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Coronavirus pandemic pushes businesses to rethink long-term strategies

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THE PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

BUSINESS LEADERS are looking at long-term strategies, such as public-private collaborations and new product development, to ensure recovery and build resilience amid the pandemic.

Five top executives spoke to BusinessWorld in an online series of one-on-one interviews about leadership and resilience.

Addressing the coronavirus crisis requires a multi-sectoral and whole-of-government strategy breaking away from industry-based strategies of the past, said Joo-Ok Lee, head of Asia-Pacific regional agenda at the World Economic Forum.

“Increasingly, challenges that we will see are going to be more interconnected. They will be more complicated, and unless there is a holistic approach, unless there is a systematic and systems-driven approach, these issues will be very, very difficult to resolve,” he said.

Mr. Lee anticipates stronger public-private collaboration in responding to the pandemic.

“This crisis has also made this almost a necessity. From the business perspective, you cannot survive without also incorporating sort of the strong leadership and response from the public sector. But at the same time, when recognizing the scale of issues that governments also need to address, governments cannot work alone and they should really try and sort of mobilize an all-of-society effort,” Mr. Lee said.

Even government-led initiatives, he said, could welcome a strong role played by the private sector.

Beyond survival, some companies can also go on the “offensive” during a crisis.

Emmanuel P. Maceda, worldwide managing partner of Bain & Company, said in the past, actions taken by companies during periods of crises sets up their performance trajectory in the years after.

“If you look at the companies that invested and won during this period of uncertainty, they were the ones that on average grew share and had high growth in the decade that followed,” he said.

Mr. Maceda said typically, companies dealing with the pandemic try to secure their businesses for survival and then move to recovery plans for the rest of the year.

“The harder question is, what investments should I be making so that I’ll actually be strong after this?”

Mr. Maceda said the crisis will not be over until vaccines have been deployed in a few years, and so companies can consider how they will balance their investment strategies in “micro-battles” or smaller rounds over the long term.

“The idea of a micro-battle concept is to define units of strategic choice in smaller terms, in micro-terms so that you can see the results faster, then you can build the second micro-battle and the second micro-battle after that,” he said.

Noting that big businesses are slower and risk-averse, Mr. Maceda said the companies can maintain the “cultural style and norms” they had during their growth stage. This means being quick to make decisions and adjust to changes during the crisis.

NEXT BIG IDEA
As many businesses struggle for survival, the pandemic could be an impetus for the “next big idea.”

Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and PLDT, Inc., said the health and basic utilities sectors will likely survive for a long time.

“What is the next big idea that will emerge from the crisis? Is it food? Is it logistics? I think the guy with the next big idea will probably win,” he said during BusinessWorld’s online series of one-on-one interviews about leadership and resilience on “The Road to Recovery” last week.

Mr. Panglinan noted the telecommunications sector will lead the charge in digitalization and connectivity.

“We have to scale it up. The government is right. I mean, is there sufficient connectivity capacity to accommodate the internet requirements of everybody,” he said.

Globe Telecom, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ernest L. Cu said the company has been adapting to how consumer habits have been changing throughout the crisis, with more people using e-money but some possibly using entertainment platforms less.

Mr. Cu said business is operating under the notion that recovery will take time.

“From an operating point of view, I think we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that this will go on for a while. Absent a vaccine that is widely distributed, the dangers and the risks remain,” he said.

“We have to make this a working condition and the given that we have to get around with, just like any other business constraint that we are used to.”

While Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. sees some growth potential in healthcare coverage demand even as the lockdown limited its agents’ movements, the company is now focusing on looking after employees.

“Really look out for the people within your organization because they will carry it through the very difficult times,” Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. Executive Chairman Nina D. Aguas said.

She said the company is revisiting its business model to digitize its processes, which includes training employees with digital skills for work-from-home measures.

“You must look after your business and your balance sheet, your net worth — it has to be resilient, it has to be strong,” Ms. Aguas said.

MPIC is one of three Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being PLDT, Inc. and Philex Mining Corp. Hastings Holdings, Inc. — a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. — maintains interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.





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