Evergreen Perspective On 2020

Dave Whorton, Tugboat Institute

December 29, 2020

Dear Evergreen Journal Readers,

The start of a new year traditionally offers both opportunity for reflection and anticipation, and—despite all the ways in which 2020 was unprecedented—this year is no different. At Tugboat Institute, as we look ahead to 2021, we’re ready to embrace the hope that the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine brings and move forward to continue to support Evergreen® leaders, and we’re also incredibly grateful to reflect on the lessons and perspective of our community.

The experience of Tugboat Institute member-companies in 2020 has varied widely, reflecting the broad range of industries and geographies in our CEO tribe. In spite of the pandemic, some Evergreen businesses had an incredibly successful year; in other cases, leaders faced stunningly fast and steep revenue drops and heartbreaking layoffs in response. 

Almost all members pushed through exhaustion and decision fatigue at some point, managing personal and family challenges at the same time. Across these experiences, the Evergreen 7Ps™ principles have continued to serve as a through line—guiding lights for Tugboat Institute members and companies. The myriad inspiring stories of perseverance, adaption, and care in this unprecedented year could fill a book, but there are a few that stand out as I reflect on our community.

Like so many Evergreen leaders, Scott Evans, CEO of Kenmore Envelope, saw the opportunity to make a difference and serve his community through the pandemic. Having been deemed an essential business as a result of the company’s relationship with the US Postal service, Kenmore continued to operate as many other businesses faced shutdown last spring. With a deep sense of responsibility to use the company’s capabilities and team for good, Scott determined the business could use existing equipment to produce PPE for frontline workers. In mid-April, Kenmore began distributing face shields to community hospitals and healthcare providers in the Richmond, Virginia area. Kenmore is one company among many Evergreen businesses that has displayed People First principles and a commitment to community in 2020. 

The events industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with in-person gatherings almost completely shut down immediately last March. And yet, at Hello! Destination Management President Paul Mears saw opportunity to adapt and step into a new arena in this time. For several years, Paul had been tracking a struggling company with significant outside funding, which, in his view, had developed a wonderful capability that was mispositioned in the market.  As COVID-19 shut down his core business, he quietly did his homework by testing a different value proposition with his existing customers—and found significant interest. Based upon those insights, he acquired the company, extending Hello! DMC’s service offerings into the virtual and local domains and giving the team an exciting new growth vector. 

Grossman Company Properties, a second-generation real estate investment and management company, with a primary focus on hospitality, owns and operates nine hotels. John Grossman, President of the Evergreen business, saw revenues in the hospitality drop by 85 percent across the board last spring, as the floor fell out of the industry in a matter of days. The company initiated furloughs as they saw occupancy rates fall across their properties, which was incredibly difficult given their commitment to People First. However, Private ownership and management allowed for flexibility and creativity in reorganizing staffing to manage the properties. In addition, as John shared in The Evergreen Experience 2020™, the company’s long-term, conservative approach to debt—another characteristic of Evergreen companies—was essential in weathering the storm. 

Choosing just three examples here was not easy. So many Evergreen leaders have shown extraordinary grit, compassion, and character in 2020, continually making decisions to align their companies’ actions with their core values and to care for their teams while confronting extraordinary challenges. 

Looking ahead, Evergreen businesses will need to continue to adapt and plan for what remains an uncertain future in many ways. But these leaders and their teams have a competitive advantage in this time: they are committed to delivering on their Purpose for the long term. With new innovations and stronger teams forged in this moment, I know these companies will continue to grow, thrive, and make a difference in the world. 

Dave Whorton is the Founder and CEO of Tugboat Institute.

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