One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic as it hit last year was figuring out how to continue servicing residential heating and air conditioning systems. How could shelter in place, work from home and remote learning all remain safe with an outsider coming into the house? And how could a repair person be assured he or she wouldn’t catch COVID while in someone’s home?
These were only a few of the challenges needing to be addressed by Claire Ferrara, president and majority owner of Minneapolis-based Standard Heating and Air Conditioning, a 91-year-old, fourth-generation family-owned business employing about 100 people. “We’re in the heating and air conditioning business but we’re really in the people business and it’s very much about a person-to-person interaction,” she says.
Making matters even more challenging, Ferrara took over leading the business only one month earlier.
In this episode of One Take CEO Interviews sponsored by Platinum Group, she shares how she dealt with those and other challenges, both professionally and personally. Here are a few excerpts:
“One thing that got us through the whole year was the level of transparency and constant communications that we had. We started by convening employees from every department and said, ‘okay how do we make this work; what’s going to make you feel safe?’ That was the first step, making people feel heard and part of the process. The other part was they knew I had their back. I made it very clear up front if anyone is ever uncomfortable or feels unsafe, just like if they did outside a pandemic, you do not have to go into a home or do whatever the task is in front of you.”
“The customer did go away for a while. If you had asked me the first couple of weeks of April  I would have said, gosh by the end of the year, my business needs to be half the size it is today.” Everyone working from home, however, led to a surge in business and the challenges of meeting it both with staffing and with equipment and supplies.
“Leadership can feel thankless sometimes, but you have to find the good and the motivation in all the little moments and there have been so many, like the technician who suddenly pulls you aside and to say ‘‘hey, how are you doing?’ or to say ‘thank you for that.’”
Watch this interview in its entirety here on YouTube. Or watch chapters by subject by clicking on time codes below:
- 01:10 Quickly dealing with COVID-19 as work-from-home became mandated
- 03:30 Helping employees feel safe working in peoples’ homes even while COVID was spreading rapidly
- 05:00 Countering misinformation
- 07:36 Dealing with potential delays in receiving supplies and equipment
- 08:42 The greatest challenge she faced last year
- 10:35 Personally dealing with all the stress last year created
- 12:10 What’s in store for the company the rest of this year and into next
- 14:12 Greatest challenge now
- 15:47 Regarding lists of the top three things one can do to lead during a crisis
- 16:44 The importance of recharging one’s batteries, or sense of self
- 18:43 How to deal with those times when leadership can feel lonely
You can listen to this interview via Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
About One Take CEO Interviews
CEOs share how they’re leading during the COVID-19 pandemic and other unprecedented challenges. These are unscripted, unedited one-take interviews produced by business leader, award-winning journalist and executive consultant Dale Kurschner. No funding or other financial consideration is provided by companies interviewed, and interviews are selected solely upon the relevance of what may be discussed during an interview. For more information or to suggest a CEO to be interviewed, write to Info@MNperspectives.com.