What have business leaders done to reassure and support their workforce through the Coronavirus crisis?

20 April 2020

We asked our partners around the world...




Karen Del Prete, New York.  k.delprete@friisberg.com 

In the US we have a mandatory ‘stay at home policy’ in most states. Although it has been challenging to conduct business, it really has been a very nice surprise to see how well employees are supported with technology and additional resources to do their jobs as comfortably as possible from home. We all know business as usual is a long way off. However, the best leaders are communicating honestly their challenges and their plans to move forward in these most difficult times with a ‘let’s do this together’ approach.



Birgitte Olrik, Copenhagen.  b.olrik@friisberg.com

In Denmark businesses have been compelled to re-visit and re-think their current strategy and business models – already some have even switched products and service offerings. There has been a clear acceleration of digital transformation including new channels, especially online channels both in B2C and B2B. Obviously in light of economic constrictions there has been necessary and widespread cost cutting in all facets of business to better secure the cash situation. An interesting development has been a change of sourcing from global to more regional/local supply chain. In particular from Far East countries to more near-by supplier locations. The government has made available support packages, including salary compensation, to keep employees in their jobs although in some companies there has been a mutual understanding of a lowering of the salary for the employees (10-25%) during the Covid-19 crisis thereby avoiding the need to lay-off people.



Luis Saverio Stateri, Sao Paulo.  l.stateri@friisberg.com

Here in Brazil there is a big difference between some large corporations that are able not only to maintain their workforce, but are being philanthropic, donating money, products and services, and the small, medium and even large enterprises that are highly affected by the crisis in the short term. In order to reassure and support the workforce, which means here keeping people in work, almost every company relies on the new measures being announced by the government. Most business leaders, from small to large corporations, are also developing and adjusting scenarios as the level of uncertainty remains high and at the same time our government announces new rescue measures almost every day. I would say that the majority of the business leaders are truly committed to avoid unemployment. Even in the most impacted industries, in which there is no room for cutting costs to match the huge fall of the revenue, the business leaders are implementing several recently-announced government measures to avoid unemployment, which basically allow the employers to reduce salaries for a limited period of time and temporarily suspend the contracts keeping only the benefits such as health care. One may take into account that Brazil has some of the of most rigid labour laws in the entire world meaning there is an obligation on the employers to safeguard jobs for the same amount of time of the salary reduction or contract suspension. It is imperative that business leaders remain very well informed, updated daily, empathetic and assertive in order to make decisions, focused not only on securing the future of the company, but also on saving as many jobs as possible.



Derrick Planting, Cape Town.  d.planting@friisberg.com

South Africa faces a few unique problems in that we have been hit by both the Corona virus and a global downgrade to sub-investment status which has created several challenges including a massive capital outflow and 20/25% depreciation of the Rand versus other major currencies in an already flat to no growth economy. This is likely to result in a negative growth of close to -10% and more over the next year or two. Our lock down will likely create bigger unemployment – pre-Covid currently on 30% but likely to grow up to 50% -which will need major social refocus and attention. The current GDP $360 Bill p/a growth is slow and flattening with a weak Rand, but this does offer great potential for exports if we can leverage our farming, value added manufacture and well trained, inexpensive contact centre technology – sadly tourism will need to be virtual and monetised. Current growth industries remain Telcomms, Healthcare, Education especially on line, IT, Agro processing, Manufacturing/ value added exporting, Contact Service Centres and Digital/IT marketing skills.



Andrew Guy, London.  a.guy@friisberg.com

British business leaders were way ahead of the UK Government in taking responsible steps to protect, reassure and support people – especially the people in their own businesses, but also their customers and the wider population. It was notable that bastions of enterprise in the travel, sport, leisure and entertainment industries were actually much quicker to react than the politicians by cancelling and postponing several major events. Football’s Premier League and Rugby’s 6Nations led the way with decisive actions to slow the spread of the virus before Boris Johnson declared the lockdown. Such responsible corporate citizens will be remembered and will retain the trust of their customers, suppliers and the British public. The economic effects of the crisis will be damaging short-term, of course, but the CEOs and Boards of these businesses moved quickly to save lives, despite it costing them money. Meantime, many more business leaders instituted working from home long before it was government policy and equipped their staff accordingly. The big retail banks ordered tens of thousands of laptops so their staff could be effective, and safe, working from home. Vistry Group stopped construction well ahead of the government edict to do so. ‘Doing the right thing’ is what leadership is ultimately all about. Taking the easy, popular or cheapest option can be very tempting but these champions of the common good actively turned those down this time. UK businesses are now finally starting to get the financial support that government was quick to promise, but has been slow to deliver. Those most decisive of business leaders who were swift to act, on only the early indicators, to protect their people will have helped their businesses (and their own jobs) over the longer term too.


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every corner of the world and disrupted daily life; every day there are more changes determining how we live and work.

Friisberg & Partners International is a long established, geographically distributed equity partnership with highly skilled partners, consultants and research teams in 40 of the world’s major cities offering executive search and leadership consultancy, in context, around the globe. We are highly effective in combining local knowledge with genuinely global capability.

We draw on the benefits of our diversity, bringing together people from many cultures with varied market experiences and different perspectives for strategic and organisational challenges. Never before have we faced a crisis of this magnitude, but our commitment to each other and to our clients remains constant.

If you have a question about business leadership you would like to put to Friisberg’s Partners, then please email Lorri Lowe, Partner, Friisberg UK: l.lowe@friisberg.com


Download this page as a PDF