Insight

How CEOs can respond to COVID-19 and build a resilient future

The COVID-19 epidemic is emerging as the biggest challenge for multinational CEOs since the global financial crisis.

John Jullens

John Jullens

Principal, Strategy, KPMG US

+1 313-230-3000

As COVID-19 spreads and the negative economic effects multiply, CEOs need to act—to manage the immediate impact, but also to address the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has exposed. John Jullens, a principal in KPMG’s Strategy practice who worked for many years in China, provides actionable ideas about how to respond.

The first priority is to make sure that employees are safe. Then business leaders must protect their businesses from the supply and demand shocks—as parts and finished goods stop flowing from affected areas, and as consumers pull back. KPMG’s chief economist now forecasts a recession starting in the second quarter and continuing through the first quarter of 2021.

But CEOS face a long-term challenge, too. They should understand that this is not a one-off. Nor is this just about China. COVID-19 exposes the systemic risks inherent in how global businesses operate. By creating super-lean, just-in-time, global supply chains, companies have increased efficiency and made it possible to serve customers in all parts of the world. But, as COVID-19 has made clear, the hyper-efficient, low-cost-country supply model is not resilient. When the epidemic hit and supply lines were threatened, few companies had sufficient backup supplies or redundancy in their supply chains.

It’s time to rethink global strategies to be more resilient. There will be more low-probability/high impact events--disease outbreaks, severe weather events, earthquakes, and social unrest. By making risk management part of strategic planning, companies can routinely simulate how such events—as well as other variables--could disrupt their businesses and use those insights to design footprints and supply chains that will stand up to the realities of global business today. 

How CEOs can respond to COVID-19 and build a resilient future
In this brief paper, we discuss how companies can manage the immediate challenge to their business and also address the systemic risks that the COVID-19 outbreak exposes—risks that will not disappear when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.