Calm and clearheaded, Rajant CEO Robert Schena has yet to break a sweat or have a second thought on decisions he has made as he navigates Rajant Corporation through the company’s first-ever pandemic. In fact, his days have become longer, and his strategizing more inventive as he dug in his heels and refused to allow the spiraling-down economy to affect Rajant.
During this challenging time, Schena began holding bi-monthly company-wide meetings on the status of Rajant, launched a new emergency response rapid deployment kit for mobile field hospitals’ pop-up health treatment shelters, COVID-19 testing facilities and temporary loan centers in the U.S.; expanded human resources; hired a VP of Artificial Intelligence and established an AI department; hired additional hardware and software engineers; signed on additional partners; and is moving forward with the manufacturing expansion facility in Morehead, Kentucky.
At his final bi-monthly company-wide meeting this week, Schena sat down feeling content about how the Rajant team had performed over the last few months. The recent announcement that the state of Pennsylvania was finally going green was certainly good news.
“Kermit the Frog once said, ‘It’s not easy being green’”, Schena jested and reminded those attending his last Monday morning team meeting—the dial-in conference call held every two weeks since mid-March when the U.S. went on quarantine lockdown due to the virus. But on this particular day, the staff were happily discussing how the state is moving up from yellow to green. By default, that meant Rajant was about to go green, too.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, June 26, all but one county in the state of Pennsylvania will move to the “green” phase of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rajant’s company headquarters is located in Malvern, Pennsylvania of Chester County—a short drive from Philadelphia—with additional offices and facilities in Kentucky, Alabama, and Arizona. This green stage lessens most limitations by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to permit the economy to strategically recover and reopen while allowing public health to remain the top priority. Some preventative measures, including mask-wearing, hand washing, and social distancing, will stay in place.
But Rajant as a company has yet to slow down during the pandemic. On March 19, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania issued an order in response to COVID-19, which mandated that all non-life-sustaining businesses in the Commonwealth close their physical locations. Fortunately, Rajant qualified as a life-sustaining business under the Governor’s guidelines as well as the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) guidance, and the company was allowed to remain open.
“Life is like a movie. Write your own ending.” — Kermit
Wharton grad Schena is an intellect and ferocious reader who is passionate and well versed in business, global news, and politics. One frequent question that he has been asked, over and over again since the COVID-19 onset is “Why hasn’t Rajant panicked during the pandemic?” Here is his response.
“Right from the start, there were several things that affected my thinking, which made the solution clear to me. Not to panic as a company is the bottom line in order to protect the whole team,” Schena explains as he leans back in his chair and begins his explanation and thought process as a leader during the COVID pandemic.
“First there was the Pacific Princess cruise ship. In early January of this year, the ship set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on what was to be a 111-day cruise around-the-world. Then the coronavirus hit, and the ship was refused permission to dock at numerous global destinations in fear that the passengers had the contagious virus. In the end, only 17 percent of the ship’s 3,700 passengers had COVID-19. Out of the 17 percent, 90 percent were fine. Amazingly, those very first available numbers on the coronavirus from the Pacific Princess were a fairly accurate predictor of later global outcomes.
“Next was Farr’s law of epidemic. William Farr was a British epidemiologist and early statistician who, in 1840, noticed that all epidemics and pandemics followed a bell-shaped curve and, since 1840, that has been the case globally for every pandemic ever since, even locally. And it’s a bell curve no matter what intervention occurs. So we had a pretty good indication of how this was going to flow from both the historical analysis from previous pandemics and actual data from this one.
“Additionally, I take the added weight from the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, which I have read and highly recommend. It is not an easy read but it is an amazing book first published in 1841. In the book, Mackay discusses the many waves of panic that have happened historically and how they have all followed the same pattern.
“Moving along…getting there is half the fun.” — Kermit
“So in answering the question, early on when I thought about as to how Rajant will react to COVID-19, I had the benefit of reading about the Pacific Princess incident, Farr’s law of epidemic, and I re-read Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It just seemed to me that while there were going to be bad things happening, one could plan their way through the first phase while also thinking longer term.
“This, of course, is a long answer as to why I made the decisions that I did about how Rajant would behave through the initial course of this pandemic. By now, you can see how many people reacted right from the start and were very disoriented. Today, some of the panic is beginning to subside.
“Being skeptical and asking questions is what Rajant has been doing all along. This doesn’t mean we are disrespectful of the dangers presented by the coronavirus. But the math is the math, and it did help guide the decisions we made as a company. So, there was no genius in any of the decisions that I have made. The information is readily available to all.
“There were two business elements to our COVID reaction plan. The first goal, the short-term three to four-month plan, was to get the company through the shutdown without losing employees and to keep everyone focused and working the best they could. We needed everyone working, even from home. And they did. The second, longer-term plan involves the next 24 to 36 months. I suspect, economically, we are in for a V-shaped recovery with the upleg of the V not reaching the level of where the downleg began. In other words, the recovery or bounce back will leave us dealing with a global GDP that looks like 2016-2017 instead of where we thought 2020-2022 would be.
“The pie is going to be smaller for everyone. If Rajant keeps the same share of the pie, we will end up smaller. This is not a goal. I don’t come to work every day for us to be smaller. We have to change a lot. Product mix, pace, urgency, verticals—what we thought was normal or expected of January 31st—is irrelevant now. But plans ultimately mean nothing without execution. This stuff may sound good when we are sitting around the table and everyone’s nodding their heads as the CEO yammers on. It’s the daily grinding it out by every employee that makes any plan have a chance of working. And, I come to work every day knowing that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by exceptional people. This team will succeed. I’m betting on them.
“In the end, we may have done things a little differently than many by continuing to do normal things. We still execute. We still develop our products. We still sell. We are hiring new people and adding to payroll, so our expenses are increasing, which is a risk. We have to take care of the customer first and foremost. None of this has changed. No decision is a good decision if you don’t continue doing the daily things and actions one always did before the onset. So overall, the company has performed very well through this period, and now our task is to continue it. The whole leadership team—Paul Hellhake, Diana Logue, Geoff Smith, Dave Schena, Chad Mercer, and Mike Van Rassen—kept everyone motivated.”
“Be thankful for bad things in life for they opened your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before.” — Kermit
In wrapping up, Schena adds, “I had a grandfather who only went to the fourth grade. He was able to make a living scratching through the Great Depression. He didn’t speak English very well, but he had one thing he would always say, ‘The only answer to hard times is hard work.’ And that’s it.
“There is no magic here at Rajant. It’s about everyone buckling down, and we have done that through this viral panic. And now we have to keep doing it because our competitors are not going to give up or roll over. They are not going to give us their market share because the Rajant staff is nice. We have to keep working. And I expect everyone will. This sums up why we did what we did. Everyone at Rajant rose to the occasion as I couldn’t do any of this by myself.”
As Rajant goes green, it will continue taking preventative measures and play it safe. The company will continue to require employees to wear facial masks, follow social distancing rules, and wash their hands frequently while a cleaning crew will continue disinfecting daily. Rajant will also continue to remain 100 percent focused on the business at hand and building their business for tomorrow—knowing how this dynamic company beat the odds and beat COVID-19. 🖉