Leaders in lockdown look to the future - Atholl Duncan comment

Progress on a Covid-19 vaccine sent the markets soaring. It fuelled optimism that there might be brighter days ahead. The true state of the economy; the plight of businesses on the brink; and the black clouds of unemployment were overshadowed for a moment.

Atholl Duncan is chair of the leadership development business Black Isle Group and the author of 'Leaders in Lockdown'.
Atholl Duncan is chair of the leadership development business Black Isle Group and the author of 'Leaders in Lockdown'.

So, what is the long term forecast for business life after Covid? No one really believes we will return to the way we were.

In March, just as the virus swept from Lombardy to London, I embarked on a project to capture the insights of 28 global business leaders for my book “Leaders in Lockdown”. They were constrained in their kitchens around the world – locked down for 100 days.

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They shared their stories of coping with the crisis. They also predicted how the world of business will change because of what we’ve all been through.

Christian Lanng is the Danish CEO of the Silicon Valley tech unicorn, Tradeshift. He concluded from his kitchen that “…with Covid-19 every single long-held belief has been thrown out of the window.”

The American four star general, Stan McChrystal, commanded the mission to capture Saddam Hussein. He now advises global corporations on dealing with crises. He warned, “There is no going back because your competition is going to a better place. Anyone who gets caught going back to the rear is going to pay a terrible price.”

There were seven key themes which ran through the insights of the “Leaders in Lockdown”. They are a framework for re-setting business strategies. They have the potential to be a framework for re-setting society.

They include re-imagining the world of work; resetting supply chains; a new age of corporate purpose; tackling inequality; taking a lead in rebuilding global co-operation; a new focus on resilience; and re-thinking how to maximise the potential of our leaders and their teams.

Covid-19 has also rapidly accelerated digital transformation, artificial intelligence and the use of robotics. Ho Kwon Ping is the co-founder and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, the world-wide resorts, hotels and spa business. He hopes that this age of supersonic digital will bring dividends for wider society.

“It is in medicine that we are going to make the really revolutionary advances in the next 20 years,” he told me, “In terms of life expectancy, prolongation of life, cures for cancer, immunotherapy, cloning, DNA – the Covid-19 crisis has pushed much of this forward.”

Of course, after 9/11 and after the financial crash of 2008 many carefree predictions were made about how the world will change. In reality, so much stayed the same. But the feeling among the “Leaders in Lockdown” is that this crisis is different. They see the world at a crossroads and a responsibility to deliver existential change to the way we live and work.

As the EMEA chief executive of Zurich Insurance Group, Alison Martin, put it, “What is the world we want to aspire for our children to live in? Can we try and build that one rather than the one we were destroying before Covid?”

- Atholl Duncan is chair of the leadership development business Black Isle Group and the author of “Leaders in Lockdown”.

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