One of COVID-19’s biggest surprises is the unexpected ways some companies, like fine spirits manufacturer and distributor Beam Suntory, stepped up to fill the gaps in the world’s healthcare system.
After the fact, of course it makes sense that a booze manufacturer could produce and supply alcohol-based hand sanitizer so desperately needed in the early days of the pandemic. But prior to 2020, nobody, including Beam Suntory itself, would have looked to the maker of Jim Beam to protect the health of emergency services workers and medical professionals.
“You’re right about the situation being totally unprecedented,” said Albert Baladi, president and CEO of Beam Suntory at PRWeek’s PRDecoded conference on Tuesday.
After watching the pandemic spread around the globe, Baladi and his team gathered on March 17 to address the problem and came up with a response.
“[The plan] provided swim lanes and guard rails so our leaders could make the right decisions,” Baladi said.
The five-point plan included obvious imperatives, like protecting employees, securing the supply chain and addressing the potential business fallout. Yet it also had a line about supporting the communities that Beam Suntory operates in, and the hand sanitizer effort grew out of that.
“If there’s one silver lining, the pandemic revealed very much the best in people,” Baladi added. “The sanitizer effort was very organic and driven by the efforts of our people to make a difference.”
The initiative started in Kentucky, Baladi said, where employees repurposed a pilot distillery that Beam Suntory uses to develop products. The plant began producing sanitizer in March and continued to do so through June, Baladi said.
“We produced more than 40,000 gallons of hand sanitizer,” he added, “enough to sanitize more than 50 million hands. We decided early on to donate it to first responders and healthcare professionals.” Some also went to employees at a Beam Suntory sister company, Baladi said.
“Outside the U.S., we followed suit with that,” he added. “Our operations in Scotland, London and Japan, in France where we make cognac and even in Spain, they all adjusted to produce mutual spirits for hand sanitizer or hand sanitizer itself.”
The reference to communities in Beam Suntory’s five-point pandemic plan wasn’t just a reaction to chaos caused by the pandemic. It was a logical reflection, Baladi said, of the company’s overall values.
“Our vision at Beam is growing for good and it’s inspired by our parent company Suntory,” he explained. “It involves caring for the community and also for each other. Growth for business has to be inclusive and has to benefit multiple stakeholders beyond the bottom line and shareholders.”
That list of values, Baladi said, includes giving back to society, setting bold goals, being relentless and leveraging the company’s East meets West culture.
“These values have served us well during the pandemic,” Baladi said. “It was the ‘we over the me’ mindset and cooperating that was the glue that tied the company together.”
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