There’s little point saving your business if you let your market die

Opinion: The nature of the coronavirus pandemic demands we look out for each other.

by Andrew Missingham
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2020
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Coronavirus

It is perhaps ironic that, here locked down in my North London home, corresponding with teams and clients globally who are similarly isolated, John Donne's adage that "no man is an island" has never been more true. 

And this is not just for us individually, but for the businesses we lead. This begs a question for those of us lucky enough to make it through this natural, human-assisted coronavirus pandemic: when we leave this island, what world will we be returning to?

For the businesses we lead (and the people these businesses support) it'll be a fat lot of use to make it out without having an active market to trade with.

So just as, in response to the devastation of the Second World War, the US used its surplus to stimulate a European and Asian market to trade with, it's going to be prudent for business leaders to give some thought to how to support the market they’re running to.

Of course, it’s understandable for businesses to retreat into themselves in times of crisis like this and save money wherever they can, focusing inward and short-term. But my appeal here is that that's precisely the wrong thing to do.

We've been looking around at our world, at our ecosystem of suppliers, partners, freelancers and friends, and asking ourselves whom are we best placed to help out, from those we’ll need on the other side. 

Through our clients UK Sport, Sport England and Nike (who all, with the postponement of Tokyo 2020, have major headaches to deal with), we met the east London grassroots sports organisation Badu Sports. Founded over a decade ago by Nana Badu, a school PE teacher, Badu is not only a wellspring of British sporting talent, but a vital community resource. 

But today, with the closure of schools and the cancellation of sporting and community events, Badu's income is quickly running dry. They've lost 100 per cent of their earnings in one fell swoop. 

We've been lucky enough to work with their excellent graduates and apprentices. They’re smart, driven, talented people. So we're working with Badu to provide real opportunities for them to work, learn new skills and keep them going. We'll need them when the world gets back to some semblance of normal - if they didn't exist, our work would be more difficult (and in some places, impossible). 

Of course, your purpose and your ethical compass come into play here - and there are good business reasons for that too. 

My hunch is that this crisis will be a watershed in many ways. So, it's not just vital for businesses to emerge post-corona with a market intact, but a reputation too.

Just as you only find out who your true friends are in times of trouble, your brand equity could be made or broken on the strength of your reaction to our current situation. 

Where would you rather put up your teams in future: at Best Western, who donated empty hotels to become temporary hospitals, or Britannia Hotels, after their summary, inhumane dismissal of staff last week—‘admin error’, or not?

If you lead a business, or have influence over the leadership of a business, this is surely the defining moment when you’ve got to put your money (and your reputation, and your time, and your team) where your mouth is. Your leadership comes with privilege and responsibility. So if not now, then when? If not you, then who?

Let’s not forget the way that Donne poem ends: ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’

Andrew Missingham is co-founder of consultancy B+A

Image courtesy of B+A

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