Food & Beverage

Executive Perspectives: Tony Sarsam

The Borden Dairy CEO advises taking measured steps to reopen businesses.

Longtime food industry executive Tony Sarsam joined Borden in March 2018. The Dallas-based company got its start as a milk distribution company back in 1857. As CEO, Sarsam leads 3,300 employees across 13 plants and nearly 100 branch offices. Here, he shares his philosophies about getting back to business, step by step. 

“As a business leader, it’s my job to assess the present and plan for the future. Long-term forecasting is always an inexact science, but here’s one thing I can say for certain as I look out on a business landscape blasted by COVID-19: the longer we wait to start reopening businesses, the longer we’re going to suffer economically as a nation and internationally, which could, in turn could lead to additional human suffering as society becomes even more destabilized. 

“And when I say “reopening,” I do not mean flipping a switch. There is no switch. But there are measured steps we can take, one after another, learning and adjusting as we move forward. Here’s an example from Borden’s home state of Texas. 

“On April 17, Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to begin the reopening process by starting with state parks. Then curbside pickup for retail. Then certain elective surgeries. He also established a Strike Force to Open Texas, and elsewhere in the U.S. other governors in regions such as the Midwest are working together to coordinate efforts. Gov.Abbott noted that in Texas, the deliberate pace would be guided by “data and by doctors,” and I agree with this multi-phase approach.  

“A one-year timeline that might look like this: 

  • Week   1: 10% 
  • Week   2: 15% 
  • Week   3: 20% 
  • Week   4: 25% 
  • Week   5: 30% 
  • Week   6: 33% 
  • Week   7: 36% 
  • Week   8: 40% 
  • Month 3: 50% 
  • Month 4: 60% 
  • Month 5: 65% 
  • Month 6: 70% 
  • 1 Year Out: 90% 

“In reality, though, we might be looking at an 18-month timeline. Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, warns that it could take five years before economic output climbs back up to where it was in February 2020. 

“That’s why we need to start now. Yesterday would have been even better. We need to get people back to work with safety measures in place that are appropriate for where their employer, city, state, or region finds itself on a risk continuum. At Borden, among other measures, we’re now taking the temperatures of employees before their shifts begin. Employees in our processing facilities are wearing masks. Will we be doing that a year from now? Most likely. Companies in other business sectors can follow the recommendations of their risk assessment teams along with public health officials and do what they need to do to protect the health of employees, employee families, and customers. 

“I would urge caution at waiting until big numbers are met, such as 20 million tests per day or falling positive cases for 14 days. We can start reopening now as long as we have: 

  • Statistically sound testing methodology to understand infection rate and traceability 
  • Continued investment in infection care supplies and protection for healthcare workers 
  • Staggered re-entry for communities and schools 
  • Staggered re-entry for businesses

“We can do thisand we must. COVID-19 may have reshaped the entire business world, but we can’t let it destroy our economic basis for recovery or the physical suffering caused by the pandemic will be compounded by the inability to build a better future.”

 

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