November 29, 2021 | by M. Robert Weidner, III

The Courage To Adapt

“Perhaps it takes COURAGE to raise children.” —John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The holiday season is here. As we look forward to celebrations that are a bit more festive and family-filled than last year — a return to something resembling normalcy — I still can’t help but reflect on how wildly our world has changed. At this moment in 2019, very few of us had heard of COVID-19. Inflation, as judged by consumer prices, was two percent — one-third of what it is today. Industrial metals firms thought about supply chains, but the average American did not. They showed up at the store and, reliably, there was toilet paper!

Now these issues consume us.

I generally rely on military or business leaders for this column’s opening quotation, but the upheaval of the last 24 months feels like new parenthood. As readers know, 2020 marked the arrival of Kathy and my first grandson. We have doted as much as possible from six feet, but the joy — and disruption — we have felt is nothing compared to what Lauren and her husband Zach have felt.

There is no roadmap for parenthood. It takes courage to take that step — because you have to change everything. The family’s survival depends on your ability to adapt.

There certainly has been no roadmap for the last two years. And we might not have one for some time. In addition to the challenges listed above, we face generational workforce strain. There are now 1.4 jobs open in the United States for every potential employee – translated: 10 million openings. A full three percent of workers quit in September, more than any time since employment statistics have been collected.

We must have the courage to rethink how we hire, train, develop, mentor, and compensate people — in essence how we do business — and how we provide for employee health and safety. We cannot resort to old ways.

At the beginning of this year, the magazine Financial Management looked at how three consumer brands dealt with pandemic disruptions. Nike sped up plans to sell more products online. Kellogg Co. found a place closer to home to get paper for cereal boxes. HP launched a subscription ink business.

In hindsight, each of these decisions might seem obvious, but in reality they were not. They took creativity, manhours, and the determination to try something new.

I would like to think that MSCI has modeled a courage to adapt.

One area where we certainly have had to enhance our value proposition is networking. MSCI was able to host an in-person Economic Summit and Aluminum Products Division Conference this year (and we’re launching a new Steel Conference in February), but some companies are still restricting travel.

How could we keep our community knitted together?

To help members across the globe connect, we launched MSCI Community Forum, a virtual, members-only space to address challenges, share ideas, exchange best practices, and ask questions related to the industrial metals sector. The conversation has been active. Members are answering questions about attracting new hires, eliminating hand injuries, and much more. I hope you will check out this video, which explains the value we see in this tool.

Next year we are launching a new Young Professionals Forum where our industrial metals leaders of tomorrow can meet for 24 hours to network, learn about industry best practices, and, well yes, have fun. In a 2019 Manufacturing Institute survey, 78 percent of manufacturing firms said they were worried about an aging workforce. Those concerns have only grown over the last two years. According to a recent Conventry survey, more than 75 percent of Baby Boomers plan to retire early.

Handing over the reins to the next generation is never easy, but we must prepare our young leaders for the future. MSCI is committed to helping its members do that.

MSCI also is committed to helping members build more diverse and inclusive workforces. We have just released the results of our first-ever diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) survey. This report, available free for members here, synthesizes the results of responses from nearly 50 mills and service centers regarding DEI demographics, initiatives and strategies, and investment.

We are excited the report found many of our member companies have robust DEI initiatives in place. But far too many still need to take this step. With 1.4 jobs open for every worker, it is imperative that we create welcoming workplaces.

These new voices also will help us innovate — and, yes, adapt — for the future.

Eight years ago in the Harvard Business Review, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist who was CEO of Hewlett Consulting Partners, explained that brand new studies had revealed business leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights. Additionally, employees whose workplaces encouraged them to speak up were 3.5 times as likely to contribute.

We did not heed Hewlett’s advice well enough then. With supply chain challenges, inflation, and labor shortages bearing down, all of us must have the courage to adopt it — and adapt — now.