By Drew Ianni
September 9, 2021
“This is the first time in history when the entire world essentially stopped at the same time,” said Rishad Tobaccowala during a powerful conversation in a prescient CDX roundtable conversation held at the onset of the pandemic. “Unlike other crises such as the Great depression or 9/11, this is a global, simultaneous, political, financial, and humanitarian crisis…It’s the equivalent of an asteroid hitting the earth… This will move all of us to rethink everything, which is why I call it the great reinvention.”
Last April, as COVID was spreading rapidly across the globe we were fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with the author, long-time agency executive and futurist, Rishad Tobaccowala. And, today, as the Delta variant causes uncertainty for all businesses and leaders, we are revisiting Rishad’s comments on the long-term impact of COVID, his thoughts on key leadership qualities moving forward, and how leading companies must sculpt-in resilience to their operating models and core DNA.
The Future Corporation: Sculpting In Resilience
Companies will fundamentally transform during the great reinvention brought on by COVID. Rishad suggests that “the new corporation will sculpt into it resilience.” He means both financial and operational resilience. Tobaccowala noted that during the height of the pandemic, Airbnb borrowed $1B at the shocking rate of 9%, and that other downturn-shocked companies across many industries are quickly drew down their entire credit lines. In the future, companies will need to have “rainy day funds,” and can anticipate higher tax burdens as well.
They will also need operational resilience. Last year, Tobaccowala was already anticipating global supply chain problems and noted that “for most companies, the just-in-time method and relying on China [will not] work moving forward. And [having] resilient supply chains – which are different than efficient supply chains – will cost money.” And he believes big technology companies remain well positioned, noting for example that Google has already given itself flexibility: “Of the 220,000 people working at Google, 133,000 are contract workers.”
Leadership is always at a premium in a crisis. And in his recent book, published immediately before the onset of the pandemic, Tobaccowala laid out five key leadership ingredients– capability, integrity, empathy, vulnerability, and inspiration. “We are now in the foundry and the furnace of business,” he told us. “This is when real leaders stand up.”
As the COVID crisis mushroomed, Tobaccowala “stress-tested” his leadership ingredients – and found they were more relevant than ever. He also talked about understanding the importance of “integrating” these traits, for example vulnerability with inspiration.
Tobaccowala shared additional memorable thoughts on the future of education, work, and the prospects for start-ups.
You can view the full conversation below: