Coping with Covid: N.O. Business Leaders Share Their Stories

Man Working From Home

NEW ORLEANS – We asked more than 500 local business leaders how they are dealing with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of their insights and observations:

How are you coping with the current coronavirus crisis?

Sean Killeen, Demoran Custom Homes: We are taking things day by day but are continuing to work as long the city allows. … We have four projects held up because the permit office is closed [and] two large commercial projects are on hold until things settle down. Our yearly revenue forecast looks like it will be at least 50% lower than last year and 60% lower than expected for the year.

Malinda Ferrell, Camp Pelican: We are holding our breath for now. We are completely in a wait-and-see scenario for Camp Pelican. So, our business is different from most because we are a summer camp. We were just starting to ramp up our planning for the summer when coronavirus took over.

Joe Celano, INTRX HealthCare: We are in the financial services sector and specialize exclusively in long-term care planning. We routinely have the ability to work with our clients through remote servicing. Additionally we learned from 9/11 and the financial meltdown eras that LTC plans represented a nice “safe harbor” for households. … We are now educating our prospective clients on that strategy as a result of the current pandemic.

Calvin Fabre of Envoc: Our 24 employees are working remotely with no interruption to the hosting of our apps, include LA Wallet, which is now free to all Louisiana residents. We are working hard on new features requested by the state of Louisiana to provide a no-touch, hands-off approach to providing identification for all commercial and age-restricted transactions. 

Did your business continuity plan work or were there surprises?

Barry Spizer, SRSA Commercial Real Estate Inc.: It actually worked pretty flawlessly. We immediately activated our Hurricane Katrina plan. We prepare and practice each hurricane season, so we had a number of protocols already in place ready to go. There are always some new twists. The biggest surprise here was needing supplies like hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, gloves and masks. We manage a number of medical office buildings and clinics, so having these supplies available was critical, so we had to move quickly.

Jamie Sablich, Fidelity Bank: There isn’t anything we could have done to completely prepare for this situation. However, our structure as a mutual puts us in a unique and responsive position for this current environment. We are a very well capitalized financial institution and our mission of providing capital to the communities that we serve is going to allow us to provide financing and liquidity to the individuals and businesses that will need it during this most difficult and uncertain economic time.

Snappy Jacobs, CCIM Real Estate Management: Business is a series of challenges and surprises. I worked through $12 /barrel oil and the “malaise” of the 1980s, 9-11, Katrina and numerous storms, as well as the 2008-11 financial contagion. The biggest surprise is the shutting down of commerce by the government. 

Have you found silver linings in these difficult times?

Marty Brantley, Engel & Völkers New Orleans: Similar to how post-Sept 11 and, here, post-Katrina, so many people adopted texting, I see this is a tipping point of adoption of easy-to-use virtual experiences – such as FaceTime and Google Hangouts and Zoom. This social distancing experiment can, in time, lead to deeper connections and relationships with others – giving us new ways to connect with friends and family (and clients).

Snappy Jacobs: Yes. I have witnessed acts of kindness and compassion, as well as the independent toughness of people to improve their own circumstances as well as their communities, that are best achieved through a capitalist system. This makes me feel that we can recover through the hard work, compassion, and will of the people. Of course, the other silver lining is the value of a great wife and family whose company I enjoy, as well as good friends.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

Barry Spizer: We are doing weekly Zoom meetings with our full brokerage sales team. And we are communicating daily with our property managers and building engineers. We have committed to our people to pay them and keep them employed during this crisis for as long as we possibly can, so they know we will be there for them.

Calvin Fabre: We have all-staff webinars to check-in with each other with webcams on. We will have a webcam contest to see who has the funniest T-shirt.

Sean Killeen: We are doing everything we can to keep morale high. We have also given everyone extra pay to make sure their families had enough food and medical supplies to last if we have to shut down completely for a few weeks.

Do you have advice for other local companies?

Marty Brantley: There are so many resources and tools available at nominal fees to make remote-working so much easier than even one or two years ago, though it does take effort. Spending the time and effort now will only benefit you long-term. More important to me is that this is a time that we will hopefully never have again – and we need to use it to its full advantage. Take personal time to refresh, recharge and take advantage of the many new (and mostly online) tools to find ways to improve your own self – be that professional development or personal development.

Eric Morgan, Morgan & Co: You’re not alone. Lean on others. Sometimes solutions come from the most unexpected places.

Jamie Sablich: Stay positive and calm. This economic environment is something we will all get through together. Stay in touch with your banker and know that all financial institutions should have an obligation during times like this to help our people and businesses survive this type of event.

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