Anthony Durante is no stranger to economic downturns.

As CEO of Durante Rentals, a construction equipment rental company that’s made the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses for the past seven years running, Durante has been in business since 2009—the depth of the Great Recession.

And this year, he and his team got an up-close and personal view of the coronavirus pandemic: Durante’s 10 locations are throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Their newest office is located in New Rochelle, the epicenter of New York’s pandemic outbreak. “We opened our headquarters there three weeks earlier, and we found out one morning that the CDC was in our building. So all that news going on, we were at ground zero,” Durante says. 

Not only were Durante and his team dealing with the fear of the outbreak right at their doorstep, but under New York’s stay-at-home order, all nonessential construction projects were halted for weeks. While those projects have since started up again, there’s no question  that the next year or two will look different from what all of us would have imagined before COVID-19 changed everything.  

Despite these challenges, however, Durante recognizes the need to be innovative and positive. In fact, it’s one of his most valuable leadership qualities, and drives home the values of his business.

Here are a few of the most important lessons he’s learned about operating in a tough economy, and how you can apply them as we make our way through the new COVID-19 world.

No matter what, always put your employees first

Most companies say that they put their employees first. But when it comes down to the wire, there are too many leadership teams that are unwilling to make a real sacrifice in order to take care of their employees. 

PROMOTED

That’s not the case with Durante. 

When the coronavirus was raging through New York, Durante shut down the office so staff could telework. By March 17, he decided to shut down operations through the 20th so he and the leadership could take a step back, see what was happening, and develop a plan to safely get back up and operating in the new reality. 

“I said, we’re not opening until we come up with safe measures for everyone to get back to work, as opposed to modifying what we do on the go,” he says. As a result of using extreme caution, Durante Rentals was one of the only equipment rental companies nationally to close for any significant period of time.

“Everybody talks about putting employees first, but we looked at all of our competitors and they were still sending people out into the field. They’re claiming it’s because they’re there for their customers, but I’m thinking, unless you make safety paramount, you are putting people’s health and lives at risk.”

Six days after closing, Durante Rentals resumed operations, under strict new health and safety guidelines.

Speed up your innovations

Aside from a focus on safety, Durante and his team quickly used their downtime to perform needed technology installations and upgrades to their infrastructure. This included everything from updating their GPS system, to installing a new phone system, to Salesforce implementation and paperless initiatives. 

There are two reasons this makes sense. For one, when business is slow, your team has more time to invest in learning the new systems and migrating any data that has to be moved manually. 

Second, investing in the right tools and tech will make your business more competitive, ensuring that when business does pick up again—even if it doesn’t return to the levels you previously had—you’ll be in a stronger position to propel the business forward. 

Rely on your staff to help you through challenges

Something else Durante advocates is being willing to speed up staff promotions. 

Durante was planning on elevating his COO to President in 2021, but instead he chose to execute that promotion a year early. “With the business running at less than 40 percent capacity, I felt this was a more opportune moment. It’s easier to coach the transition with this level of activity as opposed to getting business back to max capacity, and then trying to switch the controls when you have momentum.”

A final piece of advice from this seasoned business leader? Be aware that when a situation seems dire, your staff is looking to you for guidance, and watching your reactions.  

“We all remember the “Where were you” moments,” Durante says. “The leadership you possess during those memorable times is what really forges your character in the minds of those you serve.”

Recessions are traditionally good times to start a business, as counterintuitive as that seems. Entrepreneurs and brands that are ready to take risks and adapt are the ones that will come out ahead after the pandemic passes. 

At Zen Media, we’ve been helping clients adapt to the COVID-19 world and, in many cases, they’re achieving greater success than they did before. One client of ours whom we helped host a virtual event actually doubled the number of sign-ups they usually get at their biggest conference. 

There’s no denying that right now is a difficult time to be in business—it’s a difficult time to be doing a lot of things, honestly. But by keeping your eye on the horizon, investing in innovation where you can, and committing to your employees, you’ll be able to come out the other side even stronger than you were before.

Source: Forbes

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