So far, it’s been up to governments to lead the response to COVID-19, or coronavirus.

But a virus does not discern between public and private bodies—and that means that every individual and organization with a stake in society will have to take action as the pandemic takes hold.

For business leaders, that means the old adage that “every crisis is an opportunity” will be put to the test. The systems and protocols that run our global travel and everyday communication are being scrutinized like never before. We now have a chance to further improve these systems, combining them to create a complex network of prevention, containment and reaction.


In this sense, coronavirus is the ultimate test of business mettle. I don’t mean to detract from the tragedy of this virus and its victims, or from the medical teams on the front line. It is simply a recognition that everyone playing a part in this existential fight must play it well—and that, as the world’s most globalized system, business must take a lead.

So what can you do?

Share Your Contingency Plans

For companies, that means proving you have the ability to counteract and succeed in an immensely difficult business environment. The first steps are the obvious ones: Don’t be complacent, plan for the worst and understand that your best collateral at this time is your contingency planning.

I witnessed the importance of contingency planning firsthand when SARS emerged in 2003. A business training company I was working with in the north of England almost went bankrupt when 90 percent of its clients due to attend a training had to cancel because of the outbreak. They effectively lost 10 months’ worth of bookings in a week.


Today, we have more capability than ever to work around crises such as the one above. For example, a training company could now arrange video conferencing, brief delegates remotely at client offices, or create online tutorials so clients can self-teach. But the most important thing would have been to demonstrate a contingency process that clients could trust.

Withhold Information at Your Peril

Censorship can be irresponsible and dangerous. We’ve already seen how the actions of authorities in China and Iran could have cost the lives of thousands through monopolizing information. This is the antithesis to cooperation. In situations like these, there is a premium on sharing news, data and knowledge as quickly as possible.

Global businesses are in a unique position in that they are able to monitor staff health, supply lines, resource costs, production speeds, market movements and a myriad of other data to build a picture that illustrates how an event such as coronavirus is affecting the world. That is indispensable information for those looking to map and monitor the disease.

Further to this, the same channels for monitoring and collecting data that exist through markets can also be used to demonstrate and share best practices. Agile companies have always sought to develop and adapt quickly to take advantage of new tech or market developments. In the same vein, how they develop and adapt to mitigating coronavirus in a competitive space should lead to the fast evolution of a best practice range that incorporates different business sizes and sectors. That could be as simple as sharing an easily replicable work-from-home checklist, or it could be a feedback algorithm developed to minimize exposure to the effects of a pandemic, be that a workforce in flux or truncated GDP growth. This all feeds into the need for businesses to build trust and optimism.

Seek Out Partnerships

The world’s companies sit at the center of a Venn diagram of ability, connectivity and responsibility. Those business leaders who are able to demonstrate value through their support and partnership with governments, NGOs and research bodies will prove themselves as having made an opportunity out of a crisis and for purely altruistic reasons. That is an acknowledgement that the economy increasingly represents a complex global ecology, in which business is a key actor. How our companies and their leaders react to and emerge from this challenge may well define business in the 21st century and its role in that ecology.