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Pandemic Panic? Not Samsonite’s CEO

It’s not business as usual but business goes on

Travel advisories and restrictions escalating, global market reeling, a pandemic spreading across the globe—now might not be the most opportune time for a travel-affiliated company to launch a sustainability journey in celebration of its 110th year. Kyle Gendreau, CEO of the $3.89 billion luggage company Samsonite, opted to press on anyway.

“At a time of anxiety over business performance and, in this case, world anxiety, sending the message that we will come out on the other side of this and keeping people in a positive state of mind is a huge piece of what I’m doing,” he says. “A wonderful story you would have seen in 2020 will likely get overshadowed by the current climate with coronavirus. It will have an impact on our business—on most businesses, to be honest—and we are hyperfocused on the health and safety of our employees and doing all the right things. But we will come out on the other side of this. I take a lot of personal pride in putting the message out that we’re continuing to stay focused on our long-term aspirations and goals.”

It’s a perspective honed by experience weathering crisis-induced downturns, from 9-11 to SARS. C-Suite executives who’ve been in the trenches understand the turbulent times ahead and, perhaps most key, the need to prepare for the eventual recovery. “Each one is a little bit different, but if you look at prior events, there’s always a moment where the world kind of gets stuck, and that’s the moment we’re in now,” says Gendreau, who came into the CEO role in 2018 after serving as its CFO for more than a decade. “It will have some cycle, and then when it comes back, it comes even stronger than kind of when the disruption came in. People’s desire, propensity to travel is very, very strong.”

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