COVID-19 crisis management for photonics businesses

April 14, 2020
Innovation and leadership will be the keys to successful short- and long-term responses to the pandemic.
Conard Holton2

All businesses face new and unexpected management challenges during this COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. To help photonics-related businesses think through their strategy for managing issues such as customer care, supplies, staff, and finance, the OSA Industry Development Associates (OIDA) is hosting a series of webinars: Navigating your businesses out of the COVID-19 storm. The first will be held on April 16, 2020, with the series open to everyone and available in archive.

The series will continue in the following weeks with discussions informed by crisis management experience and expertise. They will include topics such as managing and fighting fires in global supply chains, dealing with employees after furlough, an investment perspective on the global semiconductor sector (a proxy for photonics), the CARES Act and implications for financing and M&A plans, and team building in what will be a new business environmentthe new normal.

Simin Cai, President of Go!Foton and OIDA Council Chairman, says, “We think it’s important to provide forums where we can share ideas and insights on operational topics that are affecting many of our members. Beyond the many good resources available for managing through a crisis, we feel it’s useful to address industry-specific issues together.”

The OIDA has also posted a list of business and management related resources that photonics executives may find helpful. Top of the list is a series of webinars from Harvard Business School called Managing through Crisis. I’ve listened to several and find them useful and fascinating. The value of the classic HBS case study approach is very evident, as are their methods for analysis and decision-making. Such a problem-solving focus takes into account that new issues will always arise and important priorities will be in conflict, but you should place confidence in your decision-making process.

Two essential questions for managers to consider were posed during the HBS webinar series: “Who do we want to be during this crisis?” and “Who do we want to be when this crisis is over?” Four observations from the series seem particularly relevant as well:

  • Some activities may not survive a new normal.
  • Unique opportunities to create value over a longer time horizon may appear.
  • It can be beneficial to think simultaneously about two time zones: the current crisis and the return to more stable circumstances likely to follow.
  • This is a marathon, not a sprint.

How individual photonics company address these issues will differ, influenced by location, company size, product line, and market. Yet, all companies and institutions in photonics are responding with resilience on many levels. For example, organizations such as Messe Munich and Fraunhofer ILT have rescheduled LASER China and AKL’20, respectively, and both SPIE and OSA have canceled conferences and tradeshows or moved them to online formats, including SPIE Photonics Europe, Defense + Commercial Sensing, and CLEO. These measures make health, information exchange, and business sense.

If you want a snapshot of how businesses in photonics are responding, we have posted an article compiling such statements from photonics-related companies. It’s clear that safety of employees and customers is paramount; supply chains appear relatively strong as of late March 2020; and numerous companies with crucial roles in defense, medical, and semiconductor supply chains are deemed "essential businesses," meaning they may stay open even under more-extreme government-specified shutdown measures.

Post-crisis, the world may be altered in some fundamental but unpredictable ways. In photonics, our current methods of research, manufacture, marketing, and sales may have to change, and how we meet and communicate may be different. Thinking about how to manage all this change will challenge us to be the leaders and innovative thinkers we have always thought we were.

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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