Coping with COVID-19: A CEO of the Year’s leadership lessons

Editor's Note

In order to keep Ottawa business leaders informed on best practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, OBJ publisher Michael Curran is conducting a series of video panel discussions over the coming weeks with local business experts.

In the latest Coping with COVID-19 video, OBJ speaks with one Ottawa’s highest-profile chief executives, David Ross of Ross Video. Much of the company’s products and services focus on video at live events, ranging from professional sports to major concert tours to international awards shows such as the Oscars. Ross says much of the work for its approximately 830 employees has stopped, but the company has avoided layoffs.

The following is an edited version of that discussion. Please watch the video above for the full interview.

OBJ: David, how is Ross Video coping with COVID-19?

ROSS: Well, about two or three weeks ago, Ross had every single broadcast truck on the road. Today? Zero. Absolutely no sporting events. Those employees are in what we call the “Ross lifeboat” right now. They’re busy building the next truck and they’re learning our products better. We’ve got them all doing useful things. Now there is a whole industry of live production around the world. Most people are employed as freelancers, for example camera operators and instant replay operators and directors. They’re completely out of work right now.

On the stadium side of things, yes, they’re pretty empty as well. However, we’re doing the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles right now. That’s the biggest stadium ever built. It’s a $5-billion stadium. It’s a multimillion-dollar project for Ross. That’s going forward. That’s funded. They’re accepting our shipments.

OBJ: David, you were the OBJ-Ottawa Board of Trade CEO of the Year in 2016. What advice would you give other leaders on being an effective CEO at a time like this?

ROSS: Treat people as your No. 1 concern. Deal with the people side of things and let the leadership team deal with the company side of things. Leadership isn’t necessarily standing out there and telling everybody what to do. I mean, there are a lot of good ideas in our company. Our senior leadership team has been phenomenal in this. Even more so, the sometimes unsung heroes of a company are human resources. This is a time when human resources really steps up and moves fast, even in terms of government programs. You have the government saying that it wants to keep people employed and is even offering a 75 per cent wage subsidy. We haven’t needed to use that yet. We’re not in that category. We did decide to move to a four-day workweek with 80 per cent pay. We made that completely flexible in terms of when employees want to work. At Ross, we asked: how do we solve this? And when we brought this to the employees of the company, it was so well received. It almost put a tear in my eye.