Not Idle During Ida: Businesses Adapt to Yet Another Crisis
NEW ORLEANS – At what point does pivoting become spinning in circles until you fall down? That’s a fair question for New Orleans business leaders to ask after they have endured four COVID-19 spikes and two hurricanes in the last year and a half. Yet the city’s indefatigable entrepreneurs and CEOs are once again making it work under tough circumstances. We checked in with a few to find out how they’re forging ahead despite the days-long blackout caused by Hurricane Ida.
Changing the Message
For Ellie Rand, who owns a boutique public relations firm, the first post-Ida move was to adjust her clients’ PR plans and messaging to match what’s going on in the community. One of her clients is New Orleans Habitat for Humanity, so it was an easy transition.
“We had a few media interviews lined up last week for Habitat that were about topics other than Ida,” said Rand. “But now, because NOAHH is a leader in rebuilding and recovery based on its work following Hurricane Katrina, we are able to provide our valuable expertise to individuals and the media.”
Rand herself was able to keep working remotely. First, she evacuated to the Graduate hotel in Oxford, Miss., because “they take dogs and bend over backwards to help business clients.” Then she relocated to her office in Waveland, Miss. By going north at first, she said, she was able to avoid all the evacuation traffic.
Two other post-Ida adjustments: Rand said she’s invited her subcontractors to come work at her Gulf Coast office, and she’s offering all her clients a special post-storm rate.
Communication is Key
Matt Hahne of WestWind Coaching Co. said the key to surviving yet another hurdle is staying in touch with employees, clients and the community.
“We all want to go into our cocoon in crisis but you have to fight that with more outreach,” he said. “It’s hard but very much worth the effort. We’re still up and running, calling clients and helping them through big hairy issues – or connecting them with other clients that have the resources they may need.”
Hahne said it is hard to make decisions in a crisis because people’s “brain bandwidth” is dedicated to food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs. His company will work with other companies to help them boost the amount of all-important communication that has to take place.
“We can’t overstate the need for belonging and community and knowing what’s on each other’s minds,” he said. “That’s our duty to our direct hires. You can only do this through more communication. Increase the team huddles from one time a day to twice daily – and carve out sacred time to have one-on-one calls with each of your direct hires.”
One other bit of advice?
“Ignore your social media feed,” said Hahne. “Check once a day, not throughout the day.”
Pause and Prepare
Perry Sholes, founder of the Corporate Internship Leadership Institute, said he has been able to stay productive while staying put in New Orleans thanks to a generator, cellphone and wifi device. But his nonprofit’s work – connecting college students to paid internships – has been disrupted..
“Our fellows evacuated and are spread all over the south west and east,” said Sholes. “The students are juniors and seniors who have been under stress since the initial pandemic in 2020 and now Ida. Completion of their academics and even job prospects are fluid and in question. We shouldn’t lose sight of their plight.”
Sholes said he has postponed the group’s leadership immersion sessions for now but, “as our students return, we will most likely work to engage the community in some way. We have a staff of volunteer coaches and mentors who have been in constant contact with our fellows. All seem to be handling this situation well. The foundation of our organization is about creating pathways for our fellows professionally. We will not let the pandemic or Ida deter us from our mission.”
- Guy Williams, CEO of Gulf Coast Bank, is proud that the bank has at least one branch open in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Covington, Slidell, New Orleans, Terrytown and Chalmette — and phone and online services have been available throughout the Ida crisis. “It is going well, all things considered,” he said. “Our team rallied themselves, it has been a total team effort.”
- Stephanie Kavanaugh, sales and marketing director at Universal Data Inc., said the IT company is in a unique position to help with the recovery. “We are very fortunate that we are in a position to help our community get back to business,” she said. “Our team has been working to aid our customers to complete basic functions like completing payroll … and our ‘first responders’ continually rise to any challenge they may face.”
- Andrew Preble, president of Delaporte Ventures (operator of an escape room in downtown New Orleans and several other attractions), said the company is taking things one step at a time and making sure employees are safe. “We depend mostly on tourists, so we hope they will return quickly,” he said. “We will reopen once staff are safe and power returns. We will have local-only discounts to try to provide some entertainment for anyone needing a break.”