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CEOs on how to build resiliency and survive a downturn

November 9, 2022, 8:04 PM UTC
CEOs from a variety of industries discuss managing through crisis.
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Navigating the current business environment will test CEOs in the coming years as much, if not more, than the early years of the pandemic.

High interest rates, global instability (both political and economic), and lingering supply-chain issues hit as the world is more intertwined than ever, and both customer and employee expectations have changed. It’s a crucial time for decision-making and, in some circumstances, an opportunity to pull ahead.

Fortune, in conjunction with McKinsey & Co., assembled a collection of CEOs from a variety of industries to discuss managing through crisis. And while the industries they represent are wide-ranging, there were some very clear themes.

For example, we’re going to have to rethink the meaning of resilience. Rather than just another word for fortitude, resilience among businesses in the current world has also expanded to include a company’s culture. Corie Barry, CEO at Best Buy, said her company is doubling down in areas like supporting employee mental health and training employees to fill multiple roles: “kind of like a gig economy.”

CEO Darius Adamczyk added that Honeywell has also been doubling down on employee development. “We’re creating connective tissue with employees that has frayed during the pandemic,” he said. “In 2020 and 2021, we lost a connection, and we’re trying to reestablish that.”

Jeff Jones, CEO of H&R Block, said the company has emphasized training, knowing it had to speed up its operations. In doing so, it learned that some workers had issues with decision-making and risk assessment. By not viewing things like culture and ESG as separate issues, you end up fighting fewer battles, he said.

For Ken Xie, CEO of Fortinet, expanding the definition of resilience meant knocking down silos within the company and using things like the recession “as an opportunity to be more efficient and build a better infrastructure to prepare for the longer term.” And Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown said it’s important to “teach people to be naturally curious about what is to come,” using challenges as opportunities.

Another key? Avoiding distraction amid all of the noise.

“There is a lot of runway for growth if we stay true to our purpose,” said Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Brian Niccol. “We can’t control what’s going on out in the world…We have to focus on our people and our values.”

Mick Farrell, CEO of ResMed, noted the company was pushed to both build ventilators and dramatically increase its production of sleep apnea devices during the pandemic. By staying focused, the company was able to keep up with demand as best as possible given supply-chain issues and grow.

“Out of huge suffering came huge blessings,” Farrell said.

Personal resilience is the third and final common theme the CEOs addressed. Elevating your company and your workforce can create a clarity that helps you move forward, noted Jeff Huber, CEO of Honor. (And, he added, it’s sometimes an opportunity to elevate your industry.)

For Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com, that’s meant focusing on ESG, increasing diversity on the board, and arranging for Ukrainian refugees to have access to free or highly discounted rooms. By focusing on social issues, he said, “you will maximize long-term value for your shareholders.”

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