Over, Around and Through; Women in Business Address the Pandemic

With dozens of participants on the call, the Culver City Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Speaker Series took on the topic of “Adjusting to the New Normal,” only to quickly come to the conclusion that there was, as yet, no standard to set. Kristin Cavanaugh, Vice President of Studio & Production Affairs, Sony Pictures Entertainment and 2020 Board Chair of the Chamber moderated the discussion with three speakers from very different businesses; Akasha Richmond of the landmark downtown restaurant Akasha, Laurie Sewell, the President and CEO of Servicon Systems, Inc., a janitorial service firm, and Jean Freeman, Owner and CEO of Zambezi, the largest female owned advertising agency in the U.S.

From the leaders of three businesses that different, were three different observations on navigating the challenges and changes facing everyone. 

Proving that every dark cloud has a sliver lining, Servicon is in growth mode.  Sewell’s business mission has proved to be prescient. “We have always sold our services with the focus on cleanliness as health; even when our clients just want things to look good, we know it’s when they feel good that we have met our standard. Now, of course, everyone’s focus is on health, and we were already there.” 

Servicon has hired more than a hundred new employees since the middle of March, and is looking to fill another 70 positions. 

Freeman joked about the current state of advertising being close to stasis. “Look at the ads you are seeing right now; it’s all a lot of stock footage and sad piano music, offering how ‘they feel your pain’ or ‘we will all get through this together.’ Ads need to speak to the moment, and no one can shoot anything right now. We all just have to use what we already have on hand.” With a large workforce dialing in every day, she also noted that “about half of my people are ready to come back to the office, and the other half don’t care if they ever work out of an office again.”  

With the economy in unprecedented shift, Freeman was not making predictions about what things would look like in the coming year. “A lot of what people will be wanting to sell is a feeling of reassurance.” 

Akasha Richmond was dealing with a full menu of enormous change; the restaurant closed to guests, suppliers changing schedules or closing, staff unavailable, and serving food under seal. “We are doing a lot of ‘bento boxes’ so they can be delivered as complete packages. Our old style of platters for catering isn’t going to work in this new world.” Richmond also talked about her involvement with FeedCulver, and how good it felt to be able to help to take care of the community. ” We are really involved in Culver City, and this project as been a real joy. People love the food, and we get to do all our favorite simple things – turkey meatloaf, smashed potatoes, cookies – and it’s helping the community.” 

When asked what the people of Culver City could do to help each other through the crisis, all three leaders had the same answer – buy local, shop local, and support small businesses. 

“If we don’t take care of our neighbors,” Richmond said ” they just won’t be here when it’s over. This is the time to do all of the business that you can with the farmer’s markets and individual restaurants, and go out of your way to make sure we all survive.”  

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang

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