But Bloom said it wasn't the same as the in-person sessions.
"I have sales people I haven't met face-to-face yet," he said.
All these months later, most customers still won't allow visitors unless it's a necessity.
"We get into some of the plants when we have to, but most customers are fairly locked down as well," Bloom said. "They don't want anybody in their facilities affecting their people. Or they are working from home, so there's nobody to go see anyways."
When there is a technical issue that needs handled, customers reluctantly will let in a technician, but not without pushback in most cases. "If you're just going to see someone on a sales call, whether it's a purchasing person, a technical person or even an executive, they're just not seeing people," he said. "There's a lockdown from that perspective."
On an operational basis, Hexpol has had to deal with staff contracting the coronavirus throughout its system. Bloom gets a daily report from all 17 plants, advising him on who actively has COVID-19, along with others who are in quarantine because of traceability protocols.
There was one period where 10-12 people had tested positive at the Long Beach, Calif., plant, he said, while more recently an office employee tested positive at a Statesville, N.C., factory. Because of close quarters, others had to be held out for testing.
"What we haven't seen is an impact where the whole staff in a production facility gets it," Bloom said. "It's typically been a case here, or a couple of cases there.
"Out in the plant, people are fairly spread out, from a standpoint where we don't have assembly lines where people work a foot apart."
The Hexpol N.A. president said he knows of no fatalities among the firm's staff or anyone who required treatment with a ventilator. There have been a few hospitalizations, along with a number of asymptomatic cases.
Along with dealing with COVID-19, Hexpol N.A. underwent a realignment under Bloom's leadership. Some came in the first quarter of 2020 from a general management of the business, while other actions were precipitated by the significant drop in business in the second quarter because of the pandemic.
Cutbacks included some early retirement programs, but also some forced restructuring, he said. Those leaving included some top-level executives with long tenures at Hexpol.
"(The restructuring) was definitely needed," Bloom said. "It was definitely something that was important for the company to do."
He added that because of the moves made prior to March, there weren't as many changes needed when the negative COVID-19 impact hit because Hexpol already was ahead of the curve.
Under the reorganization, Hexpol N.A., which accounts for about 60 percent of Hexpol A.B. revenue, now is set up along four regions: North, South, West and Mexico. Each has a sales or commercial leader, along with an operational leader. Under that are sales and technical teams to support each region.
Bloom said the premise was to take a large company across North America and break it down to provide local support for its customers, whose needs vary from region to region. "We tried to carve up the elephant into smaller pieces that are more manageable," he said.
The result also includes a somewhat compressed management structure, as there is no longer a chief operating officer between Bloom and his executive leadership team. That group includes the regional commercial and operations leaders, the chief financial officer, the supply chain lead and the business analytics head.
"We try to keep it a very flat organization so issues get solved very quickly," he said. "Decisions can be made very quickly without lots of layers of management."
Bloom said the team was assembled for its staying power, and succession plans have been implemented. "We want to make sure we have good bench strength on the team, and we believe we have a good strong team right now," he said.
Fire hits Tennessee plant
Just as 2021 completed its first week, Hexpol N.A. officials had an unexpected tragedy hit, as its rubber compounding factory in Jonesborough, Tenn., caught fire about 1:30 a.m. on Jan 7. Firefighting crews fought the blaze for more than 12 hours, with one employee hospitalized and the other 22 workers safely evacuated from the building.
Bloom said the staff member who was injured currently is working through rehabilitation to deal with burn issues.
It was a mixer fire, he said, where product caught fire in the mixer and ended up spreading to other parts of the facility, including the raw material inventory area.
"Even though the sprinkler system came on, (the fire) was just very aggressive and continued to spread," Bloom said. "We lost our big mixer line and almost all the raw materials. We did salvage some equipment in other parts of that plant that weren't as badly damaged—one intermesh line and a strainer, and some lab equipment. But overall, it's a total loss from the standpoint of the plant.
Fire and insurance investigators continue to look for the cause, according to the Hexpol executive. The compound that was running in the mixer was a stable compound with a long history of successful processing.
"We've run it for this customer for millions and millions of pounds," Bloom said. "There is something else that happened, either in the system, or something failed in the control valve."
Hexpol does have enough capacity across the U.S., but he said there has been much work involved to re-source or move product around to other facilities, citing the need to gain needed approvals and certifications. In addition, the supply chain worked diligently to replace the amount of raw materials lost to the fire, something that is difficult in a tight market.
"We've had to move 882 parts, and we've done that successfully in less than 30 days," he said. "Customers have been absolutely a pleasure to work with, and our team has worked 24/7, and we've not had one outage or a situation where a customer shut down an assembly line."
The Jonesborough site had about 100 employees, including hourly and salaried staff. Some of those have moved to other company facilities while others have been laid off and are receiving severance and other support from Hexpol.
There still are a handful of workers on site, Bloom said, to support cleanup efforts and work on transitioning efforts for customers.
With production moved to other facilities, staffing these sites in a timely fashion has been difficult. "You would think in the current environment, we should be able to find people fairly easily for our other plants, but it's been a challenge," he said. "But we have to, of course, add shifts to these plants to support the increased volume that has transferred over."
Hexpol still hasn't made a long-term decision on what its recovery plan is, but Bloom expects a decision in the next month. If the mixer doesn't rebuild in Jonesborough, he said it likely will need to invest in a couple of its other factories, either by bringing in new equipment or constructing an addition.
And given all the Hexpol N.A. team has had to deal with since the beginning of 2020, Bloom said they did a tremendous job in trying times. "We've stayed open at every single facility, even in Mexico," he said. "When things were locking down as tight as could be, we still didn't miss an order, and never shut a customer down.
"I can't wait to manage this team under normal circumstances. We've managed it through nothing but stress for 13 months. I can't wait to manage them when there's just your normal business stuff and not all these extraordinary things going on."