AKRON—When the realization began to take shape in early March that the novel coronavirus pandemic had the potential to be more than just a small inconvenience, Ernie Pouttu knew that communication would be vital.
As president and CEO of Akron-based Harwick Standard Distribution Corp., he began to share emails with the firm's roughly 55 employees. Most of them are based in Akron, but a half-dozen or so work at a company warehouse in Southern California, and another seven or eight sales people are spread around the U.S.
Pouttu's messages ranged from being informational to inspirational and, at times, just a collection of his thoughts. While much of the content came from him, he also drew on other sources, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's briefings, writings from a variety of publications and even some videos.
"As the president of the company, I just felt the responsibility to make sure I communicated with everybody the best I could," said Pouttu. "To just sit there and not communicate, I couldn't do that. I wouldn't have felt comfortable."
One of his early missives talked about how common coffee would no longer be available. Another told of how the St. Patrick's Day celebration had been canceled.
A March 23 email explained how Harwick Standard would be deemed essential, so the doors would not be closing. That same email emphasized that the employees had a responsibility to themselves to "do all you can to not get sick." It also touched on the uncertainty of the fluid situation, with Pouttu writing: "I am not sure if I answered all our questions. I am pretty sure that no one on earth can answer all our questions."
The president of the distributor of a wide variety of chemicals, additives and elastomers said he wanted to get across information, and make sure people were practicing what they should, such as social distancing. One vendor with whom he shared some of the messages described the emails as "realistic and optimistic."
Looking back on those earlier communications some four months later, he said much of it seems a bit odd now, until he puts them in context.
"Everything to me as I look through them now are all what was going on at the time," Pouttu said. "To me they're a little bit historical because we tend to forget what we were thinking about at the beginning of April. It was all about communication, staying in touch and just letting people know they were being thought about."
Employees were appreciative, he said, particularly those not working out of the main headquarters as it helped those employees feel connected.
At the onset, Harwick Standard officials told those who could work from home that they should. Pouttu himself worked from home most of the first two months, making occasional trips into the office. Of course, those in the warehouse and others tied to operations didn't have that option. "You can't load a truck from home. Those guys have to be there," he said, noting there were times the warehouse staff was allowed to be home and still get paid.