This year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several business leaders who believe in the power of encouraging corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities throughout their supply chains to make the world a better place. For APICS magazine’s July/August issue, I chatted with APICS 2017 keynote speaker John Mackey, cofounder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, about his idea of conscious capitalism, which asserts that companies pursue higher purposes that benefit the common good. More recently, for the November/December issue, I explored a variety of corporate fellowship and volunteering programs that encourage employees to use their professional skills to give back to their communities.
Although many of the initiatives I learned about are heartwarming, one example that stood out to me is Hillwood Airways because charitable giving is embedded in the company’s DNA. Although this Fort Worth, Texas-based group primarily focuses on offering on-demand charter air services, its business model encourages company participation in charitable missions as well. Since 2013, Hillwood Airways has donated its services for a variety of missions, including honor guard flights, courtesy transportation, medical deliveries and even a missing-in-action search flight. But there’s one endeavor that particularly challenged the crew’s logistics and risk management skills.
In August 2014, rapid-response humanitarian relief organization Airlink alerted Hillwood Airways, then known as ATX Air Services, about an Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia. “[Steven Smith of Airlink] explained to us what was going on and how dire the situation was,” recalls Scott Bohnenkamp, Hillwood Airways vice president and general manager. “The people caring for the Ebola patients didn’t have rubber gloves; they didn’t have masks. Patients were dying at a rapid rate, and then health care workers were getting sick and dying as well.” Of course, Hillwood Airways decided to jump in and help.
When Bohnenkamp and Hillwood Airways President and CEO Ched Bart brought the issue to the Hillwood Airways team, every single one of the company’s 13 employees at the time volunteered to help with the mission, even though only six were needed. “I’d like to consider our team unique and special when it comes to things like that,” Bohnenkamp says. “We hire them that way. They’re giving people, they want to volunteer, they want to help out. … They’re also professional, and when things are complicated, you want professionals who know what they are doing.”
Airlink coordinated donations of approximately 15,000 pounds of personal protective equipment — including paper suits, masks, rubber gloves and shoe covers — from groups across the United States, and the Hillwood Airways team planned the mission to pick up the donations in Texas and New York and deliver them to Monrovia. The objective was to land the plane in Monrovia; unload the cargo through the plane’s cargo door within 45 minutes; and then head to Dakar, Senegal, to refuel. This meant the crew would not have to leave the aircraft in Monrovia and risk contamination.
Although the trip to Monrovia and the delivery went smoothly, some evolving international restrictions on flights from Liberia caused a last-minute change in plans for the flight crew. After unloading the cargo, Director of Operations Jim Barrow was informed that officials in Dakar would not allow the plane to land there after its trip to Monrovia. The crew had to quickly come up with a new plan to refuel and make the return trip. The 45-minute stop turned into five hours on the ground as members of the Hillwood Airways crew disembarked from the plane to refuel at the airport in Monrovia. Fortunately, the aircraft was stocked with disinfectants and protective body suits, so the crew members were able to participate safely.
In the end, everything worked out just fine, and the entire crew came home safely. As a result of Hillwood Airways’ efforts, Airlink was able to set up an airbridge to regularly ferry supplies to Liberia. “What we did with our trip set the tone for other charitable organizations,” Bart explains.
And, of course, Hillwood Airways has continued this tradition of charitable missions to help share its employees’ supply chain and logistics talents with the world. “There’s always room in our business model for things that help mankind where there’s a need,” Bart says.
To learn more about CSR programs and how you can start one at your own company, read the November/December feature story “Using Supply Chain Skills for Global Good.”