When the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit the U.S., Gold Eagle’s board, executive team, and CEO Marc Blackman (G3, In-law) decided that protecting their workforce was the only way to keep the business going. So, they did what many businesses across the country did: followed the CDC’s recommendations and put into place all of the necessary safety measures, from PPE and temperature checks to on-site cleaning and deep disinfecting. Beyond this, the executive team came into the office every day in solidarity and support for their employees and provided premium pay and multiple bonuses to hourly and full-time staff.

“We didn’t want our team members to come in if they weren’t feeling well because they were worried about getting a paycheck,” added Marc. “Even if it was ‘just a sniffle,’ we wanted them to stay home, knowing we’ll continue to pay them. And they did their part by staying safe outside of work to not bring the virus into our facility.”

Grounded by family values

Ensuring a healthy, happy, and productive workforce is at the core Gold Eagle’s values. So is innovation. Founded in 1932 by Armin Hirsch, the company originally sold automotive chemicals designed to prevent and cure engine problems. Under the leadership of second-generation brothers Bob and Rich Hirsch, and later under Blackman, Gold Eagle expanded its product offering to include cleaners and protectants for boats, recreation equipment, patio furniture, and more.

Nearly 90 years later, they turned to that innovative spirit they were founded on. They had no idea how sales would be affected by the pandemic, but as an essential manufacturing business, they knew they wanted to keep working—and innovating—if they could do it safely.

“We had to step outside of our comfort zone,” said Marc. “COVID forced us to come up with ‘what if’ scenarios that provided new insights on what we could do as a company and as a family.” 

Leading by example

The team explored different options—they looked beyond previously set parameters and guardrails and innovated quickly to produce an essential product that was in great demand—something new. Marc realized the Gold Eagle facility could be used to manufacture and distribute sanitizer and disinfectants. The idea wasn’t farfetched—it fit with their corporate and family values and they had the resources and equipment necessary, all they had to do was figure out the details. They got a liquor license, which allowed them to purchase pharmaceutical grade ethanol. After this, they quickly shifted production and ran a few trials. Once they were confident, they’d be able to manufacture their own brand of sanitizer and disinfectant they found distribution partners and started shipping the product to those who needed it most: hospitals and care facilities, and to essential front-line workers throughout the Chicagoland area. The product was named Heroes’ to honor the Gold Eagle essential workers who produced it and for the essential front line workers who would it help protect.

“I have such gratitude for the job our production and distribution teams did to keep our operation going,” said Marc. “We couldn’t have accomplished everything we did without them.”

For the Heroes

Gold Eagle is a testament to the perseverance and innovation that so many family businesses rose to during the pandemic. They found a way to keep their operations running and their workforce employed, while at the same time making a significant contribution to our fight against the pandemic.

“It’s not just about financial success,” said Marc. “You have to take care of your people, suppliers, and community.”