07 May 2020

For businesses, Covid-19 requires innovation in real time

Ryan Tholet

Head of Investec Private Bank

Covid-19 is forcing change at an astonishing rate.

On a societal and individual level it is forcing us to collectively rethink the fundamental aspects of how we live our lives - from how we work and shop to how we educate our children. This is true, also, for businesses, which face radical disruption unlike anything they have experienced before. 

Over recent weeks I’ve been genuinely blown away by the extent of this resilience and innovation - and their many configurations - that we’re seeing day-to-day from our own clients. Today, in a webinar hosted by Investec Private Bank, we heard from four inspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders who are doing this:

 

  • Clare Blampied OBE, Managing Director of the UK subsidiary of Sacla’, the family owned and run pasta and pesto Italian business
  • Brad Woodhouse, founder and managing director of WELD (Wellbeing, Exercise, Lifestyle, Diet), which focusses on bringing a one-to-one and group training platform to the everyday individuals for the benefit of health professionals, users and small gyms
  • Roy Moed, the founder of LifeBook, which is the world's leading private autobiography service that operates in over 40 countries
  • Tom Savigar is a co-founder of futures and trends consultancy The Future Laboratory and the founder of Avansere, a new consultancy specialising in moving organisations forward through puzzling terrain to ensure they succeed by exceeding human and planetary needs. 

The onset of the pandemic has catapulted organisations of all sizes and sectors into completely unchartered territory, with many facing their usual generation of cash flow cut off at the source. Over recent weeks we have seen the government announce a package of support measures to aid businesses, both large and small, in response to the growing economic threat of a continued lockdown.

Alongside these measures, we are seeing many businesses taking further, practical steps to future-proof themselves, to build resilience and strength, to give back to their community and even - dare I say - to flourish.

This idea of the resilience of businesses is an interesting one, and I don’t believe it can be distilled into a single factor or attribute. Nor do I believe that it is only applicable during times of crisis. Whatever the state of the world around them, any good business should learn to expect the unexpected, to have contingency plans in place and to be able to adapt when needed.

That said, it’s important to recognise that the current situation differs from anything that has come before it. The far-reaching, global implications of the pandemic mean that we cannot rely on traditional mitigators that may have been effective during previous economic crises. Instead, businesses are having to drastically rethink every aspect of their approach - from their resourcing, employee needs and logistics, right through to the most basic elements of their operating models - in order to innovate in real time.

Firstly, there is the notion of adaptability: of recognising a shifting demand brought about by the new normal, and pivoting to meet this demand. For many, this constitutes a shift to incorporating online and virtual into their business models in different ways.

 

LifeBook is a unique example. With a client base averaging 82 years in age and new Covid-19 restrictions brought in worldwide, they needed to find a solution to go virtual without moving their business online.

 

LifeBook is a private biography service designed to help people write their life story and which, under usual circumstances, does so through conducting regular in person face-to-face interviews. As Covid-19 took hold, founder Roy Moëd soon realised his usual model would no longer be sustainable. In less than two weeks, Roy migrated the business to virtual, video face to face interviews, mobilised a global remote workforce of ghost writers and interviewers and set up the whole central office of project managers and editors remotely enabling the entire customer journey, including photo scanning to be no contact and no touch from start to finish. 

Important, too, is an ability to look ahead. Preparing for the next crisis (or the next phase of the current crisis) is more effective than waiting to deploy your next move reactively once your hand is forced.

 

As managing director of a food business, Clare Blampied of the UK subsidiary Sacla’ anticipated the risk of incoming disruption to the UK supermarket supply chain. Her business plan for Covid-19 was developed in advance of the outbreak arriving in the UK, and modelled based on daily analysis of the situation in Italy. This has ensured that Sacla’ has been able to maintain product availability in UK supermarkets, even whilst migrating its team to work remotely. 

Tom Savigar founder of Avansere and co-owner of The Future Laboratory
Clare Blampied OBE, Managing Director of the UK subsidiary of Sacla

Clare's business plan for Covid-19 was developed in advance of the outbreak arriving in the UK, and modelled based on daily analysis of the situation in Italy. 

 

Finally - and most notably - we’re seeing many businesses really lean in to offer ways to support their respective communities.

 

This crisis is a human one, not just a financial one: it has brought about a pressing need for connection, and anything that can facilitate that has a vital altruistic role to play.

 

Earlier this year, we partnered with global futures foresight consultancy, The Future Laboratory, to understand the key macro trends that define the 2020s. Many long-term trends have been exacerbated by Covid-19; as Tom Savigar, founder of Avansere and co-owner of The Future Laboratory, puts it, the crisis is forcing businesses to “fast forward.” Tom told us that “ideas that may have been on your business’ 3-5 year horizon have been rapidly accelerated: they are happening now and forcing us to move outside of our comfort zone in order to address them.”

 

Flexible working is one such trend. The predicted boom in flexible working could contribute an extra £148 billion to the UK economy by 2030, according to Regus – a result of many factors which includes personal productivity. But this opportunity could be at risk if personal productivity is impacted by isolation and a lack of community. As Tom puts it, “now is the time for businesses to show emotional intelligence, empathy, localism, belonging and connection.”

 

That’s where companies like WELD make a valuable difference.

 

Brad Woodhouse’s business, WELD, wanted to embrace the opportunity to help people living in isolation - to bring a source of community, and to help people stay active from home. In January this year, as the outbreak was beginning to take hold, Brad brought together his investors to look at how to accelerate the business’s ability to support the live streaming online training sessions. “We wanted to embrace the opportunity to help people,” he says, “and didn’t want to play the waiting game - we knew we needed to move fast.”

 

Each of these examples - and the many more that I come across every day when talking to my colleagues and clients - is proof that we will get through this time and emerge not only stronger, but ‘better’ too. I agree with Tom, of The Future Laboratory, when he points out that this is a rare opportunity for us, collectively, to pause: to focus more attentively on what “actually makes humans happy,” and to celebrate progressive behaviours and ways of working which will facilitate this.

 

Doing so will require a shift in mentality, and it will require innovation at a speed and scale few of us are used to. But it is possible.

 

For the Investec team, we see our role as being to foster and fuel this innovation, both internally and for our clients.

 

If, for all the uncertainty we are facing, Covid-19 serves to highlight that sense of renewed purpose, then that is no bad thing. 

Brad Woohouse Founder of WELD
Brad Woodhouse, Founder of WELD

We wanted to embrace the opportunity to help people and didn’t want to play the waiting game - we knew we needed to move fast.

Watch the full webinar here