Covid 19 – Experts Speak on Leading in a Time of Crisis

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As global executives made projections for the 2020 calendar year, even the most astute scenario planners could not have foreseen the events that would unfold just three months down the line. While the rest of the world went about business as usual in the last quarter of 2019, events in a certain province of China would change the world as they knew it, forever.

Four months into the new decade, the world reads like a dystopian Hollywood feature film. The impact of the novel coronavirus continues to be felt across every corner of the world, across every industry and across every household. Words like furloughs, layoffs, bailouts and recessions now hug the spotlight, heralding even darker days to come.

The United Nation projects that the novel coronavirus outbreak could cost the global economy up to $2 trillion dollars this year alone. But this comes as no surprise. Flights, hotels and travel are all but banned. Factories are shut. Nationwide stay-at-home orders are rolling out from country to country, limiting human contact, keeping businesses sheltered, and cutting off global supply chains and trade. It is now the world’s worst kept secret that many businesses–big and small– will be casualties of the pandemic that shook the world to its knees and put its economy to the sword.

Unfortunately, many of these businesses will be SMEs run by young executives. And no country stands more to lose, than Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria has seen a resurgence in entrepreneurship in recent years thanks to the emergence of a new generation of self-starters defying the odds to create employment and wealth in a country branded by the World Health Organization as the poverty capital of the world.

While some executives have been able to draw from their wealth of experience having successfully steered their businesses through a recession, epidemic or both–and with battle scars to prove– young leaders find themselves in unchartered territory, with their young companies faced in a death-match with the coronavirus, where only one will emerge.

For this reason, seasoned leaders at the helms of some of the best companies in Nigeria have opted to share their wealth of experience and knowledge for one simple reason: If Nigeria and Africa will continue to make progress and finally fulfil the potential it has long-promised, the older generation will need to provide guidance for their younger counterparts.

“The fear of losing revenue and customers and the urge to do something right away because of the pressure that comes with being responsible for staff and dependents back home makes it tough for young leaders to pause, take a step back and assess the situation objectively and extensively. But it is important to be able to see the full picture in order to identify what must be done” says Raymond Dokpesi Jr., Executive Chairman of ​DAAR Communications PLC​, Nigeria’s largest Independent Media Organization.
He implores young business owners to ‘think outside the box–but act rationally’, noting that great entrepreneurs don’t always have to be great strategists, they just need to be able to make calm, rational decisions when all hell breaks loose around them.

“Lean on your mentors and trusted third-eyes who can point out areas of opportunity and potential pitfalls. This is the worst time to work in silos. Collaborate.” says, Onyekachi Okechukwu of global consultancy, KPMG.

With vaccines not expected for at least another few months, Ikechukwu Maduka, Chief Executive Officer of leading Nigerian marketing agency, ​Nelson Reids​ explains that customer needs are rapidly evolving and businesses must adapt to these changes to survive.

“With job cuts, reduced income and an increasing number of dependents, you can expect consumer spending power to take a hit in the short to medium term. Resources will become even more stretched and deliberately allocated to brands that retain top of mind and can meet their new needs, no matter how peculiar. Brands must approach customers with empathy because, like them, customers are also experiencing life-altering changes to their way of life and their needs are likely changing as they come to terms with the situation of things and build their lives around this new reality. So young executives must find a way to identify and serve these emerging needs.”

A proven growth strategy could also hold the key to survival for many executives, especially those leading SMEs. Mergers have long been seen as a tool available only to larger enterprises. But SMEs may be forced to take a page from that playbook in order to weather the storm. By consolidating and joining forces with identical businesses or businesses operating in a unique vertical, they can boost margins whilst cushioning the impact of reduced consumer spending together.
Opportunities that will arise in Nigeria Post COVID-19.

With many now rightly considering ‘normal’ as we know it to be lost forever, executives would be better served bracing for the new world that would emerge as a result of the pandemic according to Samson Davids, ex-CMO of NICON insurance. He retorts that executives need to build new competencies if they are to strategically position themselves in the new world about to emerge. But he warns about the detriments of jumping in without design or strategy. Or worse–moving too slowly.

“Companies who have not invested in digital for operations, sales or communication may find themselves on the back foot playing catchup” says Ibe Kenneth, founder of leading influencer marketing agency. He warns that executives can no longer ignore the need for dynamism and flexibility, which digital affords, especially for marketing at a time when other mediums are either too expensive or ineffective considering the situation. “With customers now sheltered indoors, by their phones and televisions, it is time to leverage social media as a key marketing tool” he concludes.