To Prevail Through Disruption, Remember: Your Company’s Greatest Assets Are Off the Balance Sheet

 To Prevail Through Disruption, Remember: Your Company’s Greatest Assets Are Off the Balance Sheet

As a privately held fourth-generation business with a 50-year history in Texas, Turtle & Hughes has seen its share of economic disruption, from the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry to the impact of COVID-19 and the nation’s path to recovery.

But the fundamental characteristics of our company—a nationwide industrial and electrical distributor—have enabled us to endure each of these challenging times. I am proud to say these characteristics emanated from my great-grandparents, who founded Turtle & Hughes, and are carried on today by our longstanding team in the Houston region.

In today’s environment, in which leaders have had to quickly reconfigure their workplaces and adapt to changing client needs, we must not forget to tend to the corporate DNA that engaged our clients in the first place. An essential piece is our employees’ feelings of safety, belonging, and mattering, and our longtime practices ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A company’s intangible assets, its core values and principles of doing business, define and differentiate it. That’s why now is a good time to take stock of those intangibles and ensure that they are intact.

Even as Turtle & Hughes works on complex industrial projects involving hazardous environments and highly technical capabiilities—from pipelines in Texas to the transformation of LaGuardia Airport—we ultimately rely on the people who implement them with excellence and ethics. Without them, we could never build business partnerships that provide value, efficiency, and reliability.

No matter your industry, here are some of the most critical intangible assets to cultivate now, during this time of widespread disruption:

  • Employee loyalty. With the proliferation of AI and robotics, many companies may consider the concept of “employee loyalty experience of staffers who have been in their business for 20, 30, and 40 years. Having lived through many business cycles, they can offer valuable perspective. We purposefully match up long-term employees with younger staff to encourage mentoring and sharing of institutional wisdom.
  • Trust.  Where there is trust, there is engagement.  Employees thrive when they are in an environment that promises opportunity to every person and embraces each other’s differences.
  • Industry knowledge. Hand in hand with experience is technical knowledge, especially in businesses that rely on intricate products and comprehensive services.

To stay competitive, a company should cultivate a diverse team of specialists to tackle each new project or client challenge. In our case, we bring in engineers, product specialists, and software technicians that together deliver “value engineering.” This embeds efficiencies and metrics at the start of a project and ensures consistent communication with all suppliers on its progress.

Because it takes several years to build a bench of experts in a complex field, forward-looking leaders do well to invest in a rewarding workplace that builds employees’ knowledge (and loyalty). During the shutdown, for example, we funded our employees in acquiring new certifications and online training.

  • Reputation. This is a business’s most valuable asset, built on the values that guide its actions. Many companies bolstered their reputations during the current crisis as they found solutions and showed up for their clients and communities.

Like many, we had to find ways to serve our clients during the COVID-19 shutdown while protecting their (and our) safety. Many of these are long-term clients—we have worked with ExxonMobil for 50 years—and we think of them and our employees in the same way. With most of our workers remote, we struck a fine balance by keeping our trucks and warehouses operational with protective equipment and social distancing. At the same time, we were humbled by healthcare and essential workers, and donated over 800 masks to hospitals and EMS workers that serve Harris County.

  • Continual Innovation. This is the lifeblood of the entrepreneur. I learned about innovation from my father, who never left the office without inspiring his team to do something great the next day. In the oil and gas industry, innovation has shown up in a myriad of ways, from just-in-time inventory practices, on-site warehousing, or more recently, kitting safety gear and equipment for a reopened economy.

    In the last months and weeks, I have been awestruck by the tidal wave of innovation and compassion in this country by leaders in practically every sector. Businesses are reinventing themselves to respond to changing client needs, expectations and ways of operating.

As Texas and our nation rebuilds, l urge you to consider your intangible assets—the ones that may be off the balance sheet but that are nonetheless fundamental to your resilience and success. Remind your employees, customers, and communities of the fundamental reasons you work together—now and for generations to come.

Jayne Millard

Jayne Millard is chairman and co-CEO of Turtle & Hughes, one of the largest independent industrial and electric distribution companies in the nation with offices in Deer Park and Port Lavaca, Texas.

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