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News@Ivey · Dawn Milne

Businesses rising to the challenge of COVID-19

Apr 9, 2020

Navigating your business webinar

When it comes to navigating through the COVID-19 crisis, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But one thing is for certain: business owners are rising to the challenge.

“I see huge resilience, determination, and perseverance, and not a complaining mentality,” said Janet Bannister, HBA ’92, Managing Partner of Real Ventures. “It’s more like, we are going to keep going, we are not going to let this kill us.”

Bannister was part of an alumni panel sharing insights on how the global pandemic has impacted business for a webinar called Leadership in Practice: Navigating Business Now. Hosted by The Ivey Academy and moderated by Tony Frost, an associate professor of strategy and international business, it featured Bannister along with Kevin O'Brien, HBA ’93, President and GM of WW Canada (formerly Weight Watchers), and Jon Shell, MBA ’ 03, Managing Director and Partner of Social Capital Partners. Here are some key takeaways.

Kevin O'Brien – Look for ways to stay relevant during the crisis and beyond

Since one of the key offerings of WW Canada is face-to-face workshops, the organization had to quickly move to a virtual model. But O’Brien said its success in that area wasn’t based so much on continuation of service, but on fulfilling consumers’ need to be part of a community.

“When we turned on those virtual workshops, it was a lot less about people worried about tracking their health, and a lot more about having human contact in a positive way that wasn’t a COVID-19 discussion. That says a lot about where consumers are at right now,” he said.

Keeping on top of how consumers are feeling and looking for ways to stay relevant, both now and post-crisis, will be critical going forward.

“The longer it goes, the more we’ll start to rewire for how consumers are consuming, thinking, expecting, and planning. There are some real long-term implications,” he said. “If you can weather the storm, you’ve got a chance right now to take a really fresh look at what you want your business to be as we come out and that might drive some really interesting innovation.”

Janet Bannister – Focus on the fundamentals

Bannister shared a three-step approach for keeping businesses afloat during the crisis.

  • Understand the impact on your organization;
  • Adjust by maximizing your revenue or shifting your focus or offerings; and,
  • Ensure you have at least 18 months of runway by increasing revenue, decreasing costs, or raising money.

“This environment for startups is requiring founders to bring an increased level of discipline and focus and to make sure they have the business fundamentals right,” she said.

And while acknowledging that tough times are ahead, she stressed that Canada’s talent and ambition will not disappear.

“Long term, I’m not worried about Canada’s place in the global ecosystem,” she said. 

Jon Shell – Increase small business support

Shell described the dire situation for community small businesses that have had to close their doors, pointing out that the majority have less than two months of cash buffer. He called for the Canadian government to focus on assessing which industries will be most affected and target support to those most in need.

“The people who own these businesses are not wealthy people. They are paying for their families’ expenses … It’s both a small business tragedy and a personal tragedy,” he said. “My advice (for businesses) is to pray that the government response will be different over the next couple of weeks in order to help you get through.”

He also challenged business schools to provide support for business leaders by looking at how the world and the role of business might change because of the crisis.

“If we leave it to the macroeconomists to figure this out and count on businesses to protect their own interests, then I think the business community will struggle with the questions that will be raised over the next few years,” he said.