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10 Ways 2020 Has Transformed Business Leadership

Words by Leon Kaye
Business Leadership

Next month, 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – Business Elects to Lead will continue its tradition of convening top brands and business leadership to engage in authentic and meaningful conversations. The event is virtual, and runs from noon to 1:45pm ET on October 8, 15 and 22. Register for free here.

Here at TriplePundit, we’ve seen plenty of examples of business leadership during this era marked by the global pandemic, protests for full racial equality, and the concurrent economic chaos. Some episodes we’ve witnessed have left our jaws dropping in disbelief, and not in a good way. But there have been remarkable examples of corporate leaders standing tall, and we need more of them at a time when government is falling short.

Looking back in the rearview mirror over the past six months, we’ve decided to share some examples of how companies, and their leaders, have shined during a year we would like to – but probably won’t – ever forget.

Executives should lead by example and share the pain

One of the more disturbing outcomes of this pandemic is the continued transfer of wealth to the world’s richest few, but there have been some exceptions. The CEOs who took some form of a pay cut when this pandemic first hit include former Disney chief Bob Iger, Ed Stack of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Tom Baylor of Columbia.

Companies can transform their business models faster than we thought

During the first several weeks of this pandemic, everyone was in crisis mode, as there didn’t seem to be enough soap, sanitizer and ventilators to meet demand. But many companies, from local distilleries to automakers, not only scrambled to retool their operations and supply chains to adjust to this new reality, they often did so, successfully.

Businesses must not only articulate their purpose, but follow through, as their stakeholders are watching

We’re living in a much different world than we were 12 months ago, and in a recent survey that the Harris Poll and Just Capital completed, 90 percent of Americans agreed with the sentiment that it’s important for large companies to support an economy that serves all people. But a year after the Business Roundtable issued its much-lauded letter that redefined the purpose of a corporation, many citizens also believe companies and business leadership could do far more.

Standing up for voting rights is no longer a niche cause

During the 2018 midterm elections, some companies stepped up, yet they were the usual politically active suspects, such as Patagonia. Not this year. Groups such as Business For America are galvanizing companies to ensure all citizens have the right to vote, and they are approaching this challenge from a nonpartisan perspective.

A shift in how companies are making and marketing their products

It’s not just about responding to new, strange world of COVID-19. The protests that have launched in the wake of the murder of Black Americans including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have in part forced companies to look at how they pitch their products. Several global CPG companies, for example, are removing terms such as “whitening,” “fairness” and “lightening” from its skin care products’ labels.

Business leadership includes knowing, talking about and not dodging these massive problems

Earlier this month, as Americans continued to grapple with the shooting of Jacob Blake, the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles owner, chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie did something that every CEO in the U.S. is capable of doing. In a wide-ranging public “State of the Eagles” speech, he argued that Black people in America have been dealing with a lethal pandemic not only during the COVID-19 outbreak this year, but during a 400-year history of oppression, from the state-sanctioned slavery of earlier days to the structural racism of today. The bottom line is that it’s not enough to stand with Black Americans: people are watching what business leaders are saying about racial inequity in America and understand why it’s so persistent.

Ben and Jerry’s stand on Black Lives Matter, made earlier this summer, is another example of business leadership that’s needed as companies remove the filter and become less afraid to speak the truth.

We need businesses leadership even more as governments fail to act

The jumble of inconsistent state-based policies and contradictory messages from the U.S. president, as well as state and local officials, have exposed frontline workers to both verbal and physical abuse. But over the summer, leading retailers have taken matters into their own hands, and that seemed to nudge the president into softening his stand against masks (for a while), at least. One fabric store chain upped the ante by stating that the company is willing to lose customers over its stand on public health.

Companies abandon their core values at their own risk

Before this pandemic, it became trendy to take on a variety of causes, from basic employee engagement to from hiring the formerly incarcerated. One company that has not shied away from inclusive hiring despite the ongoing crises is Greyston Bakery, which has long been churning out brownies in Yonkers, New York, and includes Ben & Jerry’s amongst its customers. “If anything, when looking at the current environment, what we’re now seeing makes it more important that we find solutions to build a more inclusive economy,” Joseph Kenner, CEO of Greyston, told 3p earlier this summer.

Not a transformation, but an affirmation: long-term planning absolutely matters

While the scope and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any we've seen before, the global technology firm Intel was perhaps more prepared than most, thanks to a forward-thinking decision made nearly 20 years ago and additional investments that have continued to this day. "We work with such large global supply chains, so we've connected with our suppliers from the beginning to help them protect their employees and also make sure that we could help when they needed support," said Suzanne Fallender, Intel's director of corporate responsibility, during an event earlier this year.

Giving customers a break presents a long-term boost in brand reputation

We know countless industries and businesses were harshly affected by this pandemic. But some sectors, such as the insurance sector, was in a position to offer their customers a lift. In April, Allstate announced it would dole out more than $600 million in refunds, across 18 million policy holders. Other insurers, like AAA, quickly followed suit.

Remember to register for next month’s virtual 3BL Forum so you don’t miss out on these conversations about business leadership, and be sure to sign up for the weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter if you haven’t already.

Image credit: Bruce Emmerling/Pixabay

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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