A New Normal?
The Novel Corona Virus – Covid 19 – has come with a bang! The pretender has become “the” contender !! Our world has changed, possibly forever !!!…..
The above statements are some of many reactions to the onset of this one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-generation influenza. In January we watched on TV how China had the onset of this virus in some hitherto not-so-popular ‘Wuhan’ city. It looked like a storm in a tea-cup. Not much in there to the average joe on the streets of Lagos, Milan, Capetown, Dundee, London- take your pick. Then the virus spread to Europe, the United States of America, Africa and most of the world. The rest is … history being played out… in slow motion at the moment..! Now business is reeling around the world; most sports, entertainment, highstreet retail, SMEs, general commerce entities and even governments are processing how to deal with what the hell is going on right now… Buzz words are flying around; do we have a new normal?
I argue that we do not have a new normal. Rather, the world is enduring an improbable but obvious return to a cycle that played out in the early 1900s- The Spanish Flu of 1918. The Spanish Flu started in the US at some military base between January/March of 1918. It manifested in two waves (we are largely yet to see wave 2…and pray it stays this way) wherein between 17 to 50 million lives were lost with infection of up to 500 million people world-wide. The use of face masks, closing of schools, shops, and restaurants, placing restrictions on transportation; mandating social distancing, and banning public gatherings- WERE THE NORM at the time. Yes, Netflix (and Money Heist) did not exist then but we get the drift. Generally speaking, there is nothing new under the sun.
What many today refer to as this ‘New Normal’ is actually the quest for adaptability, in my own opinion. Borrowing from the Charles Darwin quote, it is not necessarily the strongest businesses or the most intelligent that shall survive the attendant crises (Financial, Economic, Socio-cultural ramifications et al) but the most adaptable to change. People want to know how to navigate the immediate to long term future, they do not necessarily like change, i suspect. Rather they want to be told, they want to be served the next prescription. E.g For bakers, start diversifying your business model into baking of bread et al; some may start baking bread till the next crisis. Adaptability, on the other hand, is something that should be a culture. In order to underscore this we shall examine a case study of two companies which have both existed at the time of the Spanish Flu and the novel Corona Virus: AT&T and General Electric.
AT&T and General Electric (GE) were founded in the 19th century. Recall that Barings Bank which collapsed in 1995 was founded in 18th Century. Therefore, I do not suggest that longevity of business alone is an indicator of adaptability culture in a company. However, a commitment to several iterations of the business proposition in order to achieve value to share and stakeholders is more like it for me.
AT&T gave us the modern day telephone (Alexander Graham Bell). The company grew into such a dominant force that by 1984 American Antitrust laws accounted for a break-up of the company into several successor companies . The business model evolved such that the company has endured its own fair share of failures, mergers, acquisitions and innovations. It now stands as number 9 in the Fortune 500 Rankings (2019). The company may also be somewhat unrecognisable from what was founded to be. Today, AT&T sees itself as “a modern media company…”, involved in “..connectivity, technology, entertainment, news, advertising and more..”. Who would have thought HBO would have its nest at AT&T today (via WarnerMedia)?
General Electric (GE) is a classic company. Its mission statement embodies the essence of change itself as follows: “..to usher in the next industrial era and to build, move, power, and cure the world..”. At formation in the late 19th century, the founders of the companies envisaged lighting solutions primarily- the lamp, electric bulb, electricity. Little did they know that today GE will be working across Aviation, Finance, Healthcare, Transportation, Oil & Gas, Energy, Finance, Appliance and lighting. Again, this has been achieved through a mixture of acquisitions, mergers, divestitures, innovations and so on. It now stands as number 21 in the Fortune 500 Rankings (2019). However it appears that a mixture of the right adaptibility culture and right leadership has landed it as a much relevant corporation internationally, even today.
Within the Nigerian context I have identified one company which has managed to evolve with the times- Dangote.
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