As the coronavirus spread across the country and around the world last year, Pitney Bowes president and CEO Marc Lautenbach pulled his leadership team together to map the company's strategy.
"Our first thoughts were to make sure our employees were safe," Lautenbach told CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima during CBIA's April 30 Connecticut Economic Update.
"We needed to focus on the health and well-being of our employees and ensure the company remained strong financially during this unpredictable time.
"Secondly, we wanted to come out of this terrible moment a stronger company. It is often true that moments of economic dislocation create opportunities.
"Our team was determined to leverage the investments we’ve made over the last several years to capture those opportunities.
"I'm proud of how Pitney Bowes has operated over the last year. I'm also proud of how all Connecticut businesses have responded during the pandemic."
'Grit and Determination'
The COVID-19 public health crisis was not the Stamford-based company's first pandemic.
Pitney Bowes' founders had to navigate the final months of the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic when they introduced the world's first commercial postage meter in April, 1920.
Today, Pitney Bowes' operations cover e-commerce, shipping, mailing, and financial services. The company has 11,000 global employees—including 1,100 in Connecticut—who support more than 750,000 businesses worldwide.
“Pitney Bowes started at the end of the last pandemic so there was a certain symmetry to having our 100-year anniversary in the middle of this pandemic," Lautenbach said.
"This company has a certain grit and determination to it. To me that has always felt congruent with Stamford, where we're based—local officials call it the city that works.
“History has consistently affirmed that in these moments of dislocation, there are always opportunities, and it’s our intent to come out of this a stronger company.”
The pandemic has taught businesses many lessons says Lautenbach, noting that productivity increased when Pitney Bowes moved to remote work.
He acknowledged that while companies may want workers to return to the office, many employees, particularly younger workers, want to decide where they work.
“Companies are anxious to get back to the office in some way, but it may not precisely be the form they were in pre-COVID,” he said.
“The other dynamic is, where do employees want to live and work? It’s going to be interesting to see, particularly with the younger generation, how they feel about going back to work.”
He advises companies to be flexible.
“We should all be open to learning how work gets done in different ways,” Lautenbach said.
Location, Investment Decisions
He said a remote workforce could present difficulties with driving cultural change, but companies that figure out how to do that will have an advantage in attracting talent.
“I think it’s a good time to put aside all the things we thought were true and open our imagination to different ways we can work," he said.
"Those companies that figure this out, that get it right, are the ones that are going to be successful, particularly with talent. And the states that figure this out will also be successful."
Lautenbach says Pitney Bowes is constantly approached by other states. Several years ago, when the company was reviewing whether to remain headquartered in Connecticut, one constant theme kept appearing.
“Once you sort through the economics of being in one place versus the other, the conversation quickly turned then to talent,” he said.
“And for us that came back to Connecticut. The talent dynamic was the one that weighed most heavily in terms of how we thought about where we were going to be."
However, with other states making constant overtures, Connecticut policymakers must build a better business climate, particularly as the pandemic-driven expansion of remote work changes the dynamic, Lautenbach said.
“There’s a whole new set of possibilities that are open to companies in terms of how and where work gets done,” he said.
“That, coupled with what went on from a fiscal perspective with the states as well as the federal government, should be eye-opening to elected officials.”
Lautenbach stressed that policy predicability and stability are key factors for companies when making investment and location decisions.
"Connecticut has a set of challenges as it relates to its fiscal situation going forward, including its long-term unfunded liabilities," says Lautenbach.
"It's critical to the state's future that we address that. The state needs the right set of economic policies to move forward.
“I give the current governor credit for trying to step into it, but as you look at the state broadly, there’s a real issue with long term liabilities for state employees.”
Lautenbach said that while the Lamont administration is addressing a number of those fiscal challenges, “state legislators are part of that equation."
"What happens in Hartford is really important," he said. "We spend a lot of time making sure we understand what's going on in state politics and the cost of doing business is one of the critical issues.
"Connecticut has a strong education system and workforce, but so did California and look what's happening there.
“You can tax your way right out of competitiveness as it relates to businesses. A company like Pitney Bowes has choices."
It's critical that business leaders get engaged to address the state's business climate, including through organizations like CBIA, Lautenbach said.
“Connecticut has a terrific business community, but just because we’ve had it for the last 100 years doesn’t mean we’re going to have it for the next 100 years and time is running short."
“Whatever you think the right answers are, getting involved and trying to ensure the state has the right set of economic policies going forward is important,” he said.
“I encourage companies to get constructively involved with what’s going on.”
Pitney Bowes' contribution to Connecticut's economy is a considerable one, including its involvement with the local and regional community.
"That's what our culture is all about, supporting our communities," Lautenbach said, sharing a story about touring the Boys and Girls Clubs of Stamford shortly after assuming leadership of the company in 2013.
He noticed a plaque on the wall from Pitney Bowes that was over 60 years old.
“It just reminded me how important supporting the community is to our culture,” he said.
'Good Business Sense'
That continued during the pandemic, with Pitney Bowes supporting Stamford Hospital, and organizing other companies to assist community organizations like Fairfield County's Community Foundation help individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We want them to have better educational outcomes and, ultimately, share in the American dream in a more meaningful way,” Lautenbach said.
“It’s a big part of who Pitney Bowes has been for the last 100 years.”
And in addition to being the right thing to do, it makes good business sense, he said.
“We think that’s the right way to create long term value," he said. “There’s only so long businesses can operate if they're not supporting their communities appropriately.”
“It’s a lot more than just job creation,” DiPentima added. “Businesses in Connecticut are committed to their employees and engaged in their communities.”
The Connecticut Economic Update 2021 was made possible through the generous support of KeyBank with additional support from AVANGRID, Berkshire Bank, and JP Morgan Chase.