Crisis Leadership

Just about every business large and small across the world has been in crisis mode for some time dealing with the catastrophic consequences of the Corona Virus pandemic. Almost daily now there are announcements from companies shedding employees or going into administration. One interesting trend however are those CEOs who are pledging not to lay-off workers. For example, on March 26th in Techcrunch Marc Benioff (Salesforce CEO) announced a 90 day pledge.

This has got me thinking lately at a more macro-level: who are those business leaders who have successfully led companies through crises?

  1. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in pivoting and transforming the business when confronted by an emerging disruptive technology, business models, and established well-funded competition;
  2. Steve Jobs in the late 1990s when he returned to the company he founded (and was ousted from);
  3. Richard Branson in the 1990s at Virgin Atlantic during the ‘dirty tricks war’ with British Airways;
  4. Bob Iger as CEO of Disney when, whilst he was opening Shanghai Disney, a toddler was killed by an alligator at Disney World Florida;
  5. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp as the new CEO of Lego Group in 2004 and embarking on a transformational turnaround;
  6. Angela Ahrendts as the new CEO of Burberry and transforming its brand and performance from ‘chavvy’ to high-end luxury;
  7. Amex CEO Kenneth Chenault following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks;
  8. CEO Howard Schultz in 1997 when a robbery killed 3 employees at a US store;
  9. Toyota CEO Jim Lentz during a 2.3 million car recall in the US

The way these leaders responded to their various crises – whether caused by macro-factors (e.g. terrorism, recession, disruptive technologies) or internal (e.g. mismanagement) – were certainly ‘make or break’ situations. In other words, without strong leadership and executing on relevant crisis management principles, the outcomes could have been catastrophic and/or bankrupted their respective companies.

Such leaders deployed various business strategies and tactics but professionally exhibited courage, decisiveness, emotional intelligence, transparency,  ownership, clear communication, and many other characteristics. It will be interesting to see how many current organisations and brands respond in a way that also gives them the best chance to survive short-term, as well as in a post-Corona world.

 

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