- Mike Sinyard, CEO of Specialized Bicycle, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of high-end bicycles, is paying for 1 million masks to be manufactured out of his own pocket.
- But, he tells Business Insider, what he thought would be an easy task turned into an almost impossible one between regulations preventing countries from exporting masks and price-gouging.
- So far, he’s obtained 40,000 masks, and he finally found a contract manufacturer to make the rest, which will be delivered within a few months.
- Sinyard says its become the responsibility of business leaders to take on a social role, especially when government efforts are falling short, and people’s lives are at stake.
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It was the pictures of nurses coming to work wearing trash bags for protection against COVID-19 that riled up Mike Sinyard into doing something.
Sinyard is founder and CEO of Specialized Bicycle, one of the world’s largest high-end bicycle manufacturers. Its bikes can be seen all over the roads and trails among those who are willing to spend big bucks on their sport. The flagship S-Works bike frequently graces the podiums at mountain biking world cups and pro WorldTour races.
The private company, with an estimated $500 million in sales back in 2011 — the most recently published data — was founded by Sinyard in 1976 in the sleepy little town of Morgan Hill, California, the southern outpost of Silicon Valley. It now employs about 600 people worldwide, including the impacts from a layoff of 46 people (about 7% of its workforce) last week, mostly in Europe, where COVID-19 has been raging in bike-loving places like Italy. As part of that layoff, Sinyard is forgoing his salary and his top management is taking pay cuts, reports Bicycle Retailer’s Marc Sani.
About a month ago, Sinyard heard the tales of hospital staff struggling to get enough protective gear and vowed to do something.
He looked to his own network of Asian manufacturers that produce all sorts of products for his company, from complicated bike parts to clothing.
“Initially, we were stunned at the significance of this. We have a lot of colleagues in Europe and Italy,” he said. After reading the story of the nurses wearing trash bags. “All the sudden I became obsessed with this thing.”
At first, he thought his team could manufacturer face shields, as they love engineering and building stuff, he said. But then he realized that spinning that up would take too long. The immediate need was (and still is) professionally manufactured face masks, both N95 and surgical masks.
So he vowed to buy 1 million face masks and have them imported to the US. He also needed to procure masks to protect his employees. Bike shops are essential businesses in the US and have remained open.
“So I thought, ‘Oh this easy. No problem,'” he says. But it wasn’t. With the whole world trying to buy masks, Sinyard ran into one road block after another. “Asia, Oh my God. Trying to get those face masks.”
Although Sinyard says he’s paying for the masks out of his own pocket, he turned to his right-hand man, Specialized’s executive vice president Bob Margevicius, who spent days working with the company’s Asian and worldwide manufacturing contacts. Sinyard and Margevicius didn’t ask their existing manufacturers to retool into sewing masks. Instead, they wanted their contacts to introduce them to companies that were already capable of pumping out a million masks.
“We would go to certain countries and they’d say, ‘We can’t. The government won’t allow us to export anything,” he says. A few of his contacts were longtime friends in the manufacturing world. Even they refused to sell him masks, citing legal restrictions.
When he did locate some suppliers able to make the masks, he dealt with price-gouging. Prices were 10 times higher than normal circumstances. He wasn’t having any of that. He told them, “Look, this is a humanitarian effort. This is not about business.”
So far, Sinyard has managed to procure 40,000 masks, he said, and he’s sent a batch of them to New York. But he’s still determined to get a million. “We went through probably 20 or 30 different different suppliers and we finally ended up on a couple that we work with. So we’re working with a couple right now,” he said. He thinks he’ll have the full million in less than 90 days.
In the meantime, Specialized donated 400 electric bicycles to medical staff to help them commute to work so they don’t have to worry about exposure using public transit.
Sinyard says that in these difficult times, when the federal government has essentially left the states to fend for themselves, wealthy business leaders like himself have a social responsibility to help.
“I think business has to take on the social roles going forward and I think we already see that,” he said.
Although “the sadness hasn’t ended yet,” he’s optimistic about the post-coronavirus future. His company has learned that it can work remotely and he thinks the bicycle business will boom when the economy recovers, as people look for ways to keep fit that don’t involve going to the gym. “I think it’s kind of like a reset. “
As to advice to any other wealthy business leaders wanting to buy and donate masks or other medical grade protective equipment, he says, “Good luck!”