As a global business community, we have been confronted with rare, unexpected, and surreal moments that have ignited economic shock—9/11, the global financial crisis, and now COVID-19. Leaders have been tested and measured by how they handle the unexpected challenges associated with these crises. As we ride this wave, we must look to the horizon to prepare for the swells to come—whether that be COVID-19’s second spike or simply navigating unfamiliar territory.
Throughout my 30-year career as a strategist and brand builder in the retail, fashion, and beauty industries, I have weathered my fair share of global crises. Each one has presented a unique set of challenges—as well as opportunities. To address these situations, I have developed a growing toolkit that leaders can use to both brace for and weather a storm.
We can position ourselves as leaders equipped to brace with ease and weather with strength any storm that comes our way.
Business be nimble, business be quick: In May of 2008, I had just assumed the role of CEO of Kenneth Cole, my first time leading a public company. When the global financial crisis hit a few months later, the world changed virtually overnight, as did our business priorities. We shifted our attention from thriving to surviving, and I quickly became experienced with crisis management as we worked to slow the transformation from a money-making company to a money-losing company. The key to making this possible? Staying laser-focused on our top business priorities in order to remain lean and nimble organizationally. Steps we took included eliminating non-value-added activities, conserving cash to ensure sufficient liquidity, putting inventory under a microscope, and remembering that even when you play defense, you still have to play offense. Such rapid shifts in mindset must be embraced—not feared—during crises when time is of the essence.
Go digital: As we have all seen with COVID-19, the world has rapidly increased its reliance on the digital economy. Regardless of industry, digital channels are powerful tools for companies to connect with key constituents, including consumers, investors, customers, and employees. Although difficult conversations about employee retention have arisen out of today’s crisis, the pandemic has also presented an opportunity for companies to tactically rethink their digital strategy—and in many cases, to grow these areas of their business. Digital will continue to play a greater role in driving business performance across multiple areas, including customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and social media. This is the right time to right-size your teams and pivot your organization accordingly to ensure you have the capabilities required for success in an increasingly digital era.
Teamwork makes the dream work: On September 11, 2001, I was the COO of Victoria’s Secret Beauty, working in a midtown Manhattan office tower with a clear view of the World Trade Center. I will never forget seeing the planes crash into the Twin Towers and watching the buildings implode. I was surrounded by team members and an outpouring of emotions that were frankly overwhelming. What ensued taught me that leading through a crisis is not just about taking care of business, but more importantly, the people that make it run. It also taught me the critical roles that teamwork and communication play when dealing with fear and ensuring safety. To successfully manage our businesses during these unique times, the key is not only having a vision for the future, but also the right team to execute the strategy to achieve that vision. Hug your talent—if not literally, then figuratively—as it all comes down to having the best team to both survive and thrive.
Adversity breeds opportunity: My past experiences have taught me that we must learn from moments of crisis as these situations present opportunities to rethink business models. This has held true at Eurazeo Brands, where our portfolio companies are even more keenly focused on consumer needs and innovation to emerge stronger when this unexpected storm dissipates. Specifically, the teams are refining their product assortment, tailoring their marketing message, providing enhanced customer experiences, and reallocating resources to optimize performance based on the new reality.
As we collectively navigate these unprecedented times, I encourage us to do so with both a rearview-informed approach and a forward-looking mentality. By remembering that every new challenge presents new opportunities and solutions, we can position ourselves as leaders equipped to brace with ease and weather with strength any storm that comes our way.