Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Equilibrium Capital and CEMS Alumni Association President
Attending a New Year’s luncheon on 31 December 2019, we played a game that involved predicting the world in 2020. Some of the questions included: would Uber become profitable? Would the three-decade bond rally finally come to an end? Would the US hit a recession?
Unlike any of our predictions based on a traditional approach to business and predicting, we now know that 2020 became the year where business, professional and personal plans were turned upside down, reshaped and put-on hold. The proverbial black swan had arrived.
As revealed in a new CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, to which I contributed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the 20th Century vision of leadership, giving a rare opportunity to question the status quo.
So, what are the main lessons from 2020?
- Humans are enormously adaptive. This is not an extinction scenario. The world is getting used to dealing with global human disaster which may become a recurring event. Life continues guided by new parameters.
- No sector or country is immune to rapid change. Just as the leveraged finance and equity markets ground to a halt during the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a disruption in the financial markets (including M&A) in 2020, including a significant redistribution of wealth between sectors; think tech vs airlines and the hospitality industry. When a market is disrupted it has secondary and tertiary effects such as less work for accountants, lawyers, financiers etc.
- Location is not as important anymore. The belief that finance staff need to be based in one of the financial capitals to be effective has been forever altered. Pursuing a career in finance from anywhere is becoming possible. However, it’s likely that over time, financial controls and human interaction will move the work model back towards the traditional office approach, as work is a critical sanctuary for people. While working from home may allow more time for family, chores and sports, it is mainly effective for people who already have their internal and external networks. For junior employees it presents a notable challenge as they may be forced to spend their formative years without a chance to really build their networks.
- Change is likely to be lasting. The opportunity for alternative finance and tech focused providers is enormous and 2020 will accelerate this shift. For example, many retail banks are providing rather poor customer service, blaming the pandemic. Even the most loyal customers will be heading elsewhere. For recent graduates and current students this is a major shift; future winners and key employers may not be names we are used to seeing in the headlines.
- There will be a spotlight on leaders with visionary strategy and understanding of the operations. 2020 showed many politicians and business leaders behaving like they were playing a game of snakes and ladders, rather than executing a thought-out strategy. The next wave of thoughtful leadership is urgently required.
- Collaboration leads to success. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease prevalent worldwide. A global problem requires a collaborative solution rather than each country and industry on their own. Quoting Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London: “Once you have the knowledge and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower”. This principle is transferable to management education. In a world more complex than ever, investing in a degree is hard currency. Combined with the full global alumni network, corporate partners and schools, CEMS is capital that doesn’t depreciate.
- Resilience has become a watch word. Saint-Exupéry’s quote resonates with me: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We are in a new paradigm – so prepare for the next change. For COVID-19, while we hope that the vaccine will soon upon us, the broader long-term positive challenge remains.