So the day of reckoning has arrived. Having staggered on, zombie-like, since the financial crisis of 2008, adding environmental (climate, pollution and biodiversity), social (inequality) and political (Trump, Brexit et al) crises to its charge sheet, globalisation circa 1980-2020 has finally fallen flat on its face; it’s greatest strength (the fluid movement of capital, jobs, people and manufacturing) ultimately it’s Achilles heel as the virus spread rapidly across a hyper-connected world.
Today we face the Herculean task of protecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, the health of millions and the livelihoods of billions. Nothing should detract us from winning this war. But as we fight we should seize the chance too to create a new, more resilient, healthy, equal society that lives in equilibrium with nature.
The financial crisis of 2008 prompted a huge rescue effort globally that won a pyrrhic battle, but ultimately lost a war. The largesse of society put a sticking plaster on the old system, rewarding the actors who’d brought it to its knees whilst turning a blind eye to globalisation’s structural failings.
We cannot do that again. So here are five observations on how business can ensure that our short-term rebuilding efforts leave a lasting legacy:
1 Be useful, in all that you do, all of the time
Corporate behaviour is a microcosm of today’s economic system. There have been some wonderful stories of corporate integrity, ingenuity and energy to help fight the fire (from Unilever to the UK supermarkets to the very wonderful Timpson). And there have also been some truly shocking stories of companies that have thrown loyal staff overboard at the first whiff of trouble while others have flouted all common sense and morality to try and stay open when isolation is what we need. But the vast majority have floated uneasily between these extremes.
Post-Covid-19 we will not see a blind eye turned as it was to the banks in 2008-2012 as they crept back to the old ways on the back of taxpayer support. The companies that prosper in the next decade will be the ones that have taken the management-speak of “purpose” and turned it into reality. They pay their taxes. They cut dividends and executive pay as they receive bailouts. They do the right thing by their customers and employees. Above all, they are socially useful and relevant in all that they do. They can answer proudly the question, “what did you do in the war?”