McMullen presents reopening plan at White House

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WASHINGTON — During a recent meeting at the White House with President Trump, Kroger Co. chief executive officer Rodney McMullen shared his company’s vision for safely reopening the country’s businesses.

McMullen was one of eight business leaders who participated in the Opening Up America Again event that was held in the White House State Dining Room in late May.

“As a company that’s operated throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot,” McMullen said. “And one of the things you’ll learn is: Be agile and move quickly, and if you think you should do something, you probably should do it.

“With that, we developed a 59-page blueprint that we made public. One of the things that was incredibly helpful for us was the other retailers across the world that were in front of us, from the pandemic standpoint, who were nice enough to share their learnings with us. And we thought it was only fair and appropriate for us to share our learnings with ­others.”

Kroger released the first phase of its blueprint in late April, offering “actionable recommendations” for retailers, restaurants, food service companies, manufacturers, logistics and distribution centers, and other industries to consider in developing plans for safe work environments.

“We’ve had over 100,000 site visits on that,” McMullen said. “We’ve had over 26,000 individuals and companies download that. We get a ton of notes from small companies, in terms of their ­appreciation.”

The blueprint points out that in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Kroger’s first step was to review its existing corporate crisis plan, bringing together representatives from the company’s different business units. The group was able to quickly address emerging issues such as supply shortages and changes in operations and execute plans swiftly.

The retailer leveraged its robust information technology (IT) resources to develop a COVID-19 Enterprise Dashboard to collect data on cases of COVID-19 in Kroger’s workforce. The Dashboard enabled the grocer to quickly identify “hot spots” across the 35 states in which it operates and rapidly allocate resources where needed. More recently, it has added a “return to work” metric to track the next phase of the pandemic.

The blueprint recommends that businesses, no matter what their size or scale, utilize data analysis tools to track the impact of COVID-19 on their workforces. Speed, it advises, is more important than having the perfect tools or processes. However, it emphasizes the importance of creating controls to protect data confidentiality to protect employee privacy.

The Kroger blueprint also details the procedures implemented to maximize employee and customer and visitor safety, such as encouraging the use of personal protective equipment and social distancing, requiring enhanced sanitation protocols, and educating customers and visitors not only to its stores and offices but to its substantial network of manufacturing and food processing plants. Importantly, the blueprint emphasizes that communication, not only with employees but with on-site contractors and third parties, is critical — in fact, it recommends over-communicating by sharing information multiple times on multiple platforms.

Other companies represented at the gathering were United Airlines, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Wyndam Hotels & Resorts, Dunkin’ Brands, Gap and Hasbro.

“If you look at all the companies in this room, we have a lot of resources,” McMullen said. “But if you think about somebody with 50 employees or 100 employees or 200 employees, the resources they have are just not the same. So sharing that has been important.”


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