Managing through the crisis with Hubert de Boisredon

Hubert de Boisredon is the director of Armor, Industrial midcap (2000 employees, 280 m€ turnover), world leader in thermal transfer ribbons for product and packaging traceability. He was elected strategist of the year 2019 by Les Echos, in the  SMEs and midcaps category.

What challenges do you see for the company director?

This crisis puts us face to face with two challenges. The first is a health challenge, the second is to ensure the continuity of our business. Indeed, Armor supplies products that are indispensable for the economy and the functioning of the nation. The company manufactures printing consumables for barcodes for food, pharmaceuticals and basic necessities. If we were unable to supply these products, the entire production and distribution chain would be affected. We have therefore chosen to remain in business.

When we had to make a decision on whether we should stay in business, a debate arose. I listened to all the arguments to the end. For many, the question was whether loyalty to one's family and to the health of all did not require closing the business and remaining confined to one's own home. Unity was built around the decision to remain in business in the name of the general interest, that of society as a whole. We see ourselves as the second line behind those on the front line (the medical world, food, public services...).

What are the qualities that the leader needs to mobilize in order to face this crisis?

For the manager, it is a question of ensuring the safety of the teams while taking care of the social body of the company. The complexity lies in the fact that some people have no choice but to come to the factory to ensure production and others can continue their activity by teleworking. We didn't want a distance to be established between the workers who are at the front line, and the others at home, in the second line. Therefore, in order to signify the unity of the company and to show solidarity with those who produce in the factory, some of us (including about 30% of the head office managers) chose to be present in the office even though we were not obliged to be there. I chose to be present in the office every day. So did the other members of the general management committee. I then spend as much time as I can see the employees in their positions to support them, tell them that I am with them, thank them and encourage them. And also to support each other on the phone. It also makes me feel good and gives me strength to witness each other's commitment. I therefore experience that my role in the continuation of the activity requires above all a quality of presence.

We apply the highest sanitary rules of course. This crisis requires the rigorous application of all the sanitary measures enacted and proposed by the government to give confidence to employees, showing that the company is doing everything possible to avoid contamination. This implies strict observance of distances, from hygiene measures to the removal of bottled water in the plant and the identification of anything that could ensure the spread of the virus. Exemplarity is a quality that must be particularly implemented at this critical time. In this respect, I would like to thank the company's various managers and players in the industrial and logistical field for their constant vigilance and their courage 24 hours a day. And also a huge thank you to the sales, administrative and financial teams who ensure the relationship with customers, who also need to be reassured about our ability to provide them with the stocks they need.

In this period, I particularly perceive the importance for me to ensure the unity of the company, especially within the management team, by making sure to live a quality relationship with everyone. A crisis such as the one we are experiencing can bring to light divergences or differences of opinion that can break this unity. We have tried to identify what it means for us to be united and responsible. Everything that we have built together over the last few years in terms of the quality of our relationship is a foundation on which we can build today.

A fundamental attitude on the part of the leader also consists, I believe, in transmitting trust.

In this very special period, the business leaders that we are are are also shaken. Usually, I convey trust by showing our strength, by communicating results about a healthy company. Today, it is a question of transmitting a different kind of confidence, because nobody knows how long this crisis will last, what state the economy will be in a few months' time, what state the company will be in when it comes out of the crisis. I am unable to predict April's turnover. I must therefore convey a much more inner confidence, a confidence in the fact that the value of the life of the company lies in the quality of our relations with each other rather than in what is going to happen. The pillar on which we can build is "being together". The main message I strive to deliver to employees but also to investors, suppliers, customers is: we are together, you can count on us as I know we can count on you. If we live this to the full, we can believe together that the best will be given to us, even if we do not know today how this best will come true. This requires a certain letting go.

For me, this crisis is an invitation to return to the source of my primary commitment, which is to yearn to build a more humane, harmonious, ecological and just world. This is the meaning of my life.

This crisis prefigures the possibility of a profound transformation of our world: the enhancement of certain professions, including production, and the confirmation of the priority to be given to ecological commitment. When we see that we are capable of spending thousands of billions to fight against a virus, why can't we invest similar sums to fight against what can make the whole of humanity disappear, especially global warming?

What advice would you like to share with other leaders?

First of all, don't stand alone as leaders. We all face the same difficulties, the same questions, the same powerlessness sometimes in front of the future. Share with your peers so that you don't remain isolated.

In a very practical way, seize all the measures offered to you, including the credits offered by the banks with the guarantee of the BPI. You will have to hold on, it will be hard. We must admit that this crisis will be long and difficult.

Do your utmost to respect your customers and suppliers, commit yourself to paying bills on time because we are indirectly responsible for the chain and we have a real social responsibility. We are responsible for each other's survival.

Be present in the field with your staff who need you even more than usual. This crisis is an opportunity to show that we can live together in society, but also within companies.

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