Ash Mishra, Senior Assistant General Counsel, Polaris Industries

Polaris Inc. is a company that is known for making off-road vehicles and snowmobiles in the United States.  It also makes motorcycles and boats under the Bennington and Hurricane brands and vehicles used in the commercial and defense industry.

The company was started by two brothers and a friend in the cold climates of Northern Minnesota where the need to get outside in the winter resulted in the creation of Polaris snowmobile No. 1.  The machines have become a ubiquitous mode of transportation in climates where snow and ice can cover the ground for half of the year.  Over the past twenty years, Polaris’ footprint in international markets has grown and sales outside the country account for approximately 12% of the company’s US$6.78B in 2019 revenues.

Over the years, we have experienced significant growth in international markets. When I joined the company a year ago, my mandate was clear: enhance our Ethics and Compliance efforts and serve as the company’s lead international legal counsel. This quickly changed as we pivoted to dealing with deeper societal issues in other regions— from understanding the lives of migrant workers in India to assessing the hospital bed capacity in Wuhan—agility was necessary.

COVID-19 has made us acutely aware of our true global footprint and added dimension to our understanding of everyone that is part of our supply chain.

We began to sense a change in the winds in late February when the WHO and CDC issued travel warnings restricting travel to parts of Asia.  We took swift action to better assess the health threat and retained an epidemiologist who had previously worked at the CDC on the SARs virus to help us augment our understanding of the true nature of the health emergency, asymptomatic patients and community spread.  With the facts and information in mind, we stopped travel from a broader set of countries than national health agencies identified, and took early steps to close our offices to protect the health and safety of our employees.

While no one was prepared for the Coronavirus outbreak, we were lucky in the sense that we had pre-ordered parts and supplies in anticipation of holidays in Asia.  This gave us some breathing room to develop a strategy that has served us well as the virus continued to spread across Asia, Europe and the Americas.  In those early days, we expected to see some disruption as suppliers invoke force majeure provisions in our contracts to stop production and supply.  Not only did those provisions rarely get invoked, for the most part, our global suppliers have worked creatively and diligently to get us raw parts and supplies we need to operate our plants across the world.

Other than an initial two-week shut-down to protect the health and safety of our employees as we saw COVID-19 rates increase across Asia, our manufacturing plants in Poland, Mexico and the United States have managed to operate to meet an increase in our customers’ demand for our products.  Polaris’ tagline is an invitation to our customers to ‘Think Outside’ and given the situation, families have been spending time together at home and are seeing the value of using our vehicles to help get away from the confinement of being indoors.

Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency

Harvard University held a week-long seminar in mid-January to address cybersecurity risks and the intersection of policy and technology.  Participants were provided with reading materials that supplemented the blue-ribbon panel discussions that gave participants practical advice on how to address potential cybersecurity issues.  The eight hundred pages of materials that were shared with participants barely made mention of a little-known agency in the US federal government, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).  That agency and the paradigm that it has created of essential and non-essential businesses has governed the strategy decisions of companies that operate in the U.S. over the last three months.

Polaris is deemed a part of the critical infrastructure by CISA since we make transportation vehicles that are used in agriculture, by law enforcement agencies and health care workers.  Our status as a critical business and the role of our employees as essential employees has given suppliers the flexibility to restart operations and appropriately balance health concerns with the need to maintain employment and safety.  We have issued letters supporting our suppliers’ efforts to argue that they are supporting a critical industry and this, in turn, has allowed them to maintain employees on their payrolls that they may otherwise have laid off.

Keeping safety top of mind

Article 23 of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights recognizes that “everyone has the right to work, the free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”  Different countries have taken the necessary measures to protect the livelihood of people whose employment have been impacted by COVID-19 and the measures that have been taken say a lot about the type of risks employees face.

In India, for example, the central government allowed businesses that had the ability to house and feed migrant workers to begin operations earlier than those that did not have the means or infrastructure to do so.  Out of concern for all stakeholders in our supply chain, we have made extensive efforts to understand why a supplier was shut down and shared our playbook to comply with COVID-19 health care directives with suppliers in India, Mexico and elsewhere.  We have done so knowing that the safety of our employees is enhanced when the safety of all members of the community in which they live and work are protected.

At Polaris, we are fond of saying “Think Outside.” Of course, as a company that focuses on outdoor activities, that makes sense. But what is also becoming more apparent today is that COVID-19 has caused us to take that commitment a step further, particularly when it pertains to ethics and safety of our employees and the communities where we operate. We have learnt that volatility and uncertainty are always around the corner. Change can happen fast, globally and without warning. That requires thinking outside, but in this case, thinking outside of the box. COVID-19 has taught us that futureproofing your company starts with advanced planning that takes all aspects of the supply chain in to consideration because if you have not done that by the time the crisis begins, you may have already missed the boat…or the snowmobile.

About the Author:

Ash Mishra is Senior Assistant General Counsel at Polaris Industries. In this role, Mishra is responsible for leading the compliance and international legal initiatives for Polaris, a $6.8 billion-dollar Fortune 500 public company, headquartered in Minnesota. Previously, Mishra served as Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and Interim General Counsel of multi-billion-dollar companies and as lead lawyer for major global brands.