By Levi Sumagaysay
Over nearly two decades, Maurice Brewster built Mosaic Global Transportation into a multimillion-dollar business based in Silicon Valley, with some of tech’s biggest companies as customers.
Then came March 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. Tech and other large companies sent their workers home. Concerts, weddings, conferences and airport pickups were canceled. Mosaic’s fleet of shuttles, vans and other vehicles — which number more than 1,000 in its worldwide network, including 97 in Silicon Valley — had nowhere to go.
“When businesses shut down, our business shut down,” said Brewster, chief executive of the San Jose, Calif., company.
But thanks to help from different sources, hard work by Brewster and his wife Rhonda, who is president of the company, and a pivot or two, Mosaic managed to keep going.
Now, with some of the company’s business returning and a new venture involving electric vehicles, Brewster said he is “seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mosaic did its best to keep as many workers employed in the past year as possible, but the company still had to lay off or furlough 40% of its 100-plus employees. Ronnie Sanchez was working on the charter side when the pandemic hit, and was one of the workers laid off in May. But Mosaic brought him back in July as a backup driver for Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.98% .
Now, Sanchez has been promoted to operations manager. Mosaic continued to pay benefits for his family “and didn’t charge me a dime” while he was laid off, Sanchez said. “Mo and Rhonda are always optimistic, striving and finding ways to keep the business going. I constantly see that. They’re not just doing it for themselves. They’re also doing it for us.”
Pivoting during the pandemic
So how did they do it?
Along with a PPP loan, Mosaic’s relationships with some of its biggest corporate clients helped keep it afloat. Brewster said some companies paid their contracts through the end of 2020, even though his drivers weren’t taking customers to their jobs.
Nondisclosure agreements don’t allow him to talk too much about that, but MarketWatch reported previously that tech giants like Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.36% , Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.20% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -0.30% and Apple pledged they would keep their service workers compensated.
Coming to the rescue during the pandemic was Accion Opportunity Fund, a community development financial institution, or CDFI, that helped Brewster start Mosaic many years ago — when he said no traditional banks would lend to a Black man building a ground transportation business with depreciable assets like vehicles.
Early on during the pandemic, AOF deferred payments on a loan so “we could catch our breath and put what revenue we had coming in toward payroll and continuing health coverage,” Brewster said.
The CDFI also helped Mosaic “share our story as a Black-owned business pivoting through a global pandemic during a summer of racial reckoning,” which he said helped his company land new business.
Mosaic tried other ways to keep revenue coming in, including exploring package deliveries and working with hospitals and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transport health-care workers.
While Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.36% hasn’t started bringing employees back to work in large numbers, it is offering vaccinations at its large campus in Menlo Park, Calif.
Mosaic and its employees are volunteering to give people from underserved communities rides to the tech giant’s vaccination clinic on Saturdays in April, a project that Sanchez worked on.