Roughly one year ago, leaders at Jabil headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, received word from the firm’s design center in Wuhan, China, that a pandemic was sweeping across the country. They braced for impact.

“We knew something was happening, but it was opaque,” explained CEO Mark Mondello during a fireside chat with University of South Florida (USF) president and Florida High Tech Corridor Council co-chair, Dr. Steven Currall, at Synapse Summit 2021.

As the situation progressed and its severity became clear, Jabil’s global leadership team sprang into action, approaching the continued operation of its 55 million square feet of factory space with a safety-first mentality. With clients in health care, transportation, mobility and edge devices, much of the Fortune 150 company’s business is considered essential – taking things offline was not an option.

Despite a rough patch in March and April 2020 when factory utilization dipped as low as 70%, Jabil quickly adapted to the new normal and was back at full capacity in short order. The company pivoted early on to manufacture personal protective equipment for employees, suppliers and customers … a practice which continues to this day.

Mondello applauds the IT team for its agile response to support business continuity, and points to the use of tools such as Microsoft Teams and AWS cloud systems that have kept teams in sync. Flexing its innovation muscles, the company also employed augmented and virtual reality tools to help employees collaborate as if they were standing on the factory floor.

Even with these adaptations, “human interaction has gotten stale,” explained Mondello, who believes a return to in-person work is important. Jabil experienced a 90% decrease in its travel budget due to the pandemic. And, while it may never return to the same level, the customer-oriented company will never fully do away with the critical face-to-face interactions important for relationship building.

Although he described Jabil as operating “without geographical bounds,” Mondello does point to confidence in university systems, supply chains, research and development, and scientific enterprises in the U.S. as important factors in post-pandemic recovery.

Partnerships such as the USF Jabil Innovation Institute will also support recovery, fostering progress in the areas of diversity and inclusion, community outreach and, of course, technological innovation.

“You don’t have a business without innovation,” said Mondello. “Customers pay us to design, develop and think beyond what’s possible.”

He’s counting on the constant thought leadership shared between USF and Jabil in technical areas such as data analytics, machine learning and supply chain digitization to continue the firm’s upward trajectory in a post-pandemic economy.

Longer term, the partnership will benefit both parties by exposing USF students to a global leader while developing a stronger talent pipeline for Jabil. “When we recruit from the university, students know the touch and feel of Jabil, and they hit the ground running because they understand our purpose.”

These are just a few topics of conversation leaders discuss in the conference rooms at Jabil, said Mondello. Reflecting on what it’s been like to lead the company through one of the toughest years in history, he imparted final words of advice: “When the day is done, whether you’re working in a hospital setting, university, athletic field, music industry or corporate America, we’re all in the people business … characteristics like servant leadership, leading with empathy and compassion, and never losing respect are important.”

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