Two CEOs offer a master class in crisis innovation during the coronavirus pandemic

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Like it or not, we live in a time of crisis innovation.

I wanted to take a moment to share two inspiring coronavirus-related business stories about CEOs who found a way to quickly retool their operations to provide medical and personal protective equipment for communities battling the coronavirus. Both were master classes in planning, creativity, and mission-driven boldness.

I interviewed KR Sridhar, the CEO of Bloom Energy, and Jane Mosbacher Morris, the founder and CEO of To The Market for Leadership Next, Fortune CEO Alan Murray’s podcast on the changing rules of business leadership.

Both were already working on noble missions. Bloom Energy creates state-of-the-art fuel cells, for hospitals and similar institutions. To The Market is a unique for-profit social enterprise that connects buyers—many of whom are corporate—with sewn goods made by a global network of small manufacturers, typically women, who often come from vulnerable and underserved communities, or who have overcome terrible things—like conflict, trafficking, and yes, epidemics.   

Sridhar said that he realized pretty quickly that hospital ventilators are similar to fuel cells, sharing key components like fans and hoses. What I didn’t realize was that there were hundreds of expired or broken units sitting around that simply needed expert refurbishment to be viable again. So, with a mission in mind and a granular focus on rapid learning, the company was able to safely deploy employees to update the desperately needed ventilators while maintaining their basic operations. 

Bloom had refurbished 1,200 ventilators at the time of the interview, but it is capable of refurbishing around 2,000 per week in its East and West Coast facilities. And best of all, Sridar is working a plan to make existing ventilators more efficient and available.

In early March, Mosbacher Morris put out a request-for-proposals to her network of To The Market makers, and dozens responded. Barely 30 days later, shipments of three-ply FDA-certified face masks, isolation gowns, and scrubs—the personal protective equipment known as PPE—came rolling in, shipped to increasingly desperate medical systems across the U.S. 

The company has received orders for over 2 million units of PPE, and at the time of the interview, had already delivered 1.1 million. The move earned Mosbacher Morris a place on Fortune’s 2020 World’s 25 Greatest Leaders list.

It was the feel-good boost I certainly needed. If you feel so inclined, please give a listen and subscribe—the story is even more interesting coming from them. And, I’ll try to keep the inspiration coming.

Ellen McGirt

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