Having a conversation with a Vistage member this week, he said, that while COVID was terrible from a point of deaths and financial damage, it was exciting. I agree! Business owners and CEOs don’t have to work on eking out an additional few points of revenue or margin in the same manner year on year. Whatever your business plan was on March 1st, that is now in the shredder. If you pivoted in December and invested in resources, those may be to use a economist’s term, sunk costs. You need a new business strategy and plan!

As Rahm Emanuel said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” COVID provides CEOs with many opportunities that were unavailable before. Organizations can:

  • pivot their strategy;

  • enter new markets that didn’t exist four months ago;

  • obtain talent that was once unreachable;

  • acquire companies that fit their strategic goals;

  • cut sacred cows, whether they are people, division, or products.

  • move quickly without some of the usual inbuilt restrictions

  • try lots of new things in a continuous A/B testing format.

For a great example, I look to Scott Cowen, President Emeritus and Distinguished University Chair of Tulane University who was President when Hurricane Katrina hit. A little like COVID, one day he was welcoming the class of 2009 to a university with 5,000+ students and thousands of employees, and three days he told the thousands of students and families to turn around and get out. A week later he students and employees all over the country, a city in disarray, a large amount of uninhabitable housing for students, employees many of the services needed by employees no longer available.

“In many ways, Katrina wiped the slate clean,” Cowen said. Cowen led a rebuilding and academic reorganization of Tulane through a rebuilding and academic reorganization, Many of his actions were criticized including the decisions:

  • to merge and eliminate Newcomb College wholly into Tulane, to form a new undergraduate college, Newcomb-Tulane College.

  • to eliminate several departments in the School of Engineering and merge its remaining departments with the science departments in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences to form a new School of Science and Engineering and a restructured School of Liberal Arts.

Tulane also became the first and only major private research university to incorporate public service into its core curriculum. Many of these things were impossible without the crisis provided by Katrina. Also to house students during the cleanup he chartered a cruise ship and had them docked in the Mississippi to provide housing for students.

As I received my MBA and JD from Tulane, I had the opportunity to hear Scott talk a number of times as he developed and executed his new strategy for Tulane. His concern but excitement and vision during this period were amazing and I was in awe of him and what he had accomplished.

Right now many firms are living their equivalent of Apollo 13, the key to make it “our finest hour.”

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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