For Michael Hinojosa, there was a lot about COVID he didn’t know in March.
But he was sure about one thing.
“A lot of people started making decisions about shutting school down right away, and then, ‘Well, we’ll be open in a couple of weeks,’” said Hinojosa, Superintendent of Schools for Dallas Independent School District said. “Well, immediately, I said, ‘Look, I’ve been superintendent for 26 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We don’t know what we don’t know.’”
Click below to watch the virtual event.
So right before spring break, DISD shut down indefinitely, and went into action.
“We had some systems in place that we started deploying, because we knew that learning had to go on … luckily we had a master plan for one-to-one devices for our students. So we started delivering those devices at spring break, because we knew we might not see our kids for a while.”
But he said the district also had to worry about non-academic consequences as well.
“Then we started worrying about the food, because we feed a 500,000 meals per week, and a lot of the meals that our kids get, that’s the only meal they get,” Hinojosa said. “So we were also simultaneously trying to plan out, ‘How are we going to get the food out to the families?’ So it was the whole organization had to pivot on a dime, because we knew that our families depended on us.”
Click on the video below for an extended interview with Hinojosa.
The Dallas Business Journal honored six companies and 14 individuals is one of six companies honored in the first year of the Dallas Business Journal’s Most Inspiring Leaders of 2020 awards. The other 13 companies are listed below.
Fawaz Bham, Associate, Hunton Andrews Kurth
It wasn’t surprising when the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program had to shut down when COVID hit North Texas.
But the pivot that happened after became a pleasant surprise to the people it serves.
The DVAP is a collaboration between the Dallas Bar Association and the Legal Aid of North Texas. Fawaz Bham, an associate at Hunton Andrews Kurth and long-time volunteer for the DVAP. He said he began to retool the technology and relaunch the general clinics that usually take place. The technology platform launched in April and was serving clients soon after.
“Essentially what we were able to accomplish was completely revolutionizing their clinic process,” Bham said. “To date, we’ve about hit 30 clinics and we’re on track by the end of the year to help about 2,000 applications and have those processed.”
Bham said that was important because the need didn’t stop because of the pandemic.
“Real people were still suffering through real problems that existed before the pandemic hit such as employment issues, divorce, custody issues, wills, and probate, as an example. And once the pandemic hit and all pro bono services and intake clinics around Dallas were getting shut down because they were always held in a traditional in-person setting.
“We found out very quickly that these folks are still struggling and there is a great need in the Dallas community for folks to step up and help them as much as possible,” Bham said.
Click below for an extended video of Bham discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Janie Bordner, Executive Director, New Horizons of North Texas
Despite the pandemic, New Horizons of North Texas, didn’t shut down its after-school services for children in East Dallas.
Janie Bordner, executive director for the small faith-based nonprofit, said it was the case of being in the right place at the right time.
“We just took it as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, look, we can either sit back and wait and watch and hope and pray that our kids are going to be all right.’ Or we can just stand up and say, ‘Look, we’re in this. We are going to be the safe place for our kids to come.’”
Bordner said being of service to those families and children is just part of the nonprofit’s mission.
“We knew it was going to look a little different, so we thought, ‘Hey, we’re, we’re already here. We have the equipment and we have the manpower. We have the volunteers who are willing to step up,” Bordner said.
“We had a great conversation with all of the families that we serve to see if they were even interested. And 100 percent said, yes. … it was we were just there and willing to provide this opportunity.”
Click below for an extended video of Bordner discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Dhruv Chopra, CEO, Collaborative Imaging
COVID-19 hit the health care industry in several different ways.
In the case of Collaborative Imaging, a radiologist-owned alliance, the elective procedures that were canceled or delayed because of the pandemic immediately started to cut into their bottom line.
CEO Dhruv Chopra decided to use this opportunity to cut costs and improve his company.
Chopra took three paths to doing that. One was leverage and improve their technology, two was figure out ways to cut costs that were in the best interest of the business (that meant no more physical office space and also meant moving to the cloud) and three was to invest in people on their team. That meant hiring 30 percent more people at a time other companies were letting their employees go.
“What we found a lot of companies were laying off good solid people. And, uh, we didn’t want to see that happen to our, our friends, our neighbors,” Chopra said. “So we hired a lot more people. … Those people created a role for themselves and they’re flourishing.”
Leveraging the technology allowed the company to create a solution which allowed radiologists to read files over 60 hospitals in one secure location. And the company licensed that technology which created additional revenue streams.
“Our team just went all in,” Chopra said. They realized that, it’s almost do or die for the business. And we saw the best of the best in our team members.”
Click below for an extended video of Chopra discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Trisha Cunningham, President & CEO, North Texas Food Bank
The North Texas Food Bank is used to helping DFW during a crisis.
But to be able to do that in 2020, it had to solve a staffing crisis of its own.
“Back in March when the pandemic hit, it was like the perfect storm that you could see happening,” said Trisha Cunningham, president and CEO of the food bank. “We had greater needs practically overnight, and at the same time we had volunteers that were scared to come in to volunteer.”
