Business leaders predict the future of work in San Antonio

The leaders of some of San Antonio’s biggest companies — USAA, H-E-B, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas and more — took the stage together Thursday, speaking frankly about the challenges, uncertainties and bright spots of today’s business landscape.

“There’s never been a time when there’s been this much change going on, and this much uncertainty, and the velocity of the change has never been this fast,” said Wayne Peacock, president and CEO of USAA.

His remarks came as part of “Local Leaders on the Future of Work: A View from the San Antonio C-Suite” event, hosted by the San Antonio Report and Greater:SATX at the Red Berry Estate on the city’s East Side.

He was joined by H-E-B President Craig Boyan; Bianca Rhodes, president and CEO of Knight Aerospace; Susann Kazunas, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas and Andrea Marks, senior vice president and chief operating officer of UT Health San Antonio.

Together, these organizations “account for a pretty significant portion of our local economy,” noted moderator and San Antonio Report Editor in Chief Leigh Munsil.

Munsil teed off the event by chronicling some of the changes wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, like supply chain disruptions, parts shortages and inflation, not to mention fundamental changes to the way we live and work.

“What has happened to societal views about how we live, and where we work, [has] been huge,” Peacock confirmed. He acknowledged a shift in the balance of power between employers and workers, as those with the privilege to do so have made clear that they will not easily relinquish the flexibility they acquired during the pandemic.

Peacock described “a growing sense that humans were meant to come together and convene,” while at the same time recognizing that companies must offer the flexibility workers need to manage their lives.

Each business leader oversees a disparate workforce, with large swaths unable to work remotely, whether front-line health care workers, grocery store checkers or those on the assembly line.

“You can’t build trucks from home,” said Kazunas, who echoed her fellow leaders in describing a working model where only some segments of employees are able to work remotely.

Marks said it was a difficult balance for UT Health to get right during the pandemic, noting that it lost employees who found remote work at other universities before changing its policies to allow certain workers that privilege. “Creating that flexibility,” she said, “has given us greater access to talent and greater retention.”

Boyan acknowledged that during the pandemic H-E-B saw its culture, which he called the company’s most valuable and yet most fragile asset, decline “precipitously.”

“And so, we have had to really be very intentional about, how do we rebuild that culture?” he said. “How do we get back to doubling down on training and development and mentorship and inclusion and making people feel valuable?”

Salary and benefits are “table stakes,” or baseline requirements, for creating a strong culture, Boyan said. “What matters most, he said, is that employees can say, ‘I feel respected.’”

Asked about the workforce development efforts, including San Antonio’s taxpayer-funded Ready to Work program, Boyan was the most frank that the region’s workforce “is not where it needs to be,” despite the “incredible progress we’re making.”

But he and other leaders also bragged about how well business, governmental and nonprofit leaders have come together to tackle the challenge. Kazunas called out the work of SA WORX, an arm of Greater:SATX that is using the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s talent pipeline management model to engage employers on what types of jobs they need to fill in the short and medium term.

The manufacturing sector has had “so many companies come to the table to be part of the [talent pipeline management] activity,” she said, quantifying which jobs are available and how to train for them.

But she also acknowledged the inherent difficulties of workforce development. “This is a long game. It’s not something that’s going to be solved in the next month — but those pieces are coming together.”

Asked for predictions on the future of work and technology, Rhodes described the work happening at Port San Antonio by her company and others there.

Knight Aerospace President and CEO Bianca Rhodes, center, describes the growing industries at Port San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“Space is big! … A lot of people in San Antonio don’t know about the stuff we’re doing in space. My little company this quarter will deliver the first container that will move medical equipment on rockets,” Rhodes said, garnering applause from the audience. she also mentioned the cybersecurity work happening at the Port, along with its efforts to build a new campus for the Air Forces Cyber command.

“I think San Antonio has an opportunity to be at the forefront of these new technologies, if we just concentrate, focus and keep working harder.”

H-E-B, USAA and UT Health San Antonio are business members of the San Antonio Report. To see a full list of business members, click here.

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