Tales of Grit and Agility
Crisis situations can bring out either the best or the worst in an organization. This duality is what many companies in the Philippines faced when COVID-19 spread across the globe and reached local shores in early March 2020. The lockdown that was imposed on March 15 immediately disrupted business operations, limiting the movement of people and goods, restricting the provision of services and disrupting the supply chain for what is one of the most essential for survival – food.
The operations of Bounty Agro Ventures, Inc. (BAVI) is spread throughout the archipelago. When the lockdown was imposed, just like in many other companies, its leadership team was shaken by the sudden changes. But the company, known for its patriotic advocacy promoting Puso para sa Pilipinas, is led by a team that has grown accustomed to the challenges of live poultry operations in a country that is visited annually by at least 20 typhoons of varying strengths. They are men and women whose character have been strengthened by the many battles they have had to fight against mother nature.
BAVI today is a strong, growing and competitive enterprise. But it wasn’t always that way. When it began operations in 2002 as a poultry integrator, it was a virtually unknown, fledgling enterprise struggling to survive in the highly competitive and volatile Philippine poultry market. It started as a seller of live and dressed chicken, both commodities that were vulnerable to market fluctuations and multinational competitors. In 2008, however, BAVI took a brave step forward to complete the integration of their operations and reach its consumers directly by selling oven roasted chicken under the brand Chooks to Go. This further enlarged the company’s footprint in the food industry.
RESPONSE TO THE LOCKDOWN
All Hands on Deck. When the lockdown was imposed shutting down BAVI’s traditional trade channels, its president Ronald Mascariñas issued a call for “all hands on deck” through his Facebook account. The speed at which the entire workforce responded in unison to the call to adjust and change course amazed even the employees themselves. A pandemic was certainly not in their Business Continuity Plan, yet they all raised their hands to support whatever next steps the company may need to take moving forward just to survive.
Quick Pivot: Rolling Stores. Although initially caught flat footed by the spread of COVID-19 into the country and the closure of public transportation that severely limited mobility and people’s access to traditional trade routes, the company was able to tweak its distribution system by tapping its own people. At this point, the BAVI employees did not have a detailed plan to follow. They did not have grand goals to meet. All that kept them moving forward was the thought of helping communities stave off hunger by ensuring food security. So they organized themselves into small teams, assigned each team their respective service areas, and rolled out their chicken stores, bayanihan style, to where these were most needed.
Office-based employees ventured out in the field to sell chicken. People in frontline roles liaised with local governments to deploy rolling stores to fill the gaps where felt. With customers’ access to food shops blocked by road restrictions, these small teams spread out across the country, visiting villages, both rural and posh, crossing bridges and rice paddies, loading their cars, trucks and small boats with chicken to fill the gaps in the food supply chain that were created by the community quarantine.
Their initial efforts allowed them to reach over 2,000 communities nationwide in just a few weeks. Despite the challenges on the road and the new roles that they had to assume, everyone remained focused and encouraged by the constant recognition and appreciation that came from their customers as well as their top leaders, most of which were relayed through the Facebook account of their president.
Value Creation: Reseller Program. As the pandemic continued to spread across the country, restrictions on mobility see-sawed depending on the gravity of the exposure to the virus. Recognizing that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy could persist for a longer period, BAVI sought to normalize its rolling stores by transforming these into a Reseller Program where consumers themselves could become resellers in their own communities. This has gained over 10,000 applicants, is on track to reach the target of 100,000 resellers, and is now poised to become one of BAVI’s strongest trade channels of the future with its wider reach and expanded product portfolio.
Saving Jobs. The pandemic has pushed the nation’s jobless rate to an unprecedented high of close to 18 percent but not a single BAVI employee has been laid off. In addition to providing much needed livelihood to thousands of families, the Reseller Program has also led to additional headcount in BAVI to support the new trade channel.
