What will the ‘new normal’ be for business post-lockdown?

26th June 2020

As the gradual easing of the lockdown continues, HW Interim MD John Wakeford asks what the ‘new normal’ will be for businesses.

After more than three months away from the office, many of us are becoming accustomed to managing our businesses remotely.

With social distancing and recommended home working (for those who can) likely to continue for some time, I wonder if we will ever go back fully to the pre-lockdown ways of working?

I can’t say I am missing being away from home several nights a week, commuting thousands of miles every month, the twice daily rush hour or even wearing a suit on these hot summer days.

And now we have a taste for this new work/life balance, which has proved that many of us can conduct much of our business online by taking advantage of latest technology, you have to ask why would we just return to the daily grind?

I’m not suggesting we’ll all just close down our costly offices and homework hereafter obviously; there is no substitute for pressing the flesh and we are social animals after all.

Daily catch up calls and twice weekly Teams calls with our staff are becoming the norm, with a glass of wine at the ready for the more relaxed Friday night social dial-in. We are also planning a midsummer outdoor picnic for a proper catch up with the full team.

One thing the lockdown has proven, which those of us in executive search and interim have taken advantage of for over a decade now, is that the technology is there to do business across the globe wherever you are.

As we said in an earlier blog in March, less time travelling would mean more time to support clients facing yet more upheaval. And so it has turned out. Whilst it is undoubtedly a tough market, things are starting to pick up and we have had a very busy month.

Private equity backed businesses and the financial services and retail sectors are experiencing early recovery. We are seeing particular demand for business transformation, finance and treasury experience as companies restructure and upskill.

The candidate market is buzzing, with a lot of good people available – hugely experienced and talented executives who have either been made redundant from larger firms or as interims are currently without a contract.

To use a footballing analogy, we have seen the likes of Leicester and Wolves take advantage of the woes of Arsenal and Tottenham and replace them in the top six in the Premier League. What is stopping a business that didn’t exist ten years ago become a market leader?

Technology is enabling companies to grow faster than ever; there are huge opportunities for medium sized firms, and those which are prepared to be flexible and innovative will flourish.

Global leaders that have nailed the multi-channel approach like Amazon, and those which have grasped the nettle during lockdown like Zoom, Just Eat and Netflix – and in the UK, Boohoo and Laithwaite’s Wines – are growing market share.

Opportunities are also there for the headhunter who works hard. This is a market that will be led by relationships with people you know and trust.

Talking to clients and candidates every day, I am getting more and more optimistic that we are turning a corner after an unprecedented second quarter which saw UK GDP drop a record 20 per cent in April alone.

But it is the businesses which adapt best to the post-Covid world, where consumers more than ever now expect to be able to do anything they want on a mobile phone and employees at all levels demand more flexible working, which will emerge strongest.

John Wakeford is MD of HW Interim. Contact him at johnw@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 113 243 2004.

Calculating risk: the return to work dilemma for employers and lawmakers

14th May 2020

By Spencer Jinks

After an unprecedented two month lockdown, the dilemma facing employers and lawmakers across the globe trying to navigate a safe return to work was epitomised in a single tweet on Saturday from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

In it he revealed to his 34m followers he was suing Alemada County over its refusal to allow the reopening of the electric car giant’s Californian manufacturing plant due to ongoing COVID-19 health concerns.

Having published a 38-page ‘return to work’ playbook for employees outlining an array of measures to keep workers safe, an incandescent Musk threatened to move Tesla’s HQ to Texas or Nevada, warning: “I’m not messing around.”

Monday’s New York Times described the standoff as “foreshadowing a potential clash between businesses and states over public health measures”.

Hours later across the pond UK Premier Boris Johnson signalled the relaxing of the stay at home restrictions which have been in place since March 23rd in a nationwide television address on Sunday evening.

The reason for Johnson’s keenness to get the wheels of the economy turning again is clear. The pandemic is set to inflict a 30 per cent slump in GDP and a loss of 1.5m jobs in the UK. With the Government currently paying the wages for nearly a quarter of UK employees under its job retention scheme, which is funding 80%   of workers’ wages during the lockdown, the budget deficit is projected to increase by more than £200bn this year.

Meanwhile the US economy lost 20.5m jobs in April as the unemployment rate soared to 14.7%   with Congress approving a $2tr coronavirus relief package.

The US has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world, with 1.4m cases and nearly 85,000 deaths, followed in second place by the UK with 230,000 cases and more than 33,000 deaths.

Government and business are therefore facing an almost impossible balancing act in desperately trying to negotiate a safe return to work, mitigating further economic damage against the risk of a resurgence of COVID-19.

So how will they achieve it? The experience of other nations ahead of the US and UK in the pandemic cycle is being closely monitored.

China has been easing its restrictions, with many employers taking heavy precautions including regular temperature checks, compulsory mask wearing in offices and social distancing.

