I am not a financial analyst, economist or a Malcolm Gladwell and I do not have a crystal ball to definitively predict what will happen to the corporate world when we eventually emerge from this Covid-19 emergency.
It's easy to foresee the bloodbath - on Grafton Street and in certain sectors- which has already begun in terms of liquidations and receiverships. What is more intangible is the effect this long drawn-out crisis will have on corporate behaviour and corporate reputation.
For many years I have witnessed and represented excellent companies delivering on what they see as their mandate for their various stakeholders - quality products and services for their customers, jobs for their employees, revenue for their suppliers - all under the old Friedman Doctrine that the overarching purpose of their business is to make a profit and pay dividends to their shareholders.
In doing so, many also acted responsibly in their communities, giving back where they saw local needs and where it benefited their reputations. They sponsored large scale sporting, cultural and other public events to achieve visibility and goodwill, while devising corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes to fulfil their role as good corporate citizens. Reputation management became a central part of their ethos and self-interest, and surveys tracked in league tables how well they were doing.
Following the financial crisis, good corporate ethics, culture and governance became an industry in its own right. A plethora of educational initiatives emerged to teach business executives and even directors how to make right choices and protect themselves from weak stewardship. Companies and brands began clawing back their reputations, aiming to rebuild badly damaged trust with their customers, staff and the entire body politic.
Whole divisions in large companies were devoted to risk management, including reputation risk, to embed prudence into corporate culture, prevent hubris and guide decision making.
Regulation increased and central banks the world over stretched their tentacles deep into the financial services sector. The banking industry itself set about addressing its own behaviours in establishing the Irish Banking Culture Board. The EU levied huge fines on companies for breaches of their contracts with consumers. As climate change moved up the public agenda, fund managers developed new environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment products and companies began publishing Sustainability Reports. Philanthropy went big time.
So, over the past number of years, the corporate sector has increasingly had to become more socially conscious, valuing and measuring its societal impact while still being true to its now revised fundamental purpose - to drive stakeholder value, not just shareholder value.
Then this emergency comes along, putting a whole new speed and power behind what was a gentle trend. A gale-force wind is blowing on corporate reputations and I do not see how companies can believe it will not impact their whole raison d'être and behaviour in the months and years ahead.
Look at the seeds of it right now - small companies are responding to a national need on a pro bono basis, pivoting production to supply PPE at cost while employee morale in so doing has never been higher.
Companies and wages are being kept afloat by the State while shareholders sit quietly. Airplanes fly half-way across the world to bring supplies in and natives home whose flights have been crowd funded. Some companies have declared a pause in dividends, some have not. The letter of the law has had to be put aside - some landlords are giving rent breaks on leases, knowing that it is counterproductive to drive the commercial tenant out of business. The insurance industry was elbowed by the minister for finance. Some companies have pledged to pay their small suppliers early to keep their cash flow flowing.
Corporate relationships have never been more important -Bono goes lobbying the South Korean president, Apple's Tim Cook and Chinese companies to source supplies for our health service. Companies which try to take advantage of state support are outed quickly as greedy opportunists.
Commentators are predicting a shift away from capitalism and globalisation that will continue. Growing your food locally, manufacturing locally, suddenly looks like a way to manage your own future risk.
No one knows how this will pan out, for companies or for consumers who keep them in business. Will there be a kind of "post-war" mood, this time of self-imposed austerity and purchasing prudence and a reversion to old-time values?
There is also, of course, the possibility of seeing a 'Roaring 20s' euphoric mentality whereby the survivors decide life is too short and unpredictable, so will spend, spend, spend. In effect we could see two divergent trends for consumer behaviour depending on values and savings.
Whatever happens, the shock has been so great and so prolonged the only certainty is that life will be different, and different also for the private sector, including all commercial entities.
Will companies, as true citizens, focus on building up their social instead of their share capital? Employee health and protection became the top priority in recent weeks and will mean a total reconfiguration of workspaces and working hours mandated as we return to the office or the factory. Will employee welfare continue as a priority beyond the vaccine?
I think there will be more social polarisation between security in employment and insecure, gig economy, zero-hours type jobs. This could be the biggest societal expectation of business. I believe there will be a continuing priority on workers' economic health - possibly even a universal wage - in the new world.
While capital will naturally only go where it has a reasonable expectation of a return, will investors be forced to rethink what is proper for successful companies in an era of depression?
Will we tolerate Big Pharma profiteering on a vaccine? Who will pay the State's bill for the new 'socialism'? How will directors and boards justify extreme levels of executive remuneration and still manage to retain the permission to operate under a social contract, retaining trust and enjoying a corporate reputation which underpins value?
Will companies have to become almost philanthropic in some of their behaviours and expectations of return?
I believe corporate activism will grow as companies need to be seen to solve, not just sell. Expectations of responsible behaviour by companies will multiply.
Is there the possibility of a new corporate altruism as companies adapt? Will companies build and wield their "soft power" in attracting and motivating staff and customers?
How will the brands which held our hands in the crisis, hold and build on that emotional connection with their customers as we recover? Are there new businesses that will address new shifts, funded not by the traditional markets but by "the crowd" if their service is seen to "do good" and have "purpose"?
We have witnessed and admired genuine public service and public servants in recent weeks. Will the era of State-owned commercial entities come back into vogue by necessity? Will the State be forced to step in and own hotels (remember Great Southern?), to own airlines, food companies (remember Irish Sugar and Erin Foods?), or shops and insurance companies? We might well be facing an era of "de-privatisation".
Certainly, as costs increase and recession bites, the need to communicate, to explain, to justify and most of all, like doctors, firstly to "do no harm", will be right up there among the top commandments.
Notwithstanding how we all relied on Big Tech in the last few weeks (I have even mastered Zoom), I believe there has been a huge acceleration in humanising and socialising corporate life.
Companies will build great reputations not just because they have great products and services but also because they are known to truly care and show it through action.
It will, literally, pay to be kind.
Ita Gibney is executive chairman of Gibney Communications, one of Ireland's leading public relations companies.
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