This article appeared in the October 2020 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Lansing-based MMA member NEOGEN has been quietly resolving a multitude of problems since 1982. Beginning as a small toxins-testing company in Lansing, NEOGEN now has offices in 12 different countries. The business has grown to serve people through the food processing industry in nearly every way possible. Their mantra of “from farm gate to dinner plate” outlines the full scope of their service — sanitation, allergy testing and pathogenic protection on a global scale. NEOGEN’s story has always been one of innovation and problem-solving; accomplishing the extraordinary in an incredibly short time.
NEOGEN was one of many manufacturing companies to reimagine what was possible — and other businesses are following their path. In an industry reliant on strict processes, potentially costly regulations and large-scale production equipment, the idea of a remote workforce isn’t a practical option for most manufacturers. Yet, as COVID-19 disrupted established norms everywhere, NEOGEN and other manufacturers did what they always do when confronted with a challenge — they adapted.
NEOGEN’s Michigan operations benefitted greatly from their global reach. Able to observe as the pandemic hit operations in China, Australia and Europe, Jerome Hagedorn, the company’s Vice President of North American Operations, and his team developed an emergency response team that could adapt domestic production strategies as new information came in. Combined with its other strategies, the rapid shifts and process changes that would have taken months were now being accomplished in days.
“Going remote, even in the short-term, was a huge undertaking,” said Hagedorn. “We were never a big user of remote work — there was never a need; it wasn’t engrained in our strategies. In normal times, implementing a shift to a 30 percent remote workforce would take six to 12 months. We did it in four days during one of the most stressful periods in generations.”
Hagedorn takes great pride in that and in his people for being able to facilitate a shift of that magnitude without impacting customers. And, for NEOGEN, the customer is everything.
“Certainly, starting the year, nobody anticipated a global pandemic impacting our world the way it has,” recalled Hagedorn. “We were gearing up for a final run to our 12-month goal and then this huge shift happened. Operating under the new man-dates from Governor Whitmer, federal and international guidelines, plus navigating local requirements and the regulations of other states — it was a lot to take on in such a short time. We needed a plan.”
Hagedorn’s team used simple and effective tactics:
- Commit to open, honest and regular communication
- Be flexible — the personal impact of the pandemic was different for every employee
- Rely on a network, including other locations, industry associations or partnerships, as sources of shared information and best practices
“COVID-19 wasn’t even a blip on the radar and, then, fast forward six months; it may have forever changed how some companies do business. If you’re a manufacturer in 2020, you have to be asking yourself where you fit in this new environment and what opportunities are there,” Hagedorn offered. “In every situation there’s opportunity — you sometimes just need to dig deep to find it. Once you find it, if you commit to a plan and have the trust of your team, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”