Scott Kestenbaum, Senior Vice President at The Maesa Group, is finding inner strength during this time of crisis. Today he talks about the implications of uncertainty, the importance of focusing on the things we can control, transparency with clients and staying sensitive to extraordinary challenges.

In some ways, the near-term uncertainty of the global economy makes me feel more vulnerable. In other ways, it takes a crisis to bring to light our inner strength.

I’ve been so impressed with how the Maesa team has really come together. Working from home, we are farther apart than we’ve ever been. In spirit, I feel we’ve quickly grown closer than ever. Our organization is nothing without the health and wellbeing of our people. While it’s been a hectic time and we’re all working harder than ever, I’ve tried to make more conscious efforts to keep the morale of the team high. Sometimes this is just a quick check-in with individuals to see how they are doing. Other times, it’s simply being an open ear. Our job as leaders is not to sugarcoat the truth, but instead to provide a protected space to those we are leading so that they feel confident that they are cared for and best protected from the implications of uncertainty.

We are re-ordering our priorities, focusing on the things that we can affect; deprioritizing those things that are beyond our control. One of Maesa’s verticals is managing private label beauty categories for specialty fashion retailers. This week, all of our fashion retail clients temporarily closed their doors for purposes of social distancing. We have no control over that. We are continuing development on future newness, and focusing on how we can drive future innovation to these clients when their doors will inevitably reopen. For brands within Maesa’s owned brand portfolio, many of our retail partners such as Target, Walmart, CVS remain open for essential services. Our operational team has done a wonderful job shifting gears since this crisis, amidst a partially affected supply chain, to make sure we’re staying in stock and continuing to ship. Meanwhile, our social and digital teams are engaging with our community, staying sensitive to the extraordinary challenges that we’re all facing together at this moment.

We are re-ordering our priorities, focusing on the things that we can affect; deprioritizing those things that are beyond our control.

There are certain aspects of our business that cannot be done via laptop. For example, our 3D designs and engineers utilize more sophisticated computing workstations and rapid prototyping machinery. On the first day of our mandated WFH policy, the head of our studio and our IT director rented a truck, drove to the office, picked up all of this equipment, and then drove all weekend to the homes of our studio staff, so they were set up properly to work for home.

Technology has an answer for some things, but not everything. For example, how does a company like Maesa continue to receive, evaluate and route physical samples to our customers during this crisis? This ability is essential to a company like Maesa. Normally, all samples are routed through our office mail room. Our office building has been closed this week by Governor Andrew Cuomo, so we’ve implemented a shared Google Doc to facilitate sending and tracking samples directly from their source to our employees’ homes.

For me personally, before COVID-19, I was traveling quite intensely for work and trying to figure out how to rebalance my life, so now I can spend more time at home. Wow, has the pendulum quickly swung from one extreme to another. I’m enjoying the silver lining to this dark cloud – spending more time at home with my family. I can officially add “Professor” to my email signature, as I’m simultaneously balancing my work hat, with educating my children. I didn’t realize what internet hogs the kids would be, so with four people at home and one choppy work call, I made the executive decision to jack up my home internet speed, which made a huge difference. Now I can watch Netflix in peace while my wife is on a Zoom call and my two children are remote learning. The downside of working from home is that you’re always at work. I try to schedule time to close the laptop and simply unplug from the grid.

The downside of working from home is that you’re always at work. I try to schedule time to close the laptop and simply unplug from the grid.

We’ve been trying to be super-transparent to our customers, keeping them informed of any updates to our business and how it might affect them. Managing expectations is key to working through any problematic situation. We are continuing to engage our community through all social channels – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, making sure not to be tone-deaf to the situation. With Maesa brands that have founder partners, it’s been wonderful to see our founders step up and project inspirational messages, as we are all in need of positivity during these times. Sam Brocato, Founder of Together Beauty, wrote a poem and posted it on the brand’s Instagram page. Another, Taraji P Henson, Founder of TPH by Taraji, signed off “Peace, Love, and freshly washed hands.” And Drew Barrymore, Founder of FLOWER Beauty, posted an impassioned and sympathetic video message, infused with a bit of humor from her bathroom, sharing how confused and stressed she’s feeling. My favorite part of the video is at the end when Drew gets a surprise interruption from her child having a meltdown – a situation that anyone with children has dealt with this past week.

The beauty industry is typically not thought of as “essential services.” We are not doctors, we are not pharmaceuticals, we are not running the power grid, we are not fire fighters. However, during these times, it is not just essential to survive, but it can be essential to feeling good. And beauty is one of those small affordable luxuries that can help people feel good.

This crisis has served as a wake-up-call to me personally, and perhaps all humanity, of how interconnected and interdependent we all are with one another. The world in which we live only works when we’re in it together. We can’t service our customers without our suppliers – and we can’t service our suppliers without our customers. On a typical business day, the business table may be rectangular, with us sitting on opposite sides of the table from our partners. My hope is that the COVID-19 crisis transforms the shape of business table from rectangle to round, whereby everyone at the table is equal.