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5 Coronavirus Leadership Lessons: Denali Advanced Integration CEO Majdi Daher

‘In times of crises it is those that innovate that survive,’ says Daher in an interview with CRN. ‘Those that remain the same don’t make it. You need to look at the things you can take to your customers that can actually help during these difficult times.’

Denali Advanced Integration CEO Majdi Daher knew as soon as the first confirmed death from coronavirus appeared in his beloved Washington state on Feb. 26 that it was time to change course to provide solutions that would make a difference for his healthcare customers.

Daher -- who has built Redmond, Washington-headquartered Denali into one of the most respected solution providers in the country -- immediately put an action plan together that included drive through coronavirus testing sites and telemedicine offerings.

Denali, No. 69 on the CRN SP500, has put in place seven pop-up coronavirus testing sites in the Seattle area with mobile devices, label ID printers, scanners, bar-code readers, and Wi-Fi. The drive-thru testing sites put Denali’s own trusted technology engineers on the front lines with medical workers doing the testing.

Besides the pop-up testing sites, Denali has provided new telemedicine offerings for its healthcare customers.

“In times of crises it is those that innovate that survive,” said Daher in an interview with CRN. “Those that remain the same don’t make it. You need to look at the things you can take to your customers that can actually help during these difficult times. You can’t keep doing what you were doing. We literally went to some of our healthcare customers and urged them to stop some projects with us in order to move them to essential projects related to the coronavirus. We stopped work to make sure we focused on the work that was important. Guess what customers said to us –‘Thank you so much. We appreciate you guys!’”

Here are Denali CEO Majdi Daher’s five leadership lessons from the coronavirus pandemic.

Give Back -- Support Your Community

Daher made giving back to the community one of the founding principles of the company when it was started 28 years ago by him and his brother.

Over the last nearly three decades, Denali and his brother have contributed more than $5 million to healthcare and other organization with one of its premier fundraising vehicles the annual Denali Dash. The annual run for children and the community raises funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital with the aim of eliminating childhood cancer.

Daher did not let the pandemic sideline the company’s charity efforts. In fact, Daher – the foundation chair for EvergreenHealth - the Kirkland Washington healthcare provider that has battled the pandemic from the outset in the US- stepped up to support the EvergreenHealth Virtual Gala with a Denali team page that raised $121,000. Overall the Gala raised $1.25 million.

“In times like this we need to remain connected and do good for the people who need help,” said Daher. “That means the schools and healthcare organizations in our communities. We came up with idea to do a virtual auction so we leveraged our technology expertise to provide a virtual medium for giving. It turned out to be an escape from the grim pandemic news.”

Denali’s technology prowess, in fact, provided a virtual event that it sees as becoming part of the new normal. “We showed that you can leverage technology to reach out to people to support a worthy cause,” he said. “Instead of canceling the fundraiser we took it virtual.”

The ultimate lesson in leadership, says Daher, is never forget or ignore the communities where you live and work. "Everybody is going through a difficult time right now and everybody is scared,” he said. “When there is a situation we don’t understand fear takes over. Fear is the only virus that is so infectious that there is no cure for it except confidence and trust. That is why giving back during a time like this is so important.”

Throw Out Old Playbook -- Create New Solutions For Customers

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Washington, Denali stopped IT projects that it was working on for healthcare organizations to provide technology solutions aimed at saving lives.

Denali has put in place seven pop up coronavirus testing sites in the Seattle area with mobile devices, label ID printers, scanners, bar-code readers, and WiFi. The drive through testing sites put Denali’s own trusted technology engineers on the front lines with medical workers doing the testing.

“Our healthcare clients needed to come up with a way to test people without having them walk into the hospital and having those people that potentially had the virus touching nurses and healthcare workers,” he said. “We were prepared because we already knew how this was being done in other countries. Technology is essential in a crises like this.”

Denali’s engineers and support personnel were on site at the pop up coronavirus testing sites, said Daher. “Our people were wearing hazmat suits and protective equipment literally standing there in tents helping nurses use the technology,” he said.

Take A Leadership Role To Help Customers Get Through The Crises

The most important thing to do when a crises hits is to take a “leadership” role and help customers get through it, said Daher.

“You have to get out in front of a crises,” said Daher. “People in these times don’t have the answers. They are looking to us to provide solutions. That’s what we do when we encounter a rough situation. You need to be proactive not reactive. Your need to be three or four steps ahead. The new normal is not normal.”

Because of Denali’s global footprint with offices overseas in United Kingdom, India, Ireland, and Mexico it was well aware of the coronavirus before it hit the United States, said Daher.

“Because we have a global business and we were watching China we were preparing for this back in January and had a plan put in place in February,” he said. “We knew that it was just a matter of time before it came to the States.”

Some executives pull back when they see a crises, said Daher. “You can’t ignore the situation,” he said. “You just can’t say let time pass – it will go away. You have to deal with a crises head on. You need to look at the facts, the science and make decisions that are good for your employees and your customers. Don’t make decisions based on what is good for you personally. If you do that you will fail miserably. You need to think about doing what is right for your employees and your customers and things will work out.”

Stand By Your Customers And Employees

When a crises hits that’s the time to step up and provide more support for your customers and employees with the sole focus on helping them get through the crises, said Daher.

“You need to engage with your customers and employees in a different way that brings brings value to them,” he said “You can’t worry about sales volumes or quotas. You have to do the right thing by both your employees and customers. That will pay big dividends for you in the future.”

Denali has changed its benefit programs to provide additional time off for employees if necessary and has provided forbearance for some customers whose businesses have closed up shop during the pandemic.

Daher said it was critical to ensure that employees had the safety gear to go on site for customers. “We don’t always have the luxury of working remote,” he said. “We had to show up to provide installation of wireless networks at customer sites. We partnered with our healthcare customers to provide our people with the same precautionary measures and tools they provide to doctors and nurses.”

Find The Good In A Bad Situation And Express Gratitude To Those Doing Good

Daher- who has navigated many different crises over nearly three decades in the technology business – says there is always good to be found in any bad situation.

In the case of the pandemic it is the frontline workers – doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and Denali employees themselves setting up pop up coronavirus testing sites, said Daher.

“These healthcare workers- the nurses and doctors on the frontlines - are amazing human beings,” said Daher. “All of us should stop and think and pray for those people. They show up to work and walk through the face of fire every morning. These people put their lives at risk everyday. They are like a Marine that jumps on a bomb hoping it does not blow up in his or her face.”

It’s also important to remember, says Daher, that every crisis has an end. “I tell my people that we have been through a lot of crises and they have one thing in common: they eventually end,” he said. “That is the most important thing to remember. The important thing is to support each other, be true to one another, and be generous and kind. There are a lot of kind acts that are taking place in the world. We need to focus on and nurture that kindness and generosity and pay it forward.”

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