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WBUR Town Hall RECAP: Health Before Profits: Businesses Step Up During COVID-19

Some companies have put aside the bottom line to pitch in and meet the challenges caused by coronavirus. WBUR reporter Zeninjor Enwemeka spoke with Jane Carpenter, global head of communications at Wayfair; Wombi Rose, CEO of Lovepop; and Romina Bongiovanni, global head of communications at New Balance. Their companies all pivoted production to start making masks, hospital beds and linens when they heard supplies were scarce.

On how Wayfair's responses to the coronavirus supported their bottom line:

Carpenter: Much of our product that was shipped was at cost to field hospitals ... Oftentimes, state and federal government can't accept a product that's donated. They have to do it at cost.

The other thing that we did, though, as a company, was we donated $2.3 million to Feeding America to help with [people in] the country who were dealing with hunger due to unemployment and things like that. So we had other major initiatives going on opening where we were making significant contributions.

I think, at the end of the day, we feel like, you know, all of this is really ... our brand. We see it as an investment in the business and our connection to ... our communities and our consumers, so it's a positive thing overall.

On how a smaller business can respond to crises:

Rose: As a small company, you have a lot of, you know, flexibility and that agility and nimbleness to react to the environment, which is changing so much faster than it has in recent years ... It looks like it's going to continue to be a fast pace, in terms of things changing.

I think you have that possibility, but at the same time, I also really believe in kind of staying true to ... [your company's] core mission. For us, it's creating magical moments. In everything we've done here, it's all been all about, "How can we make a magical moment out of this?" When we designed the face shield, we added "I'm here for you" and a rainbow on the top of it ... because we were hearing from the front line that, you know, you felt a little impersonal behind all of that PPE and you wanted to get your own personality out there.

I would say the same thing for whatever line of business that you find yourself in. It's about that passion you have for the core mission of what you do, but then [in] how you express and exercise it.

On leadership in response to the Black Lives Matter movement:

Bongiovanni: There's not really a quick fix for this systematic change that society needs right now, but it starts with listening. I think that's our first and most important step: listening and applying those learnings on [an] ongoing basis to help [with] establishing and developing and advancing diverse talent in general and [in] all sectors of the business. I think that's the very first step.

As leaders, we all need to commit to diversity and inclusion. So there's no excuse for that. We need to create accountability in all areas of business and all the way to the top.

Partner: The Boston Club

This article was originally published on June 10, 2020.

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