Just over a year ago, the first Covid-19 infection was reported at REHAU. A colleague had contracted the disease while on vacation. Now we interview REHAU COO Dr. Uwe H. Böhlke, who looks back on the last year, in which many things have changed.
One year of Covid-19 ... and I am proud of our REHAU teams!
Uwe, you are the top Coronavirus officer at REHAU, so to speak. What was it like back then when the first infection was reported?
My first thought? You don't want to quote it here. But of course we all knew that it would happen sooner or later. After all, our Coronavirus era began much earlier. We had already reached an agreement in the Group Executive Board in January, when the first reports came from China, we were aware of the explosive nature of the issue early on. Those of us who travel frequently had already experienced the measures taken against swine fever and bird flu at the turn of the millennium. In this respect, it was a real, unfortunately unpleasant, déjà vu for me.
At the end of January 2020, we issued our first travel warning, and in the weeks that followed we put together the Coronavirus core team, set up the information platform on the intranet, and much more. We were prepared for our "day one". However we were still affected by the fact that the first of us had really "got it", and as a result, the infection figures also went up for us. But most importantly, we unfortunately, very sadly lost two employees to Coronavirus.
You had to protect the employees as far as possible, but also ensure that the machines continued to run. What was particularly remarkable for you about the crisis management?
The fact that we managed to keep everything running. So far, we haven't had a single line break due to REHAU delivery problems with our customers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have always managed to stay one step ahead of the virus, to act early and decisively. A few examples: While rapid tests have only recently been organized in many locations, we have been making them available to our sites since the end of November. And when recently in Viechtach (Lower Bavaria) our employees from the Czech Republic were temporarily no longer allowed to cross the border, the local plant team had accommodated the majority of our REHAU cross-border commuters in Bavarian vacation apartments. I am also thinking of our IT, which enabled mobile working on a large scale almost from a standing start. Or the organization of 40,000 masks and 8,000 rapid tests within a few days. Here and in many other places, we have shown in this pandemic that we don't wait long, don't talk things up, but simply do things and find the right ways. I am really proud of our teams.
How are you coordinating the handling of the pandemic?
The most important thing is communication. That starts with us in the management team. Up to now, we've been meeting every Friday morning at half past seven, virtually of course. Coronavirus is a matter for the management, and central decisions cannot be delegated. It continues with the Coronavirus crisis team, which we formed very early on. Like in a good sports team, all the important disciplines are on board. And then the permanent exchange with our sites is very important, especially the plants where local production has to continue. We also take great pains to keep the whole of REHAU permanently informed.
What do you take away for the future from your experiences so far?
In terms of time, as always in life, it's a matter of thinking ahead to the next step but one, of actively shaping things and not being passively driven. In terms of the result, the performance we have shown together should encourage us all. Our worldwide, large REHAU family is quite obviously capable of tackling challenges together, quickly and pragmatically. Incidentally, this also applies to society as a whole, despite all the criticism of crisis management, some of which is justified. In many cases, we have learned to make the best of the situation. Nevertheless, I too miss the direct contact with people - things can't get going again fast enough. But I also see how much time you gain by not having to travel and what all is possible when you use the many virtual channels. That's something we should preserve.
And one more thing: This crisis has shown us how important it is to pay attention not only to our physical health, but also to our mental health. We as a company, but also each of us in our dealings with colleagues, have a great responsibility towards each other.
What does the pandemic mean to you personally? Have you (re)discovered certain routines or hobbies for yourself?
Like so many of us, I've been working on the go for many months now, and I quickly realized that I urgently need a balance to the permanent "screen job". Even the ways to the office are missing. Or to the next meeting or to the canteen. So I got into the habit of starting earlier in the morning and walking for two hours at lunchtime. The exercise keeps me fit and clears my head at the same time.
As soon as everything is possible again: What will you do first?
Grill franconian sausages with friends and a keg of Kölsch beer to go with it.