Alumni Spotlight: Gil Gonzalez, Keeping an Essential Business Running in the Time of COVID-19
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (April 1, 2020) -- Mission Critical Solutions has been in business for 30 years and founder/CEO Gil Gonzalez has never seen anything like this. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has devastated the health of people around the world has also stymied the economies of just about every nation on the planet.
Businesses, big and small, have shut down indefinitely and others have sent their employees home to work remotely until the crisis passes.
That wasn’t a luxury afforded to Tampa-based MCS, an information technology company, considered an essential business because of its defense contracts with the federal government and other agencies and organizations including Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. MCS is a partner with the USF Muma College of Business and Gonzalez, a 2017 graduate of the Doctor of Business Administration program and current adjunct faculty member of the business college, also serves on the college’s Executive Advisory Council.
So, how does he balance the work to be done with the health and/or financial risks to employees and/or clients? It’s a work in progress, said Gonzalez, who is faced with making far-reaching decisions just about every day.
“I was completely caught off guard by the varying levels of fear by our teammates, customers and other stakeholders,” he said. “Trying to implement a single strategy for 300 employees with varying degrees of fear was a challenge. We needed to prescribe a solution that met everyone's needs.
“So, we started by being clear that no one was required to work if they felt unsafe or had to care for another. We needed to affirm their individual control to make decisions for their safety and the safety of their loved ones,” he said. “We also made it clear that we’re an essential business and would deliver for our customers using temporary help and new hires if needed.
“We needed to offer flexibility,” he said. “This was not the time to exercise authority; there were too many different circumstances and too many unique fear responses.”
MCS began preparing for the business impact long before the crisis hit the U.S. shores, by tracking data and beginning to plan for the risk of a disrupted work force on some of the critical projects’ schedules, Gonzalez said.
“We are heavily involved with Space Force on a command and control project that is deemed essential and needs to be operational this summer,” he said. “We also support the VA, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense community with their communications, audio/visual and information technology operations.”
Not only did Gonzalez have to monitor proposed laws that were about to impact stakeholders, and how those laws may interfere with how MCS does business, but he also needed to be cognizant of other considerations that have already – and may yet still – come into play during the crisis.
“We worried about cash hoarding and began to develop a strategy that anticipated slow payments from stressed customers,” he said. “We worried about supply chain disruption and accelerated the ordering of materials and goods that we believed might be delayed in the crisis. Just-in-time inventory was no longer a strategy, and the impact to working capital is enormous.”
The importance of getting accurate and reliable information from every front in order to make fact-based decisions was paramount, he said.
“We have focused on filtering the media to avoid false and speculative news,” he said. “Separating editorialized reports from factually verified information was crucial. Understanding the federal laws proposed and passed and then recognizing that the agency regulations that will be developed to implement those laws was crucial.
“For example, it was not until the Department of Labor sent out guidance with respect to Families First Coronavirus Response Act that we discovered workers currently impacted are not eligible for the expanded sick leave and FMLA provisions until April 1. Employers offering the benefit early are not able to lawfully take the tax credit.”
There are lot of moving parts now, particularly in government regulations, which are changing on daily basis, he said. One example is the Cares Act, passed last week.
“It is ambitious and generous,” Gonzalez said, “but it lacks the implementation details that the banks and small businesses need to know in order to understand how to properly use these resources. While we are optimistic this will help with liquidity and solvency, we cannot yet assume we qualify. The regulations are being crafted as we speak.
“There’s too much risk to assume anything,” he said. “We must operate with certainty, so we cannot and will not factor these resources into our actions until we have better certainty.”
The crashing economy aside, life for MCS goes on, because, well, it has to, said Gonzalez, who earned an MBA in 1990 from USF with a concentration in information technology, and who has volunteered to offer his company up as a case study during the COVID-19 crisis with the USF Center for Entrepreneurship, widely known as a valuable resource for startups and other businesses, particularly in times of difficulty.
“We have a large client base of local government and schools who depend on us for their day-to-day needs,” he said, “as well as clients and projects across the United States.”