About 250 years ago The Bellwether Corp (TBC) was formed with the charter to create products that bring happiness, produce them in adundance and in an unabashed manner. Over the years TBC products reached all countries of the world making TBC well-known and expanding its reach. TBC’s success was built on high R&D spending, innovation, stable management, ability to attract good talent and willingness to make big bets on new products and innovations. In short, TBC was both admired and feared, loved and hated in equal measure. The one undisputed fact was the impact of TBC on many lives across the world. The charter of TBC called for 4-year contracts at a time for the CEO of the company and another 4-year term, if approved by majority of stakeholders, for a maximum of 8 years.
Around the turn of the last century the leadership changed hands when a scion of a previous CEO of TBC assumed charge. The scion’s plan called for aggressive expansion of business overseas and mergers and acquisitions (M&As) within the country to fuel growth. The ambitious plan called for lot of money investment. While business grew for TBC its debt grew faster. Overseas investments got mired in low returns and internal M&As got bogged down due to the cost and complexity involved in integrating different products and cultures. This resulted in some of the divisions being shed and turmoil of the market due to the uncertainties and losses that ensued. After 8 years under the scion CEO it was time for change of leadership.
TBC’s next CEO came from within. A relative unknown and young person was heralded as the next big hope (NBH). NBH’s first priority was to bring calm and restore market faith in TBC and then fuel sustainable growth. NBH succeeded in the first priority but results were mixed in the growth aspect. There were notable successes accompanied by areas of frustration as the task involved a cultural shift which TBC was not fully prepared for or ready to embrace fully. TBC’s workers were also expecting more prosperity for the fruits of their labor and under NBH many felt it was not fully delivered. NBH’s 8-year contract ended with TBC more stable and secure and on a path of growth but with the dreams not fully realized.
For the next leader TBC looked outward for someone to spark more explosive growth. In came an outsider (OUTS), without a cultural connection to TBC, promising to change the way of conducting business by shattering established norms and doing away with what OUTS considered old shibboleths that were holding back TBC from fully realizing its greatness. Per OUTs the new approach would result in upgrading of infrastructure in a big way, usher in high growth, make TBC more safe and secure, reduce the debt burden of the company and increase the happiness and prosperity of TBC workers within the first few months itself. A tall order to achieve it all even in one full 4-year term but that’s what OUTS insisted would happen. For making it happen OUTS demanded absolute power and total fealty from all stakeholders of TBC. The first couple of years saw TBC grow at a rapid pace. TBC workers and other stakeholders saw their net worth grow. This was happening in the context of old, established structures for safety and governance being torn down and aggressive deals being negotiated with TBC suppliers and other 3rd party service providers and amidst whispers of malfeasance and ad-hoc decision making. Company debt also grew to alarming levels. Whistleblowers were silenced strongly and all competitive threats were dealt with lot of force. Disaster struck in the 4th year of OUTS’ first 4-year contract. A mystery illness swept through TBC affecting TBC workers. What first appeared as something minor soon spread like wildfire causing serious sickness and sometimes causing worker deaths. This caused consternation within TBC, prompting safety officials to sound the alarm about the likely far-reaching impact this could have on TBC workforce and potentially impact this could have on others doing business with TBC. The measures suggested to mitigate and contain the risk included shutting down TBC plants initially along with strict monitoring and putting additional safety plans in place to contain the fallout and reduce prolonged pain. This did not go well with OUTS who was daunted by the cost and consumed by renewal of a second 4-year contract due later in the year. With safety plans not implemented per experts’ recommendation the pain and economic impact spread far and wide. Loss of jobs and lives followed. When time came for considering whether to extend the contract of CEO for another four years, a majority of stakeholders, albeit small, voted against it and seem to have approved going forward with a TBC veteran (VET) insider steeped in company culture instead.
OUTs would appear to be on the way out but is not leaving without a fight. OUTS has filed lawsuit/s alleging sabotage from within and claiming to have majority support for another 4-year term. Will the courts step in and make a ruling or let TBC company board of directors and other stakeholders work it out? Like all stakeholders impacted directly or indirectly by the turn of events I am watching too, with concern.
