Beijer Ref Italy: faithful to its values also in difficult times

Fabio Fogliani

Two months have gone by since February 21st when Italy plunged into an almost surreal situation which, order after order, has caused the country’s engine to run at its slowest. Only few manufacturing companies have never entirely shut down: those needed to guarantee essential supply chains, primarily food and pharmaceutical supply chains.

Beijer Ref Italy with its branches is one of “those on the battlefront”: providing essential components for cold machinery and systems maintenance, it had to guarantee its presence on the ground and some basic activities. «Rather than of a commercial activity, I would talk about a service – remarks Fabio Fogliani, Managing Director of Beijer Ref Italy – Our commitment to maintain a minimum level of production as well to ensure that our branches stay open and components are delivered to our clients, while ensuring our staff’s safety, does not allow us to imagine any real profit. However, we believe it is our duty to help our country moving forward, at least with its fundamental activities. This is why, despite many difficulties, Beijer Ref Italy has been re-organized to respond to the needs of the supply chain without putting its employees at risk, or operating in a non-sustainable way for the Company itself».

In practice? «Right from the very beginning – I mean from Saturday 21 February 2020 – we started implementing the resolutions of the Council of Ministers and their declination by the Lombardy Region. Right after a meeting of the Management, with the valuable support of our colleague Leonardo Chiapparino, financial and human resources manager, we implemented a set of measures and changes to the corporate strategy so as to respond quickly to contingencies. Our very streamlined structure favours the quick modulation of activities based on needs”».

Working in a state of emergency

From February 24th – date of the first restrictive order of the Lombardy Region – at the company’s headquarters in Milan, all visits to customers were cancelled. From March 9th – that is, before the second restrictive resolution – all employees of the headquarters were granted agile work, except the workers in the workshop and in the technical office. Now, along with the Management, they are the only ones presiding over the Milan office, albeit in very small numbers and with no direct interpersonal contacts. For them and for the employees of the branches, the Management has arranged the necessary PPE – i.e. masks, gloves, disinfectants – and precise instructions have been issued with respect to maintaining safety distances. From March 16th, the Lombardy branches are open only in the mornings; as of March 26th, the same apply to the rest of Italy. In all 17 branches, only one customer at a time is allowed and there is an obligation of at least one-meter safety distance with the staff. Only from Monday 20th of April, branches that have experienced an increase in customers, have extended their opening hours to allow for a distribution of the load over several hours and to lower the risk of gatherings as much as possible. Lastly, regular and frequent sanitization activities are carried out in all branches and in the Milan office.

The company: united even in smart-working

«In a situation where we are physically separated and distant, each one of us facing a totally new and peculiar management of the daily life, it is essential to keep the motivation of the employees high and make each of them feel that the Company continues to be present. For this reason, as manager, I maintain continuous contacts with the employees of the headquarters in smart working as well as with those in the branches. Our structure has long been accustomed to working with remote meeting tools. We often conduct webinar activities or online meetings, so this way of working is not entirely new to us and the skills acquired previously are now helping a lot» remarks Fogliani. All staff has been equipped with laptops. Channels for video meetings have been activated and the working groups meet daily to coordinate the activities. Contacts between collaborators and with the Management are regular and continuous.

A book to write

Every weekend the Management of Beijer Ref Italy meets virtually. In a very positive and collaborative working atmosphere, they analyse the situation and adjust the measures to the contingent needs. You are to take decisions quickly and quickly translate them into reality. «The agile and lean structure, that is our characteristics, helps in this task. I believe that – says Fogliani – in a situation of great uncertainty and fragility, today more than ever, a company’s management is expected to carry out tasks far beyond the organizational tasks, although these are now inherently very demanding. Today more than ever, the management is to “take good care” of its most valuable asset – its employees – guaranteeing them peace of mind for the future, while ensuring the reliability of essential supplies to customers, without reaching critical levels for the company, at a time of very low turnover. We are writing the daily life on a book with only blank pages, with no lines, no instructions for use or previous experiences to suggest what and where to write. Every day is a new page, that should ideally be written with intuition, promptness, speed and a lot of empathy. The greatest satisfaction is the proof that we work with a group of extremely helpful people; in a moment of evident emergency, employees are showing a sense of attachment and availability to the company that is truly touching».

The crisis as a catalyst for possible transformations

When we will be back to normal, is only a bad memory of this period going to remain? «We learned a lot, from this situation. The crisis was a catalyst that helped some ideas, that were perhaps already in the air and that would have evolved, to be implemented faster. I refer to agile work, for instance, that hasn’t determined a drop in the participation in company activities, on the contrary! In a normal situation, it would allow employees to achieve a better balance of private and working life, to tackle the daily life more calmly, while carrying out their work efficiently; at company level, it would translate, for example, in a contribution to reducing congestion on the roads and air pollution. One of our tasks, upon our return to normal, will be to analyse the positive sides that we have experienced during this critical period as a starting point for new solutions and tools that will introduce higher efficiency in the service to our customers».