On Managing in a Downturn
Last night I attended a Harvard Business Review book launch, the topic of which could hardly be more timely. On Managing in a Downturn. The Coronavirus has already triggered massive and rapid falls on stock markets around the world as today’s headlines show. (Some are illustrated in the banner above).
The speaker was Martin Reeves, Chairman of the Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute who I had interviewed earlier in the day for the book I am working on, the Sages of Strategic Management.
Many European business leaders, already daunted by the challenges posed by Brexit, now face a double challenge on top of all the pre-exiting challenges associated with digital disruption, climate change and other factors. But, as Reeves pointed out last night, in every crisis some firms in every sector thrive. Their leaders are undaunted. His presentation Advantage in Adversity: Winning the Next Downturn explained how they do it.
It was incredible to hear. It confirmed my research for a presentation I gave at Warwick Business School last December which has now evolved into a one-day conference in London on March 9th and was summarised in an article I wrote for London School of Economics Business Review. The topic is “UNDAUNTED: How Successful Leaders Face Up to Wicked Problems and Avoid Predictable Surprises.” The event will take place in the Great Hall at the Royal Society of Arts and includes a fantastic line-up of world-class speakers with deep insights into all the issues.
I can also announce that Palgrave Macmillan have just commissioned me to produce a series of video interviews on this topic, and a book with the same title as the conference that I will co-author with Andy Wilkins.
As with most crises, some will say they could not have predicted Brexit or the Coronavirus. But, also like most other crises both were predictable and have been predicted. The only thing uncertain was “when”. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York were predictable and had been predicted. The Deep Water Horizon crisis was predictable and had been predicted. And the same is true of the 2007/8 Global banking crisis.
Similarly, every economic downturn there has ever been — whether a correction, a recession or a depression — was predictable and predicted. And we can be quite certain the same will be true in future. What we can be less certain of is the timing, the causes, the duration and the impact. But strategic leaders understand how to be prepared. They also understand how to take advantage in adversity as Reeves says.
Alan Mullaly managed to turnaround Boeing and get the company through the impact the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on the company. He went on to turnaround Ford Motor company and get that through the impact of the global banking crisis. The Ford story is told in American Icon by Bryce Hoffman. The book, a best seller, is “a compelling narrative that reads more like a thriller than a business book” wrote the New York Times. And I am pleased to say Bryce will be speaking at our conference on March 9th.
Another CEO who remained undaunted in the face of a crisis was Shigetaka Komori, former CEO of Fujifilm. The crisis he faced was exactly the same as that faced by Kodak Corporation and, despite having invented the first digital camera, Kodak failed but Fujifilm thrived. Komori’s story is told by him in his book Innovating Out of a Crisis and the story is summarised in my article for London School of Economics Business Review
In addition to Bryce Hoffman our speaker line-up includes a former British Ambassador and the former MD of Tata Group (Europe), a senior policy advisor at the UK Government Cabinet Office, A contributor to the research that went into the PwC Global Crisis Survey, an MD form the Insurance industry, an institutional investor and professors who are experts in systems thinking and complexity management. Their wide range of perspective are exactly what every leader needs to hear at times like these. Details & Tickets