Italy is trialling the reopening of shops and manufacturers in some regions, while some factory and construction workers in Spain have returned to work. Police are handing out masks and sanitiser gel to those commuting on public transport.

Austria has begun to loosen its lockdown restrictions by allowing small shops and DIY and garden stores to reopen but customers must wear masks and follow social distancing rules. Germany is allowing schools to reopen to some students and has begun to reopen small retail spaces, but the public are urged to wear masks outside their own homes.

In the UK, firms will only be allowed to reopen if they comply with new ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines. The eight guides covering various industry sectors include advice on staggered shifts and start times, social distancing, ventilation, cleaning etc.

Some global firms have already published guidance. Aerospace and defence company Boeing said it plans to stagger shifts, require face coverings, and install visual cues and signage so employees can keep their distance from each other, among other precautions.

 

Supermarket chain The Kroger Co. recently shared its in-house plan ‘Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses’. It minimises employee-customer contact through online orders, drive-through purchases, expanded pick-up and delivery services, digital payments and exclusive early hours for seniors/high-risk individuals.

Amazon said it would begin testing of its front-line workers for COVID-19, and eventually all of its employees. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company had cancelled any “large physical events we had planned with 50 or more people” right through until June 2021. Some of those events instead will be held virtually.

But while some changes will last only as long as the risk from the pandemic, others may remain and, as always, there will be winners and losers.

During the lockdown videoconferencing services like Box, Zoom, Slack, Webex and MURAL have proved to be effective in bringing people together; shares in Zoom have shot up. The flip side is the potential negative impact on future business travel, which could be hugely significant for the beleaguered airline industry.

Demand for online shopping and entertainment has also soared while people have been confined to their homes. Amazon’s share price has hit a new high, while streaming platform Netflix was at one point a more valuable company than oil giant ExxonMobil.

But Don Ghermezian, co-CEO of American Dream, predicted a bleak future for many retailers: “It is a very difficult time. I fully expect there will be records set for retailers’ closing (in 2020). This virus has exacerbated that situation. A lot of retailers aren’t going to reopen.”

As we, like all other businesses, consider our own return to work plan, we remain here to support both clients and candidates in interim and executive search remotely during these difficult times.

If you are an interim consultant looking for a new contract or a permanent executive concerned that your role is at risk, get in touch. We will be happy to review your CV and discuss the market and current opportunities. If you are a chairman or CEO needing advice about interim support or longer term plans for your senior team, give us a call.

Stay safe, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Spencer Jinks is CEO of HW Global Talent Partner. Contact him at spencerj@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 161 249 5170.

Be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity

1st April 2020

By John Wakeford

It was former US President John F Kennedy who famously said that in a crisis you should be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity.

We are undoubtedly in the grip of a global crisis that looks set to dwarf the economic fallout from the 2008 financial crash. And we all need to take great care to follow official advice to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the danger posed by the COVID-19 virus.

But both during and after this unprecedented economic and social lockdown there will be opportunities for talented interim executives and those looking for new permanent roles.

Boardrooms need to be aware that there is a realistic risk of senior executives falling ill in the weeks and months ahead if the spread of coronavirus matches predictions from Government scientific advisers.

News of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty all contracting the deadly virus within days, having worked closely together in recent weeks, is a warning shot to us all.

Experienced interim executives could well be back in demand to support boards who similarly find their top team taken out at a crucial time.

We are already seeing a big call for candidates with working capital/cashflow/restructuring experience to support clients with crisis management agendas. Now, more than ever, there is a crucial requirement for hands-on, strategic and experienced professionals to help navigate businesses through these incredibly challenging times.

Fortunately there is an executive interim community out there well versed at supporting clients remotely and primed to take on new roles, having seen a drop in demand for their services following the announcement of planned IR35 tax reforms.

Similarly, we have been continuing to deliver permanent search assignments which have reached offer stage via video conferences. It’s great to see clients adapting to a new hiring process and focused on bringing key talent on board.

Whilst it is hard to predict the full impact of the pandemic at this stage, it is inevitable that when we emerge from the lockdown we will face a very different economy.

Many businesses will be forced to respond by implementing major restructuring exercises at executive level and will need a fresh injection of talent to fill any gaps in key skills – particularly in digital transformation, ecommerce, finance and treasury.

Our message to both clients and candidates is we remain here to support you throughout the difficult days, weeks and months ahead.

If you are an interim consultant looking for a new contract or a permanent executive concerned that your role is at risk, get in touch. We will be more than happy to review your CV and discuss the market and current opportunities.

If you are a chairman or CEO needing immediate advice about urgently needed interim support or a discussion about longer term plans for your senior team, give me a call.

Like most of us I am currently confined to my home office, but having spent the past 20 years in global executive search I am used to conducting business remotely!

I look forward to hearing from you but in the meantime, stay safe.

John Wakeford is MD of HW Interim. Contact him at johnw@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 113 243 2004.