During a recent video conference with Belgium CEOs, moderated by Olivier Legrand, we learned that sharing knowledge and experiences help us make quicker and better decisions and plan for post Corona operations.
Recently, AIMS International Belgium hosted web-based roundtable sessions for top executives and business leaders of companies from diverse industries to share how they were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. A leading discussion during these sessions was about the measures that they have put in place to ensure sustainability of their operations during unsure times.. This has been a great opportunity for leaders to share experiences and ideas.
Firstly, we found that not all industrial sectors have been equally affected. The situations we are facing are vastly different. The automotive industry has been deeply affected with plants for vehicle manufacturers that have been shut down completely. The same with OE parts producers and there has been a massive activity decrease in aftermarket sales. It has therefore been absolutely necessary to cut on costs and manage cash carefully. “In circumstances where many suppliers, like us, are in the post-acquisition phase, having such a rapid negative trend on the top line called for immediate actions to reduce costs and secure the company’s cash flow. At the same time, we’re positioning ourselves to come out of the gates quickly when the market returns”, stated Andrew Sexton, VP EMEA – Driv.
At the same time the food industry and producers of hygiene products have seen their sales going through the roof. Their main concern is being able to keep up with supply in order to satisfy the high demand. There is also the concern about a large slowdown that might eventually affect their sales in the coming months.
So regardless of which group you are sitting in now, the ability to react quickly to downward or upward trends, in other words being a flexible organisation has been vital. This need for “flexing” ability is perhaps not a brand-new factor but entering the “post-Covid world” with all its uncertainties, most leaders see this as becoming even more important.
Secondly, most companies were not in favour of letting their employees work from home prior to this period but having been forced to do so, they have discovered that this was working pretty well. It clearly was the safest option for employees and has had no negative impact on the employer; productivity has not decreased and in many cases it has even increased. Most are considering using this more in the future, but also recognise that they are still not clear on how to best do it: what worked well for this short period of time might not work as well for the long run. “The COVID period will force us to reconsider our ways of working, which include the share of home office work but also the time spent on travel and the way people meet. In that context, we will adapt how we work as a team while ensuring to improve performance and competitiveness in the long run” says François Desné – GM Flexible Foams Division at Recticel.
The factors that need to be addressed are not only about IT infrastructure and web-based sharing platforms (even if some confess, they have to address this quickly anyway), instead, they are mainly about people management, managing performance, and how to nurture the company culture when people are remote. “What we have learned through this period has challenged strongly what we thought our operating model should be, we will use this to define our future approach” mentioned Wim Demeestere – CEO DSN Neroc.
Thirdly, this period has accelerated the need to become digital. Not only for internal purposes, as working from home has challenged systems, processes, and tools, but also because many companies have leveraged the opportunity that consumers were ordering more online to shift part of their activity to the web. Some even made their first online sales during this period. When your only way to market is through speciality shops which are now all closed, it forces you to look at the e-business channel with a different set of eyes. This clearly will impact the “post-Covid world”, as some of the consumers who switched to online buying will continue to buy online; and producers have discovered a route to market with interesting aspects.
But here also most are recognising that their organisations are not fully ready, some have not even scratched the surface and again most questions will be based around having the right organisational design, improving the people skill-sets in the team and sometimes bring on board new people to help the company step ahead.
This should be carefully thought through as it will be an important cornerstone of companies’ future successes.
Lastly, our call proved that sharing ideas and experiences has real value. Now more than ever. We will already have the next CEO roundtable call in Belgium in June, requested by the participants.
As part of the AIMS Connect Communities project, AIMS International’s Partners are hosting online roundtables for business leaders in all regions. To participate and get connected, please contact Leonie Pentz, VP Sustainability.