Pivoting a Business at the Crossroads of a Pandemic and Wealth Inequity

Jinsu Chang, MSIM ’18, leveraged key MSIM lessons to pivot his Honduran businesses effectively, producing face masks and keeping more than 500 people employed.

The bustle of public transportation and the leisure of strolling city streets are experiences familiar to many suburban and metropolitan dwellers. That was no different for Jinsu Chang, MSIM ’18, during his high school years spent in Korea. Over 8,000 miles away, and nearly halfway across the world, life in Jinsu’s native Honduras was different. As Jinsu recounted, public transportation wasn’t as robust. People strolled city streets out of the simple need to travel, less so for leisure. 

According to the World Bank, around 48 percent of Hondurans live in poverty. Violence in the country is, in part, characterized by rates of 41 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants annually. Despite that, Honduras’ economy is the second-highest growing in Central America. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many more residents were suddenly at risk of facing a precarious situation. 

At the crossroads of a pandemic and poverty, Jinsu knew something needed to be done – not only from a business perspective, but as a global citizen who could make an impact. Jinsu pivoted two businesses he owns in Honduras – Kit Manufacturing and Lumen Energy Solutions – to help in the fight against coronavirus and keep more than 500 workers employed. 

“I was born and raised here, in Honduras, and that came with a lot of attachment to this country. When I was a child, I didn’t necessarily see the socioeconomic challenges in Honduras as problematic since that was something I was used to,” said Jinsu. “I got the chance to leave the country when I went to Korea for high school. That’s when I realized that what I was seeing in Honduras wasn’t necessarily normal.”

Street view of Kit Manufacturing's building
Located in Honduras, Kit Manufacturing's supply chains shifted from producing articles of clothing to producing cloth face masks.

Kit Manufacturing is an apparel company producing articles of clothing for clients like Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Elcatex, SanMar and several other brands. Under normal circumstances, Kit Manufacturing would be producing casual wear polos and polyester sportswear, but purchase orders slowed as public health pressures amounted. So, entrepreneurial-minded Jinsu listened to the voice of customer – a practice encouraged during MS in Innovation and Management courses – and shifted to manufacturing cloth face masks. 

“We were searching for what we could do during the situation to keep our plant running so that we could pay the salaries of our employees without having to reduce our workforce, and to see what we could do to play a part in slowing the spread of the virus,” said Jinsu. 

Jinsu added, “That’s when I started to call a bunch of clients and companies in the U.S. to forge new relations that we never had before, seeing if there were possibilities of us helping to produce face masks for the US and local market.”

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends persons over the age of 2 wear cloth face masks in public settings to prevent community-based transmission. In combination with physical distancing and personal hygiene care, wearing a face mask is proving to be more effective than not doing so. Nowadays, face masks are becoming as ubiquitous as shoes and socks. 

As witnessed throughout the pandemic, converting supply chains and manufacturing lines is no easy feat. Stopping ongoing processes to ramp up new ones brings a slew of challenges for the promise of opportunity. 

For Jinsu, that opportunity was renewed purpose – one that could save lives.

Bundles of cloth face masks are packaged and placed into boxes for shipment.
The cloth face masks are bundled and packaged in boxes for shipment.

“Masks are not a challenging product to produce, especially in normal times when the supply chain is well-established and when the situation and working conditions are the same as before,” said Jinsu. “However, trying to repurpose the entire plant to produce face masks during COVID-19 – I think that’s been a special challenge of trying to make an impact, not only in our employees by giving them work, but also because we’re doing our part to by fighting and saving lives.”

With his other business, Lumen Energy Solutions – a company with a sustainability focus “specializing in the measurement, control and reduction of energy consumption and costs” – Jinsu also leveraged key business skills from the MSIM program to shape the company’s strategy and better serve its clients. 

“You learn throughout the MSIM program about the importance of understanding your client and customer needs and how those customer needs change over time … I think that’s something we did really well because the focus is really on a customer-centric approach to the business,” said Jinsu. 

Like launching a startup, there are no guarantees when it comes to what’s in store for the future. But Jinsu will continue to embrace uncertainty with confidence built up from the MSIM program.

“The MSIM program is really special because you get to build almost 10 years’ worth of experience in such a short time. That’s invaluable because, for recent graduates, that’s the biggest stumbling block for them entering the job market,” said Jinsu.

As production continues in his business, the world that was more than 8,000 miles away feels just a little closer.