How Mark Aslett became the highest-rated CEO during the pandemic

  • The pandemic is putting company leaders to the ultimate test. 
  • Last month, company review website Glassdoor released its ranking of the highest-rated CEOs during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The site analyzed employee approval ratings to identify CEOs who received high praise from employees since the onset of COVID-19. 
  • Mark Aslett, CEO of Mercury Systems, was ranked first on this list for his leadership during the pandemic. 
  • Business Insider spoke with Aslett on the steps he’s taken to invest in employees, prioritize communication, and place health and safety first. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. 

This is especially true for CEOs, who have to address remote work and office reopening plans, employee morale, financial strain, and the anxiety of an unpredictable global pandemic, in the midst of it all.

Some executives are doing a better job juggling everything than others. Last month, company review website Glassdoor released a ranking of the highest-rated CEOs during the coronavirus pandemic. The site analyzed employee approval ratings to identify executives who received high praise from employees since the onset of the pandemic. Mark Aslett, CEO of aerospace and defense technology company Mercury systems, earned the top spot.

Aslett is leading the Andover, Massachusetts-based company through the pandemic in a distinctly employee-centered way that earned him a leadership score of 95%, surpassing the ratings of CEOs at companies like Zoom and Box. 

“My biggest learning as a CEO by far is the importance of the cultures and values of an organization,” Aslett told Business Insider. “Over time, and particularly in the midst of the pandemic, we’ve tried to put employees at the very center of our decision making.” 

Business Insider spoke with Aslett about some of the lessons he’s learned on leading during a time of crisis. 

Invest in employee benefits 

When the pandemic hit, Aslett used company operating expenses to fund a $1 million COVID-19 relief fund to support employees and their families. The fund was used as a resource for employees to stock up on food or medical suplies.

The company also added free access to the Headspace meditation app, reset paid sick leave balances in July, added a monthly $150 UberEats credit to order meals for on-site employees, and doubled overtime wages. 

“A human-centric approach is absolutely the right approach,” Aslett said. “Investing in your people will pay dividends over time and lead to a more sustainable long-term business performance.” 

Employee benefits aren’t cheap. But Aslett said that they’re an important investment that will ultimately pay off in financial returns, too. 

“That obviously detracts from the overall financial performance in the business,” Aslett said about the $1 million employee relief fund. “But we explained to shareholders that we viewed it as an investment in the workforce that would pay dividends over time. And that absolutely turned out to be the case.” 

In the fiscal year ending in June 2020, company revenue grew 22%, according to Mercury System’s financial results. The firm currently has a market cap of over $4 billion.

“We believe that if we take care of people, the business model will be sustainable, and we’ll be able to create value for the other stakeholders involved,” Aslett said. 

Communicate regularly, and make sure it’s not one sided 

Aslett gathers every manager in the company on a weekly video call to solicit feedback. 

In the weekly calls, Aslett dedicates 20 minutes to an informational brief with company updates, and then spend up to 40 minutes answering every manager’s questions in real time. This is a much more direct strategy than live streaming a call where employees don’t have the ability to speak up. 

“We wanted to be able to communicate and cut through the layers,” Aslett said. “What was important? We realized that trying to communicate hierarchically through a cascade simply wouldn’t work.” 

The company’s efforts went beyond just managers. They also launched employee engagement surveys during the pandemic to hear thoughts and concerns from their more than 2,000 workers. 

“We had thousands of comments from employees that we were able to boil down and synthesize in terms of what needs to happen,” Aslett said. 

Put health and safety first

The company also started investing in providing COVID-19 tests for employees. 

“The first, and the number one priority, was to protect the health and safety of our employees, and to protect their livelihoods,” Aslett said. 

That’s why the company launched its emergency relief fund. But it’s also why they’ve deided to fund their own testing in manufacturing sites to monitor the potential spread of the virus. 

“It’s pretty clear that the federal response to testing isn’t what it needs to be, and so we made a decision to fund testing in all of our major manufacturing sites across the company,” Aslett said. 

Aslett said that he also spends extensive time reading up on updates surrounding the pandemic to stay informed and adjust his business strategy accordingly.

“We want to make sure that the people in there feel like they are safe and able to do their best work.”

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