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COVID-19: An ESSEC Alumnus Reports From the United States

Interviews

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23/06/2020

Are the US even past the first wave of the pandemic ? Michel Werthenschlag (E00), VP, Assistant General Counsel – International at WWE, says the whole situation remains quite chaotic – and differs a lot from state to state. 

ESSEC Alumni: What is the current situation in the US? 

Michel Werthenschlag: The infection rate is slowly increasing as the Southern states have quickly reopened, but the death rate has decreased sharply. The regions that were early sources of infection are now under control (NY, NJ) while others are starting to see infections go steadily up (Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina). While most countries that were hit early have managed to flatten the curve and curb the rate of infections, the US see more of a plateau/slight increase since mid-May: the hospitals are not overwhelmed but on a countrywide basis, the number of infections stay stable or slowly decrease, with stark differences between the regions. The number of deaths overall is going down, fortunately.

EA: What measures did the US take to fight the pandemic?

M. Werthenschlag: The measures implemented vary depending on which state you're in and sometimes within the state itself. States like Florida never went on full lockdown mode, while others, especially in the Northeast have had very strict shelter-in-place rules. 

EA: How does this situation impact you? 

M. Werthenschlag: I work in Connecticut, which implemented measures very similar to New York early on: all businesses that were not essential were closed and workers asked to work from home. So I've been working from, and "sheltering-in-place" at, home surrounded by my wife (who is also working from home) and my five children since early March. We've both had to juggle work and Zoom classes since then. 

EA: How has it been working for you so far?

M. Werthenschlag: Fortunately, we've remained healthy throughout and we're very grateful for that, but it's been challenging. The boundaries between work and personal life, which are already pretty tenuous in the US, have evaporated. Most days I've had to resume my workday after bedtime, stretching the working hours until very late at night. But at the same time, it's been a true blessing to share so much time as a family, helping with homework, cooking together, etc. I've found unsuspected new outlets to channel my creativity like making homemade marshmallows!

EA: Do you work in a field particularly impacted?

M. Werthenschlag: Yes, I work at WWE whose business is live televised sports entertainment. WWE tapes wrestling shows with a live audience three to four times a week: Monday Night RAW, NXT on Wednesday, WWE Friday Night SmackDown and once a month, an additional pay-per-view event on Sunday (e.g., Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, etc.). Up until now, our events were taped with a boisterous audience in packed arenas. WrestleMania 36 was supposed to take place on April 5 in Tampa in a stadium with a sold-out crowd of 80,000 fans!

EA: How did you adapt to the pandemic?

M. Werthenschlag: We had to cancel the live event a mere few weeks before the show and taped the event from our Performance Center, a state-of-the-art facility where we train our future Superstars, without any public. However, we managed to pivot and turn what could have been a depressing no-show into an action packed 2-night event on April 4 and April 5 with taped performances and cinematic matches, and changed the tagline into "Too Big for Just One Night". 

EA: Is that format your new business model now?

M. Werthenschlag: Since early March all of our shows have been taking place indoors at our Performance Center, without an audience in a closed set. We’re shooting in waves and checking everyone's temperature upon entry. We also do pandemic-level cleaning (fogging and ultraviolet light) in the facility every single night. And of course, all our non-televised live events (2-3 per week) have been rescheduled, including our event in Paris that was supposed to take place in May.

EA: How is the post-crisis period shaping up in the US?

M. Werthenschlag: It's very tough to evaluate. The leadership from the White House has been confusing, with the President contradicting the guidelines issued by his own administration. Wearing a mask or not has become a political issue, as well as the re-opening of the economy. Many fear a second wave in the states that opened sooner that recommended and some experts are not sure that we're even past the first wave, given the recent increases in the Southern states. Lastly, the current protests and the presidential elections further muddy the situation. In short, it's a mess. One thing though: working from home is a trend that's here to stay. It makes sense from a safety perspective but also allows companies to reduce their footprint and costs.  

EA: Do you have news from the local ESSEC community in this context?  

M. Werthenschlag: Our physical events had to take a back seat but I continue to receive the emails from Philippe Berdugo (E10), President of ESSEC Alumni’s New York Chapter. I also enjoyed watching ESSEC Dean Vincenzo Esposito Vinzi sunny updates on LinkedIn throughout the quarantine. And of course I'm still in daily Slack contacts with the 9 other promo 2000 ESSEC alumni in our football fantasy league Soccerstarz that we created 20 years ago! I exceptionally didn't win this year but I have good hopes for 2021!


Interview by Veary Ngy, International Community Manager at ESSEC Alumni, and Louis Armengaud Wurmser (E10), Content Manager at ESSEC Alumni 

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