"Although that cross-pollination process was certainly accelerated during the months after the accident, we were extremely fortunate to have the experience of Jon, Dan and Mark to draw upon," says COO Cortney McCormick. "When it came to hiring, my brother always felt you should look to hire your replacement. This philosophy has proven its worth with the team in place today."
McC Inc. was lucky. They had initiated succession planning and had qualified, experienced people in place to assume those key leadership positions. One aspect that did catch them unprepared was dealing with the media. In less than an hour from first hearing about the missing aircraft and less than an hour into his drive home from St. Louis, Shefland was already getting calls from the media.
"You try and be considerate but I truly didn't have any useful information," Shefland recounts. "I was still somewhat in shock, and honestly, the local TV station was very understanding, but it really illustrated how fast news can travel.
"In fact, some reports were surfacing that had me listed as one of the passengers on the plane, based on registration information from the trade show. So in addition to news traveling fast, not all of it was accurate," he says. "Thankfully, I called my wife right away to let her know where I was."
While managing media is indeed a critical component of any crisis plan, it was just the beginning of a very challenging period for McC Inc.
While it was impossible for management and employees to assume a "business as usual" demeanor after the accident, the fact that McC Inc. was in the middle of several projects and slated to begin a few more shook them back to reality rather quickly.
"I was in New York in the middle of a concrete pour for a slip-form structure when I heard the news," Walters recalls. "I turned to the guys on the site and said, 'I've got to go back and you need to finish the pour.' They wanted to make Dave proud and they did by doing a great job on that pour."
There are many stories like that about McC Inc. employees, in addition to the many vendors, suppliers and even competitors who went the extra mile to offer assistance after the accident. The gestures brought comfort in a time of sorrow and reinforced all that is good about this industry, but it also reminded McC the need to keep moving forward and ultimately, do some soul searching about their business.
Timing is Everything
A cataclysmic event like an accident often serves as the genesis for a period of great change. In McC's case, it wasn't the only catalyst for change to hit them at that time.
"Shortly after the accident, the biofuels business, which Dave had really committed his entrepreneurial vision to building for McC, had begun to stagnate and weaken," says Schmid. "With so much of our business tied into the biofuels sector, we needed to make some big adjustments and quickly."
A major adjustment came in the form of creating an operating model which more closely resembles a traditional business hierarchy — a management team to run day-to-day operations with sales/growth responsibilities, reporting to a board of directors who oversee overall operational functions.
"It was difficult for sure as David was the ultimate entrepreneur and decisionmaker," says Shefland. "So the question became 'how do we balance that aggressive, opportunistic way of thinking, with a more measured, pragmatic approach which relied on achieving consensus?' It was tough, but the answer for us was to get back to what we do best ...build great projects."
This was a tough lesson because it required McC to call people whose projects they had turned down earlier when the biofuels boom was on. Now they had to go back to those same people looking for new business. Understandably, there were some folks who weren't interested in hearing what McC had to say, but, by and large, people knew what went in to making McC's quality reputation and had seen that the company was moving ahead in a positive direction.
"Getting back to our roots was extremely important," says Walters. "We are excellent slip-form builders and now in addition to grain, we're spreading our expertise to different market segments from coal, cement, energy and other industrial storage and construction needs.
"The move to diversify our market approach was a result of the new group management style, and while difficult at first, is paying dividends now," he adds.