RECIPE FOR AGILITY
Empowered and Inspiring Leaders. One way to transform a crisis into an opportunity is to always be ready to respond quickly. For organizations, this means having leaders with well-honed management skills, a strategic view of the business and the trust and respect of their employees, that allow them to swiftly redirect their people and priorities toward value-creating opportunities whenever disruptions arise.
Imbued with the entrepreneurial mindset like that of their founders, BAVI’s Business Center leaders are empowered by their president to make independent decisions on the ground in support of shared corporate goals. Strategic objectives are shared across the organization during leadership meetings and are owned by members of each business center.
Having led his people through many challenges since its founding in 2002, BAVI’s president, Ronald Mascariñas, has earned the trust and respect of his teams. Known for his charismatic and down to earth ways, he was able to inspire his 1,000 employees to take care not only of themselves and their families but also the local communities around them, by reimagining the way they deliver their products to their customers. The same character traits that combine business savvy with heart are echoed among the other leaders in the organization.
Highly Skilled and Organized Teams. Right from the start, BAVI’s founders always believed that the company’s greatest asset is its people. While at first they struggled to find a balance between business viability and employee well-being, they soon realized that there is no such balance, but rather a cause and effect. Business viability is a consequence of employee well-being.
At the heart of BAVI are its people so they have invested heavily in engaging their teams and equipping them with technical, leadership and communication skills, equivalent to as much as 6-month’s salary, through the BAVI Academy, an in-house training unit that offers a full menu of programs for its employees all year round. To round off their communication skills, BAVI sponsored 13 Toastmasters Clubs in areas where they operate which now count a third of its employees as members. With the focus that they have put on people development, BAVI has been recognized by Investors in People with a Gold Accreditation, a feat that only a few organizations attain.
Shared Values. Love of country is a value shared by BAVI employees. This is clearly manifested in the tagline that they have adopted and by which they live by – Puso para sa Pilipinas and the advocacy programs that they have supported over time. Malasakit, bayanihan and volunteerism naturally follow. But this grit and agility with compassion did not just develop overnight. The character and integrity to rally together, survive a catastrophe, help the community, and feed thousands, are the outcomes of a process through time that is deliberate and persistent.
To develop a culture of involvement within the organization, BAVI has launched its Inclusion Program which involves providing employment to persons with disabilities, supporting the national basketball team, both 3×3 and on wheelchairs, as well as the Special Olympics Philippines. Volunteerism is also strongly encouraged in the company to develop empathy among its employees. This was evident when the lockdown was imposed and BAVI personnel volunteered to provide food to front-liners as well as students and travelers stranded by the lockdown.
Three days after the lockdown was enforced, when normal operations were halted in many of its business units, and confusion and uncertainty were at their peak, Mr. Mascariñas emailed, then posted on his FB wall, the first of his “do not fear” letters to all employees, recognizing the crisis, acknowledging their fears and committing to see them and their families through it all. His messages reverberated throughout the organization and mobilized employees to help plan and execute BAVI’s responses to the crisis. In the coming days, he followed through with detailed plans and instructions, updates and encouragement, letting them know that they are appreciated.
With his passionate support for the national sport of basketball, he has become a folk hero to many. With 1.25 million followers on Facebook, he has been able to tap social media to send out his messages quickly across the BAVI family and to mobilize them for both business activities and advocacies that are consistent with their corporate values.
The acid test of BAVI’s strength as an organization is in the way it responded to the pandemic. After nine months of quarantine restrictions, BAVI employees only expected to survive at best, but the company actually emerged stronger and more diversified than it was before. Having invested in its people and their welfare, the company was well placed to tap into their strengths when the crisis came, and the returns are multiplied as they have been well equipped to support not just the company but also the communities where they live during these unprecedented times. As BAVI’s leaders always say, “we take good care of our chicken, but we take better care of our people.” With such strong foundations, they were able to quickly rally their teams to help feed a nation in lockdown.