Mark Aslett is all too aware of the impact a crisis can have on family. The CEO of aerospace and defense electronics company Mercury Systems recalls going to work at age 16 as a shipyard welder in his hometown of Sunderland, England. It was 1984, and many industrial workers had gone on strike as then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to reduce the power of the trade unions.
“I remember going to work and seeing the economic impact that it had on the men I worked with, struggling to pay the bills and take care of their families because of the strike,” says Aslett, 52. “It really stayed with me that if I was in a position to be able to take care of employees and their families, it would be the right thing to do.”
Thirty-six years later, Aslett reflected on that moment as he readied his company’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. When the crisis hit, he established a $1 million Covid-19 relief fund to support employees and their families. He then suspended employee terminations and layoffs, and gave hourly, on-site employees a monthly $150 Uber Eats credit that could be used to order meals from local restaurants. A few months later in July, he reset paid sick leave balances.
These actions, among others, earned him the top spot on Glassdoor’s newly released list of the 25 Highest Rated CEOs During the COVID-19 Crisis in the U.S. Aslett joins other CEOs listed in the aerospace and defense, tech and finance sectors, such as Zoom’s Eric Yuan, Box’s Aaron Levie and DocuSign’s Daniel Springer.
What made these CEOs stand out from the rest? They prioritized work-life balance, took care of employees’ overall well-being, offered flexible and/or remote working policies and established strong health benefits, among other efforts. To compile the list, Glassdoor analyzed company reviews and ratings from current and former employees left on Glassdoor by U.S.-based employees between March 1 and July 31, 2020.
“The empathy and caring you guys have shown will be paid back by the loyalty and productivity of employees going forward.”
Of course, many of the highest rated CEOs came from industries that not only survived the pandemic, but thrived. Aslett said his Mercury Systems, with a market cap of nearly $4 billion, had one of its best fiscal years ever. The company saw full-year fiscal 2020 revenues of $800 million, up 22% from last year. Aslett says the defense industry has not been affected much by the pandemic because of the “essential nature” of the business.
This has allowed the company to incur roughly $2.6 million in Covid-related expenses. Aslett says he doubled the overtime rate for all hourly employees until July 3, when the company moved back to its standard overtime practices. Mercury Systems also paid for Care.com subscriptions for all employees, so that they were able to arrange for child and senior care for family members.
“When I talked to shareholders about what we were doing, one said to me, ‘The way in which you should view it is it’s another investment in your employees that will generate a multiple of that investment over time. The empathy and caring you guys have shown will be paid back by the loyalty and productivity of employees going forward,’” Aslett says. “I believe we absolutely saw that.”
Ken Cooper, CEO of North American Dental Group, didn’t have the same business luck. His company, which runs 230 dental practices in 15 states, lost 90% of its revenue when it was forced to close 180 locations in March, he says. Nevertheless, Cooper was rated 12th on Glassdoor’s list of the Highest Rated CEOs. The only other healthcare CEOs to be featured were Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (No. 3) and Shelly Sun of BrightStar Care (No. 17).
Cooper says he has let the employees at each of his dental locations decide whether they want to open their practices. “We didn’t want people to feel like they had to go into work,” he says. “We felt it was each person’s and each family’s decision.”
For those employees who chose not to work, and were subsequently furloughed, Cooper helped establish a $340,000 employee relief fund, supported by public donations. He also allowed employees to borrow up to two weeks of paid time off against their future paid time off balances. For those who chose to go into work, he says he made sure to secure as much personal protective equipment as they needed, including N95 masks, face coverings, gowns and shoe coverings. Today, all but seven of his dental practices have reopened, with no recorded Covid-19 transmissions in the dental offices, he says.
“Like any tough situation, it’s really a time for leadership to step up and be honest,” Cooper says. “If you don’t know, don’t pretend that you do know. Be vulnerable.”
Article author: Kristen Stoller
Originally published in: Forbes