Business Management, Entrepreneurship

First Epistle to Donald Chen, the ambitious and forward looking entrepreneur during the COVID epidemic

This first “epistle” from Wole Oluyemi to Donald (Don) Chen is one of the series of writings from the author on strategy, finance, leadership, corporate performance and sustainability. This series is to complement the SABI podcast series that was recently launched as a platform to share knowledge and some frustrations on entrepreneurship and business leadership. 

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  1. This first epistle is to Donald Chen, a co-entrepreneur and business leader, tightly joined by our mutual faith in the world of business and entrepreneurship. Our first meeting was inspired by a Twitter debate on our leanings as regards the economic school of thought. 
  2. By nature, I, Wole Oluyemi, a chartered accountant from the Ijebu tribe of Nigeria, definitely have strong beliefs in economics. I consider my position as an extension of the neoclassical economists because of my belief that there is always an “invincible hand” (usually moved by monopolies, unions and other players with strong social capital) that ultimately influences rational choice, market information and self correction attributes of the market economy towards the profit maximization objectives of the well positioned private enterprises. 
  3. The above position reflects my belief in the social market economies. Do not mistake the social market economies as being the same to socialist economic system. In fact, social market economic systems is opposed to both the socialist and laissez-faire economic systems, but encourages a combination of private enterprise, government regulation and intervention to establish fair and competitive markets. 
  4. Don, I recollect your last message to me via my Twitter DM on my way back to the San Francisco Bay area after my last trip to San Diego, my newly adopted second home. This was when you mentioned the fast-spreading virus, which you then referred to as a #ChineseVirus from the Wuhan area of China. This virus has been named #COVID-19 by the World Health Organization to avoid the name of the virus being associated with a specific location or country. 
  5. As of 28 March 2020, the continuous spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has almost resulted in a global recession, affecting businesses, financial market and economies worldwide. Oil prices have continued to inch downwards to ~$30 per barrel. Most conferences, religious and sporting activities have been put off till further notice or cancelled.  The summer Olympics in Tokyo was not spared. Global supply chain has been seriously affected with international trade and manufacturing efforts on the decline. There has also been an increasing travel restrictions and bans – all in a bid to curtail the spread of the deadly corona virus. 
  6.  For businesses and business owners, most have resorted to remote working where possible and other smaller or mid-size businesses especially in industries particularly hit by the impact of the virus have moved to shut down. Others have been moved in to compulsory shut down by regulatory guidelines issued by the government. 
  7. Don, the major question for entrepreneurs at this time is whether to halt operations for the period of the pandemic or to remain in business, weathering and trying to survive the storm. What shall we say then? Shall we continue our pursuit of profit, to confirm our immunity against this dreaded disease? 
  8. The above is the dilemma being faced by many entrepreneurs and business leaders at this time. Some were even hoping that prophesy by TB Joshua, the Nigerian prophet whose church modification construction killed some foreigners some years ago, would materialise by 27 March 2020 as he prophesied. He prophesied that COVID19 would end by yesterday.  
  9. Unfortunately, the update from the World Health Organization seems to be providing facts to the contrary. The United States of America (USA) has exceeded China as regards the number of infections. The USA has recorded more than 100,000+ infections. 
  10. So, what can businesses do? 
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11. While the above question does not have a clear-cut answer, it is dependent on so many factors such as the nature of your business, the industry, your location and other considerations. Even in instances where a shutdown has been mandated, what can you do to keep your business afloat regardless? Let me attempt to share five things that you need to consider at this time. 

12. First, strive to keep your customers. In this period, there is a likelihood that your customers’ needs may have evolved. As a result, you need to develop operational strategies to meet the evolving needs of your customers. Restaurants are now focussing on home delivery and pick-ups with ordering being made via online portals or via the phone. Delivery companies are using “contactless” delivery to prevent #COVID19 from spreading. For service-based companies, delivery via e-channels is now the emerging frontier, even for healthcare delivery. 

13. Second, be sensitive to new opportunities for your various businesses. As you know, ZOOM Video has benefited from this epidemic, as there has been a surge in the number of users on their platform. Of course, Zoom’s valuation has grown significantly by about 3x in a few months. Evaluate the impact of the pandemic on your customers’ and their business and how can you evolve to fill that gap.  

14. Be agile. Evaluate your business data for insights on your customer base. What services do they typically require during this season? Review your operations and research better ways to get things done, predict customer needs and prepare for business after the pandemic. Do you need to scale down production? Or should you produce a minimum threshold and warehouse? Do you need to operate only one store for now to minimize operational costs or what other ways can your business be super cost efficient and lean to survive at this time? There is no standard rule for all businesses, so you need to leverage on your business data to take these decisions. 

15. Be on top of mind. If your customers don’t come to you, do you have a process to reach them? At least, remain on top of their mind at this period. How? Communicate! Let your customers know your plans for this period. Reach out to your customers via calls or emails to strengthen your relationship with them, even if they are not making any purchases at this time. Let them know how to reach your team if there is a need to. At the end of these critical times, you would still be top of mind to your customers when they require the product or service you are offering. 

16. Leverage digital tools. As opposed to traditional channels, maximize digital channels especially to take orders and continually reach out to customers. Send tips or expert information in your area of expertise or business.  

17. In addition to the above five strategies, you need to consider how to keep your teams together without exposing them to any health risks. Several organizations like Roedl & Partner in Nigeria have adopted the “Work from Home” option. Some organizations are right-sizing their teams to meet their current needs. Of course, there are some organizations that are working on shift schedules to minimise the average number of employees that would be on their facilities at any point in time. Whichever option you choose would have significant HR, financial, legal and regulatory implications. However, as a leader, this is possibly one of the times to make very difficult decisions.  

18. I am hopeful that you will observe the above guidance to ensure that your performance won’t be impacted. 

19. Remember, as a C-Suite officer, you have a primary goal. Your primary stakeholders expect you to still deliver a good performance.  

20. I remain your advisor and executive business coach.

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