Pandemic Reflections. From our CEO
To the UK healthcare community
Two years ago, we were collectively presented with a reality unprecedented in our generation; the outbreak of a pandemic that swept across the globe indiscriminately. For us at Sharpsmart, today marks the anniversary of the day we enacted remote working protocols for non-operational employees, and as a team had to redefine what our work normal looked like; a heavier reliance on technology, the necessity to rethink the social structures of team engagement and how to recreate the “water cooler” discussion dynamic in a virtual environment.
Across our business, our people, our families, none were unaffected. We lost people we loved that we could not adequately mourn, we missed celebrating milestones and hallmark occasions that traditionally bring communities together, friends and family members lost jobs or were affected by income restructure, families were separated by oceans that in the last 30 years have never been a barrier to physical connection; all of us, in some way had to learn to navigate life on different terms.
While there have been many “aha” moments since I founded this business in confirming the relevance and critical importance our vision is in impacting healthcare… COVID-19 was a unique reminder of how valid and timely our cause is, and how important it was that we as a company of people, use our influence to positively impact the work of hospitals and healthcare practitioners across the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. To me it can be summed up in two ways – firstly, the dedication to our mission of safety and sustainability in upholding the highest levels of support, technology and education to ensure the protection of frontline healthcare workers, and secondly a “larger than ourselves” dedication to service excellence, stepping up when our partners needed us most.
Our mission, in a post-COVID era
In 1986 while studying part time and running a hotel I started a business in my garage with the audacious goal of protecting healthcare workers from needlestick injuries. As a 21 year old I was naïve in “correct business protocols” and equally dismissed all of the obstacles in getting a product to market – I was driven by the fervent belief that individuals (frontline healthcare workers) who dedicated their lives to helping others should not be exposed to avoidable risk; they should be protected. In 1986 it was the risk of aids contracted by avoidable needlestick injuries which led me to develop the world’s first reusable safety-engineered sharps container.
When I first started the business, I would get up for a 3:00 am start each day delivering makeshift sharps containers to hospitals in a small courier van. My mum, Eva Daniels, led the production line of quality control and container assembly out of my home garage and rumpus room, and we rented a small factory for processing the sharps containers. Mum and I cleaned containers between 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm, and then we returned home to finish assembly of containers, get some sleep and then start at 3am again the next day. Saturday was dedicated to design and engineering, and then mum and I would conduct a “team meeting” each Sunday night to plan for the next week. It was not a profitable business, it didn’t make any financial sense, it was hard work and the obstacles were enormous – but it was a business seeded with a mission that was bigger than all of us; it was a mission to save lives, and that was the gravitational pull that inspired us daily.
In 2020 during the height of COVID my mother, Eva Daniels, passed away. After faithfully serving alongside me and my family for 34 years in the business and being a mentor and confidante to hundreds of people that intersected our business life, she left this earth at the only time in recent history where it was impossible to travel, gather, mourn, and celebrate a life. Living overseas and being unable to attend mum’s funeral or support my own children in person was one of those vulnerable deep-reaching moments that made me question whether all of this had been worth it – there were a thousand and one business models that would have been more financially successful, easier, required less personal sacrifice or investment, and scaled more effortlessly… but, albeit successful, would they have made an impact?
At five-foot tall, Eva was a force to be reckoned with. Leading with rigour and compassion she was the only person my operational leaders were intimated by, she would be the first person on site of a morning and the last person to leave and there was no job or task that was beneath her. She would put the world on hold if someone in her sights had a crisis or tragedy in their lives, she had a deep conviction that our company purpose was worthy of great personal sacrifice, and she had a personal stake in every single person that crossed her path – a driver, a production worker, a customer, a family member, a colleague. What my mum instilled into me and into this business was “people are important… and they are worth sacrificing for” – whether it’s the 900+ person work family we now have serving our vision for safer healthcare across the United Kingdom and North America or the millions of healthcare workers we come to work for every day to create safer products and services – our mission 36 years on is still bigger than any one of us.
Service Excellence. The Sharpsmart Benchmark
In March 2020 when the world was starting to withdraw into itself with all certainties off the table and self-protection mechanisms starting to kick in – my senior leadership team gathered and made an executive decision. We were going to invest whatever we have to, to stabilise, secure and hold a position of strength, reliability and dependability for our customers. We were going to secure our staff, not shrink but grow our business, secure product and stock-holding at inflated costs to ensure global supply chain certainty for our customers, and scale our operations to create capacity and cater for the emerging needs bought about by the pandemic.
Collaborating feedback from our customers, we heard loud and clear that while we had the best product in the industry, and an incredible team supporting our vision, we had shortfalls in our service consistency as we were scaling treatment capabiltiies, and we had communication and technology gaps that made it hard for our customers to do business with us. Across the United Kingdom we had service areas where we excelled and other geographies that were relegated to the “needs improvement” category, and we had people and process gaps that were preventing us from reaching “best in class” goals across every facet of our business. We heard. We Actioned. We Invested.
Amidst the unprecedented pressures bought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, our team focused on systems, processes and adaptable workflows to ensure we were not just meeting, but were well ahead of our customers’ needs. Fast-forward two years, “PROUD” is an understatement for what our team has achieved in one of modern history’s most difficult periods.
Some of our hallmark achievements that I feel define our business growth and adaptability during COVID-19 include:
Global across our’ 35+ operational facilities we were able to maintain “business as usual”, accommodating both current and additional service routes within current customers, opening multiple new servicing plants across the United Kingdom and North America, and providing temporary emergency support to non-Sharpsmart customers whose waste service vendors were unable to maintain needed service levels.
We fortified our global supply chain with our engineering team investing in additional tooling and bringing on new manufacturers to ensure supply chain continuity of containers and clinical waste bins; our logistics teams expanded our trucking fleets to meet the demands of additional routes and waste volumes, we invested in and warehoused surplus stock of critical supplies as contingency stock for customers, our inhouse recruitment teams worked overtime to employ surplus labour to mitigate service disruptions for our customers and across our business, our teams, often at great personal sacrifice, travelled across the country to support other departments and divisions most impacted by COVID.
Globally we equipped the fit out of some of the largest COVID testing and vaccine administering centers in the US, UK and Canada with our Sharps containers, and in the UK our Sharpsmart was used for the first globally publicly administered vaccine.
We put tighter processes around every customer-impacting metric. As a senior leadership team, we reviewed customer issues every week, measuring time of response and root-cause and heightening the escalation pathways for unresolved customer feedback. We instituted DIFOT reporting across every operational business unit, regulated proactive outreach and advance rescheduling for unforeseen service disruptions, and recruited regular feedback from our customers to learn how we could evolve our support in response to their changing needs. At the time of writing this, our NPS scores in the United States sit in the highest echelon of a service company at 52.92% and our DIFOT scores are 98.57%, meaning that out of 200 services we deliver 197 waste pickups in full, on time, and with the full complement of products and services rendered.
OUR COMMITMENT TO UK HEALTHCARE
While tenuous, these last two years have further solidified my passion, and that of my family’s, that our cause is worth fighting for. I am personally committed to continuing to expand and strengthen our safety and infection control solutions to protect frontline healthcare workers, together with fine-tuning our service capabilities to ensure that we are and continue to be a reliable, dependable, and best-practice partner to hospitals and non-acute healthcare facilities alike.
I strongly believe that our best is yet to come.
Sharpsmart CEO and Founder