Three business leaders who leaned into the challenge of COVID-19

Posted 2020-05-12
One of the qualities that distinguishes UBC Sauder from other business schools is its commitment to developing responsible leaders; leaders who harness their talents and ideas to deliver positive benefits to society.

These days, there is a dire need for responsible leadership as governments, as well as the public, private and non-profit sectors attempt to navigate their way through the COVID-19 situation while protecting human lives and livelihoods.

No one has all the answers, but three UBC Sauder grads are putting their educations to work to deliver some remarkable solutions.


Supplying PPE for Canada’s healthcare workers


Jerry Gao, BCom Class of 2013 and co-founder, LEAF

Jerry Gao, along with his wife Maggie, run a compostable products and solutions business in Calgary called LEAF. Their company’s mission is to eliminate the use of single-use plastics by providing 100 per cent compostable alternatives.

Late last year, when the COVID-19 outbreak began in China, Gao followed the news closely out of concern for his friends and business associates there. When the virus spread to Canada, he felt compelled to help. Tapping into his connections in China’s manufacturing sector, Gao asked who could supply personal protective equipment (PPE) for Canada’s healthcare workers.

“They were very helpful and said as long as you need it, we will get it to you,” Gao recalls.

Gao was able to secure a supply of more than two million face masks a day; however, bringing them into the country would require copious paperwork and patience. In Canada, suppliers of medical equipment must be approved under Health Canada’s Medical Device Establishment License. After waiting several weeks, LEAF was approved, opening the door for Gao to approach provincial and federal health agencies with an offer to supply medical masks.

While those agreements are being finalized, Gao is serving his community in other ways. He’s been sharing his knowledge about PPE with commercial property management firms to ensure that contractors who work inside buildings are equipped to do their jobs safely and with minimal risk of spreading the virus.

“I just want to add value wherever I can. Being useful to society is something I picked up from my father and something I picked up from being a student at UBC Sauder.”


Supporting employers to meet the challenges of COVID-19


Brianna Blaney, BCom Class of 2012 and founder and CEO, Envol Solutions and deepND

Brianna Blaney was doing what she loved; running two successful businesses that assist organizations with their HR needs. Her first company, Envol, helps businesses achieve their goals through scalable, cost-effective people solutions while her second enterprise, deepND, uses artificial intelligence to help companies better manage and retain their hourly workforce. When COVID-19 hit North America, Blaney’s clients turned to her for help.

“It’s been a lot of very long days and late-night conversations with people that don’t know whether their business will still be here in six months,” says Blaney.

Blaney and her team at Envol have been offering free consultations to employers to help them with their most urgent needs, such as accessing government funding. Blaney estimates they’ve helped over 200 companies since March. Now, with the economy slowly reopening, deepND is set to release a solution that will help restaurants and retailers reactivate their workforce.

“As a business owner and people leader, I want to be able to look back on this challenge and say we gave more than we took and we always sought to proactively support the people who needed it,” says Blaney.


Providing financial aid to legal firm impacted by COVID-19


George Psiharis, MBA Class of 2009 and Chief Operating Officer, Clio

The team at Clio is also helping clients stay in business while they wait for the economy to recover. Clio is a leading provider of cloud-based practice management software for the legal industry. It was founded 12 years ago by Jack Newton and Rian Gauvreau. Both Gauvreau and the company’s Chief Operating Officer, George Psiharis, graduated from UBC Sauder’s MBA program.

When the company’s leaders learned that many of their clients were stressed about making payroll and rent, they rushed in to help.

“We set aside a million dollars to provide direct financial relief to firms that needed it,” says Psiharis.

The company also set up a hotline and began providing free account advisory services. They helped clients access government loans and tax incentives, as well as transition their legal practices from the office to the home and the cloud.

“For the first time ever, we’re seeing legal proceedings arranged through remote methods and we’re advancing cases online,” says Psiharis. “We have not seen this amount of progress in the last 20 years and I think we’re going to find that many of these innovations stick.”

While these three entrepreneurs have all worked exhaustively to protect their businesses from the financial fallout of COVID-19, they have also found creative ways to serve the needs of the larger community. This desire to step up and help out – despite one’s own business challenges – is the hallmark of a responsible leader, and it is this kind of leadership that will serve the economy and humanity well in the months and years ahead.