The above fictional story could very well be a tale of real companies or even real countries
Starting with a story about a fictional company, We Are The Best (WATB) Inc. WATB is a construction company that has been doing roaring business past few years. Employees were gainfully employed and eyeing more work to follow steadily as demand was at a high level. It appeared that the good times would last for the foreseeable future at least. Few months ago couple of employees fell sick in what appeared to be seasonal flu. After taking a few days off they returned to work hoping to ride it out. In the meanwhile some more employees fell sick. The # of employees with illness increased higher in a short period of time. When the HQ folks in a different city heard about this their initial reaction was “This season the flu is more severe and appears to be lasting longer than usual”. As days and weeks passed a handful of employees passed away first and the # turned into tens of them in the days that followed rattling the top management of WATB enough for the CEO, who also held the position of President, and the VP of Operations and Finance to fly in and assess the situation for themselves. To improve the morale of the employees the CEO and VP first visited the company location and assure the employees they would be taken care of and there was nothing to be alarmed about. Next they visited the hospital where many sick employees were admitted. Among the patients was one of the earliest employees who had been battling the mystery illness for many weeks and showing signs of recovering. He still had quite a few tubes attached to his body and was breathing with assistance. To help the recovering employee communicate with the CEO and VP more freely the breathing apparatus was disconnected briefly. As the execs were leaving the room after few minutes of encouraging talk the employee experienced acute difficulty in breathing and passed away. Seeing this the CEO remarked to the VP “Too bad he couldn’t fight anymore. It’s a pity after all the money the company has spent on his hospitalization, medications and expensive equipment to assist with many bodily functions including breathing”. To which the VP solmenly responded “Yes Sir, you did all you could. We are WATB for a reason and we are the best in everything we do”. After visiting a few more employee patients the CEO expressed concern to the VP on the return flight about increasing cost of treatment amid plunging revenues due to so many employees not showing up for work. With extension to their positions in the hands of board members just a few months away and the overall health of the company a primary factor in that decision the CEO wondered aloud if it might be better to let go of some of the sick employees.
The above story was to lay the groundwork for describing the current situation. In times of crisis citizens of all nations are prepared to make personal sacrifices for the greater good and support the leader. Political affiliations and leanings take a back seat and we want our leaders to succeed. As their success means a more more secure and prosperous future for all. Honest Abe, Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and FDR come to mind when considering leaders that are viewed favorably by history. Whatever their personal strengths or weaknesses when they were confronted with the biggest crisis they rose to the occasion with words and deeds that inspired their fellow citizens to trust them enough to willingly do what was asked of them. In short crisis appeared to bring their best qualities to the fore.
That raises the question: Why are our current leaders not able to unite everyone to fight a common unknown enemy at this time of crisis. The answer is simple: trust and integrity issues. The leaders of the fictional WATB come across as petty, too money minded, eager to claim credit, very concerned about being viewed as being successful and lacking in empathy. Consider all the citizens to be employees of WATB, many needing help as they are going through physical, mental, psychological stress along with financial difficulty at this time with a very shaky current and a very uncertain future. Words and deeds from leaders matter lot in such situations. Words of calm and actions that convey assurance make a difference. Leaders can’t be repeatedly complaining about the money being spent in recovery. Empathy is key along with humble recognition of the enormity of the task. This is a war of multiple battles. Shouting “Victory!” after winning one battle is premature ejaculation. To the families and friends of those who have lost a loved one or have someone fighting for their life boasting losing ten of thousands of lives is so much better than hundreds of thousands or millions is like adding insult to injury. Their pain is real. Likewise for those who have lost jobs or had to shut their business. Any positives from steps taken will be erased if the leaders come across like the top execs of WATB Inc.
Yes, the economy grinding to a halt is a valid concern and can’t go on for long. The domino effect on many industries is almost unimaginable and the ripple effect very dangerous. Yes, the Chinese Government and the authorities at the local level in Wuhan all the way up the chain owe answer to the rest of the world for simple questions like “Who knew what and when?”, “When did they realize the enormity of the situation?”, “When and to who did they raise alarm?”, “What did they do to contain the spread inside?”, “What actions did they take to prevent the spread outside?”. The actions/non-actions of those responsible doesn’t make everyone of Chinese descent suspect or justify abuse. As it’s said when one finger is pointed at someone there are more fingers pointing back at oneself. Which means the same questions that are valid for the Chinese Government and health authorities are valid for the other countries too. The next few months are going to be very tough as everyone navigates through the difficult times. Yes, some have lived on borrowed money to add to their misery. The words and actions of those responsible for citizens’ safety and security may very well determine if we are living on borrowed time