO, Wellpoint Care Network (formerly SaintA) [caption id="attachment_540032" align="alignright" width="144"] Rolando Rodriguez[/caption] “Most important ‘reinforcing business lesson’ was to understand that significant headwinds will happen that cause changes in your organization and industry dynamics. Having a great team, supportive company and adjusting your leadership style to accommodate and overcome a changing environment was true in 2021 and, more importantly, will continue to be the case going forward. Understanding and embracing consumer behavioral changes on their wants and needs are a must to achieve sustainable success.” -- Rolando Rodriguez, chairman, president and CEO, Marcus Theatres
What do you see as the biggest concern and the biggest opportunity for the Milwaukee/southeastern Wisconsin business community heading into 2022?
Raymond: “Workforce recruitment development and retention are both big concerns and big opportunities. How well we adjust to a new way of doing business and to continue to innovate will drive our success.” Deubel: “We are always looking for great employees to help meet our growth. TechniBlend has an incredible relationship with Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) and we have successfully recruited several TIG welders and other technically trained individuals through their programs. Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin are great places to live and work, and there are many job openings available. Finding the applicants to apply and be trained for the work is something we and numerous growing industries are experiencing.” Leinfelder Grove: “Workforce challenges are the biggest concern, across sectors. Moving successfully into 2022 will require a deep understanding of the impact of what happened to us, all of us, in the past two years. We're not there yet. Businesses that can navigate employee preferences for remote, hybrid and flexible positions will find opportunity. Competition for talent will be ongoing. Businesses that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion not just in words, but in actions, will be successful.” Rodriguez: “The biggest concern for our community and state will be recruiting, retaining and growing the talent pool, while recognizing the importance of embracing DE&I. The shortage of employees and leaders will be something that all employers will need to solve in the years to come. As we broaden our employee pools, understand differences, help educate and support a more diverse consumer and workforce base, it will provide us with more opportunities to keep growing our community and state.”
Final reflections from the year
Raymond: “There is tremendous value in using science to guide our business and personal decisions when facing an unprecedented challenge like COVID-19, a global pandemic unlike anything we have experienced since the Spanish influenza pandemic over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, we also need to deal with the harsh realities of misinformation and the politicization of public health issues.” Deubel: “Made In America is back. More of our customers are telling us that they want their TechniBlend equipment made with 100% American stainless steel, components, electronics, and made by Americans. There are so many involved in U.S. manufacturing who believe in the innovative spirit, ingenuity and high quality that our companies can produce. I say let’s get to work and keep making it happen.” Leinfelder Grove: “Take care of yourself. No, really. A leader cannot give something to their organization that they themselves do not have. Compassion, innovation, integrity and excellence, all values evident in successful businesses, require a rested, healthy, joyful leader. If you're not there right now (which is understandable, given the pandemic), make time in your busy week for reflection, restoring, connecting with other leaders and prioritize time with family and friends. Then, your renewed self can lead effectively into 2022 and beyond.” Rodriguez: “Keeping a positive frame of mind during challenging times is very difficult, but a must to instill confidence. Your company, investors, vendors, guests and associates are looking for leaders to remain positive while understanding the harsh realities, seek solutions, embrace change and build confidence in the ability to overcome the challenges at hand. While small and short-term wins are important, it’s essential that we all look to identify the long term initiatives and solutions under an ongoing changing environment.” Check back throughout the week to see more reflections on the year from area business leaders.
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