Cunningham said the nonprofit had to get creative. Dividing warehouse shifts into three shifts over 24 hours and an innovative solution called “Get Shift Done” that used unemployed restaurant workers to fill the NTFB’s production needs.
“It has showed us that you can innovate in times of crisis and be able to put together a win-win situation. It was a win for the food bank. It was a win for those workers and it was a win for our community because we were able to get the output that we needed to kit boxes to safely distribute them at a time whenever our community needed it the most.”
Click below for an extended video of Cunningham discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Rogers Healy, Owner & CEO, The Rogers Healy Companies
In March, when COVID took hold of North Texas and the United States, Rogers Healy took a hard stance about his industry.
“This is how we make our money, how we generate revenue,” said Healy, owner & CEO of The Rogers Healy Companies. “But I don’t think it’s essential business. And that caused a lot of people to start talking, but I still stand strong with what I thought.”
Healy said over time his people have stood by him and been able to find ways to adjust, whether it’s wearing a mask, cleaning more or having people sign agreement to help mitigate risk.
“I had to go and just take a different stance as a leader and put revenue and building wealth and making money and being able to survive and maintain a business cashflow,” he said.
Healy said it’s a collaborative effort to maintain stay in a business that relies on being public facing.
“We’re an agile group of people, but we’re still in a very old school and, you know, thousands year old sales industry and real estate. … It was just a collaborative effort with our agents, with our technology team, our marketing team, our social team, but also with our homeowners,” Healy said.
“Rarely would you go ask a homeowner to go and help you get their property sold, because it’s our job. … They helped us out. And I think that was a big difference maker for us.”
Click below for an extended video of Healy discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Steve Miff, President & CEO, Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation
Data has always been important to Steve Miff, president and CEO of Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation.
But COVID-19 has taught him even more about the power of using that data to improve the quality of care to the communities that need it most.
“We always say that health doesn’t begin in our acute care facilities, but it begins where we live, learn, work, pray,” Miff said. “What the pandemic has accelerated is the need to have information and data be hyper-localized and be able to put those in the hands of those that are directly working with participants … we were forced from the beginning to adapt and be able to bring in data that not only had the very critical health care component to it such as infection rates at the individual level, but also mirror that with information about an individual situation.”
Miff said they also learned quickly that proximity matters.
“That was one of the key things that we had to focus on. Not only how and what data we bring in, but how do we analyze that in a meaningful way?”
Miff also said community partnerships have proved critical to helping tackle the pandemic.
“We’re so well entrenched in the Dallas and North Texas community that we had relationships already established, but what the pandemic has done is helped us create new relationships, but also expand and deepen the ones we already had.”
That meant expanding partnerships with Dallas County Health and Human Services and the city of Dallas but also expanding relationships with community-based organizations that provide services.
Click below for an extended video of Miff discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Vanessa Ogle, Founder & CEO, Enseo
Vanessa Ogle founded Enseo over 20 years ago. And while she thinks of her team members as family, she also has members of family working with her every day.
So when the devastation to the hospitality sector (tied to 95 percent of the company’s revenue) caused Enseo to, early on in the pandemic, have to furlough or lay off most of its staff, it was devastating to say the least.
“So many of my team members are friends and family,” Ogle said. “I knew what we had to do, and I knew that we had to react very quickly in the crisis. … We put a tremendous number of the team on furlough, including friends and family … my aunt, my brother, or my sister, people that I’ve worked side-by-side with for two decades.”
In the meantime, the company was pivoting.
“(We) started working on new solutions to help take care of guests and people working in the hotel community, and then also to help take care of our teachers and students in classrooms,” Ogle said. “We’ve created an entire new set of products all around the pivot to help everyone get back to normal.”
Then a PPP loan allowed Ogle to bring back the people she painfully had to let go.
“And as soon as that loan came through, we were able to bring our entire team back on staff,” she said. “It’s the perfect story, they put all of their efforts into creating these new products to help bring people back so they could go back to traveling and back to school and be safe.”
Click below for an extended video of Ogle discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Kelly Rakowski, Group President & COO, Strategic Talent Solutions, AMN Healthcare
For Kelly Rakowski, what was remarkable about how her company responded to COVID-19 was its sense of purpose.
“When we saw and started to understand, um, the needs of the hospitals and health systems, the risk our health professionals were putting themselves in leaving their families … We became so purpose driven on getting them the support that they needed,” Rakowski, group president and COO, Strategic Talent Solutions for AMN Healthcare said. “What I think is remarkable that it was that adjustment that we made … we took probably about 20 percent of our workforce and retrained them on new jobs to go where the demand was at a time.”
Rakowski said that included finding people outside the health care world.
“We started to think about how our core competence, which is finding talent, mobilizing talent, particularly health care talent, all of a sudden had some different applications.”
That includes what they call a “return to work solution” which is helping our clients outside of our non-core businesses like manufacturing and food service, for example, in retail, help them get safely back to work.
“We took some of our technology platforms, and we all saw the kind of innovation that came about as COVID 19,” Rakowski said.
Click below for an extended video of Rakowski discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Elizabeth Reich, CFO, City of Dallas
Elizabeth Reich learned a lot of lessons quickly when COVID hit.
