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How We Sourced 50M Units of PPE in a Moment of Crisis
Business as a Platform for Change

How We Sourced 50M+ Units of PPE in a Moment of Crisis

A look behind-the-scenes at the systems that allowed our employees to do something they never could have imagined.

A look behind-the-scenes at the team and systems that’ve allowed our employees to do something they never could have imagined.

In early March, we mobilized a new taskforce to deliver more than 50M units of PPE to the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). Thanks to other customers and companies stepping up to support our initiative — including Alibaba, Convoy, FedEx, Flexport, Walmart, State Farm, Uber Freight, UPS, and Daily Mail — together, to date, we’ve delivered 20M units of PPE and supported over 200 organizations across 10 U.S. states and five countries including the United Kingdom, Ecuador, France, and India.

You might be asking yourself, “How does a customer relationship management (CRM) company source 50M units of PPE?” Well, I’m here to answer that question.

As Executive Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Salesforce and Co-CEO of Quip, I spent my typical pre-pandemic day talking to customers and employees, helping to grow the business. That all changed in early March, when UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood called our CEO Marc Benioff expressing a dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Now, weeks later, what started with a phone call has transformed into a multinational effort to support frontline organizations around the world — including hospitals, nursing facilities, fire departments, and underserved communities.

Walmart trucks

Walmart trucks loading PPE from a warehouse in Chicago to support
healthcare workers in Michigan and Louisiana

After Marc hung up the phone with Sam Hawgood, he contacted me and we started pulling together a small group of employees who brought a wide variety of skill sets to the table — from strategic partnership management to marketing. Marc gave us permission to operate with a sense of urgency and make this project our number one priority above day-to-day work. The core team we developed is international, multilingual, and small by design, with only 10 people. At the outset, our mindset was simple: think with a beginner’s mind. We redesigned workflow and processes, such that we were quickly wearing new hats. For example, one of our partner leads — who typically focuses on our strategic partnership relationships — is now in charge of sourcing pipeline for PPE and our product lead — normally tasked with B2C business strategy — is now our expert on importing, shipping, and logistics. We have an extended support team made up of our legal, government affairs, ethics, finance, procurement, and PR teams, in addition to government emergency agencies, to ensure we make holistic decisions and consider downstream impacts.

Once we had the right team in place, we needed a process to keep us on track. Leveraging our technology, we created a supplier and logistics tracker in a Quip spreadsheet. This is the most critical document because it tracks our pipeline for future shipments, along with delivery, and budgetary spend. It’s also a place to collaborate and stay in lockstep with UCSF. Importantly, we keep this information in one document to reduce cognitive load, allowing us to focus on the task at hand. The shared documents — with their ability to be updated and collectively seen in real time — are instrumental to keep up with the speed of our progress and urgent needs

Core Salesforce team

Core Salesforce team in action meeting twice a day, every day

Our core team meets twice daily, to review the status of our suppliers, logistics, distribution, and communication plans. We work to stay focused and adaptable in the face of roadblocks — ready to collaborate at a moment’s notice to solve the next problem. For example, as demand continues to grow, our previous flight transportation options are, at present, hard to come by. We now realize the importance of diversified transportation modes for the PPE we source.

Hearing about the impact directly from frontline workers has given us great pride knowing our work goes towards the greater good. “I cannot thank you enough,” said Anita Demas, M.D., Pacific Heights Medical Group. “A few of the medical assistants started to cry [when the PPE arrived] they were so relieved. That PPE shipment was the best thing that has happened in weeks. Truly.”

PPE on a plane

Plane filled with PPE that shipped to support the United Kingdom
National Health Service

One Medical Group

Bay Area One Medical team excited to receive their PPE shipment last month

COVID-19 has already changed lives and businesses forever. Now, as we all transition from stabilizing our businesses to getting back to work, the needs for PPE will continue to increase beyond frontline workers to include employees and everyday citizens. Believe it or not, you can get involved and support this work. We have a new training available that shares our PPE sourcing efforts and the lessons we learned along the way. We hope these resources give you the confidence to take the next step on sourcing PPE to support your company, customers, employees, partners, or community.

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