UVA Darden Alumna Helps With Hurricane Relief From Plywood ‘Command Center’
By Dave Hendrick
Members of the University of Virginia community have been impacted by the recent string of natural disasters in a number of ways. A recent story in UVA Today describes a number of instances of students, staff and alumni trying to help in the wake of the incidents, and features Darden School alumna Elizabeth Moody Conn (MBA ’04), the “merchant of plywood” at the Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the United States.
The story recounts Conn’s efforts to ensure that the critical building material was available following damaging hurricanes and wildfires.
For Elizabeth Moody Conn, a 2004 graduate of UVA’s Darden School of Business, giving back has been a hugely impactful, behind-the-scenes effort.
As the “Merchant of Plywood” for The Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the United States, Conn buys plywood and structural panels for all of the company’s U.S. stores, including those in Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
In times of emergency, the Atlanta-based retailer activates a disaster command center to be sure those who are impacted have what they need to rebuild. When hurricanes hit, plywood is high on the list of needed supplies.
Conn spent three weeks in a command center from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, to get help to Florida and Texas.
“The demand was staggering,” Conn said.
The Home Depot opened a command center for Hurricane Maria, too, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6. “For Puerto Rico, product categories are the ones you’d expect, like generators, batteries, gas cans, lumber, etc.,” she said.
“There were a couple of key differences,” she added. “How we get products back into stores is vastly different, using barges, for example, instead of deploying trucks. And the amount of store damage was much more significant. We had to make sure associates were safe, goal one, and that customers could safely shop in our stores.”
Conn said that was much more difficult to achieve because communications were so limited. “You can’t just send in products without ensuring you have those basics taken care of.”
Her work is not done. A command center is opening to react to the wildfires in California.
Conn said working in the command center is both humbling and invigorating. “At Home Depot, we talk about ‘bleeding orange,’ which is convenient, being from Virginia.
“I was doing my job, but I feel like it’s more than your job and it takes an extra level of commitment to go above and beyond doing your job to make sure you are taking care of folks,” she said.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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