The CFO for the city of Dallas said she had the dual responsibilities of wanting to take care of her employees and the community in a time of crisis.
“That’s when the community relies on government more than any other time,” Reich said. “At the time we were being looked to for guidance, for service, for help, and we needed to keep our employees safe. … I supervise fleet management mechanics can’t work on a sanitation truck from home. So they were at work, making sure they had the protective gear that we had disinfectants and cleaning going on. But at the same time, thinking through what is the community needing, how can we quickly get help?
In terms of prioritizing the CARES Act funding given to the city, that money also came with an expiration date.
“We needed to get money out into the economy, out into the community very quickly. So that was also a factor. So we took all of our requests together and we said, okay, let’s focus first on medical. What do we need to do to provide testing, to provide (PPE) for first responders to provide sheltering for homeless and social distancing for homeless shelters? What do we need to do to think about, um, the fact that there might be therapeutics where a vaccine to come for the community and what should we put aside for that?
And while this year’s fiscal budget is balanced she is concerned about the next fiscal budget and potential shortfalls with sales tax but also property tax losses.
“We’ll see what happens with property taxes, but Dallas is strong. We see the demand in Dallas is strong for real estate and corporate relocations are coming to Dallas. I have great hope that we actually will not see a property value decrease. And in fact may see it hold steady or increase.”
Click below for an extended video of Reich discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Trish Renz, Vice President, Business Customer Sales and Service, AT&T
It was an almost impossible scale to mobilize AT&T’s massive employee base to move to work at home when COVID hit the United States in mid-March.
But AT&T and AT&T Business had a dual responsibility of also being the technology service provider for millions of customers who were attempting to work from home as well.
“Our main priority was to quickly get our employees out of the office and safely into our home environment as quickly as possible while still maintaining exceptional customer service for both our internal and our external customers as business were being impacted by COVID,” said Trish Renz, vice president of business customer sales and service for AT&T.
“No one understood how COVID would impact our customers and how they run their businesses or consume services. We had to move fast and constantly learn lessons every single day.”
Renz said the company was able to innovate new customer self-service to help alleviate pressure on call volume.
That volume includes FirstNet, an AT&T network for first responders.
“2020 has been an exceptional pressure test year for, for FirstNet and then nationwide network, which is purposely built specifically for America’s first responders.
Click below for an extended video of Renz discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Byron Sanders, CEO, Big Thought
Byron Sanders, president and CEO of nonprofit Big Thought said COVID hasn’t necessarily created new problems as much as it’s exposed and exacerbated existing ones.
Like the digital divide in places like the southern half of Dallas.
“For the longest time now we’ve been talking in various sectors and circles that a lot of our young people have not had access to technology in the way that that prepares them for 21st century world. What we’ve seen with the digital divide is that it shows up in multiple ways, Sanders said.
Lack of broadband internet creates challenges in multiple ways for remote learning but also for people seeking jobs.
“Sometimes it’s just hard to get to families and to get the devices in their hands. You end up in a situation where even if you solve the broadband issue, you don’t have enough in the household for all of the people who have to use it at the same time,” he said.
Click below for an extended video of Sanders discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Sean Shepard, Regional CFO, Kroger
Grocery stories have experienced a renaissance as COVID-19 has shifted consumer behavior. And that has created opportunities for grocery stories like Kroger.
“We’ve seen the consumer behavior shift to eating more at home and spending more time with family,” said Sean Shepard regional CFO for Kroger.
And the panic buying of March and April also forced the grocery store chain to think about its supply chain in new ways too.
“Our logistics team, they work tirelessly, and it seems like 24-7 to provide service to our stores,” Shepard said. “And we we’ve seen some vendors have long-term out-of-stocks … definitely in 2021, we’re looking to limit the long-term out of stocks.”
Click below for an extended video of Shepard discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Jacob Tindall, Partner, 5G Studio Collaborative
For Jacob Tindall, partner at architecture firm 5G Studio Collaborative, COVID meant a lot of their projects went on hold.
“I was talking to a friend of mine who owns some restaurants here in Dallas, and he was talking about how many people were becoming unemployed in that industry, uh, by the thousands. And how was this industry going to survive?”
At the same time a friend came down with COVID, so frontline health care workers were also on his mind.
“I’m thinking, well, I want to help him. Maybe I could cater some food from this restaurant and put the two together. And that’s when I thought, well, really this is going to peak in April and May, and we should probably do something bigger.”
And the 7740 Project was born.
“It was seven restaurants helping seven hospitals supported by 40 donors. … It was a great concept, but, I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to do this? Because I know I’m not the only business owner in town that’s nervous and struggling.’”
So he pitched the idea to a CEO group he’s part of and instantly pulled in $30,000 to start funding it.
Since April, 7740Dallas has delivered almost 10,000 meals to health care workers at seven North Texas hospitals.
Click below for an extended video of Tindall discussing the company’s experiences in 2020.
Meet the Dallas Business Journal's Most Inspiring Leaders of 2020 (Video) – Dallas Business Journal – Dallas Business Journal
For Michael Hinojosa, there was a lot about COVID he didn’t know in March.