Pivot or perish seems to be the new mantra for most businesses—a coping mechanism if you will—amid the year of the novel coronavirus. From vulnerable mom and pop stores to giant corporations, the unprecedented times have witnessed bold and unexpected pivots by businesses that realised the health crisis called for the re-enactment of the Darwinian evolutionary theory: ‘the survival of the fittest’.
Although the global vaccination drive is on in full swing, the world is not yet free from COVID-19. And changing markets have compelled global corporations to discover a sustainable path to survival.
Let us look at some of the ways corporates pivoted amid COVID-19:
Get out of your comfort zone
Could one have ever imagined iconic auto major General Motors (GM) manufacturing anything besides cars? However, even a global conglomerate like GM was compelled to switch gears and steer the company in a new direction when the novel coronavirus wreaked havoc across industries. GM partnered with medical device firm Ventec Life Systems to produce face shields and ventilators at scale, lending its manufacturing and operations expertise to cope with the increased demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). As it turned out, the secret sauce to GM’s speedy pivot was its longstanding investment in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, which enabled the corporate to quickly pivot from printing automotive parts to producing fixtures for face masks and other PPE in their assembly plants.
It is a fine example of how in a crisis, corporates can leverage their existing strengths and manufacturing capabilities to support the frontline healthcare workers battling the pandemic. The pivot allowed GM to retain its employees and find a new revenue stream amid a global health crisis.
Embrace digital transformation to sustain growth
According to a recent research finding, the percentage of investment in cloud computing by the pharma industry increased during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, there were acute drug shortages worldwide, compelling giant drug makers to critically analyse their traditional legacy platforms and accelerate the adoption of digital technologies to boost production and enhance R&D capabilities for the long term. Digital transformation is a key tool in achieving a successful pivot amid a crisis, leading to fewer errors and better productivity for companies. Indian pharma major Cipla displayed remarkable initiative when it partnered with American biopharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences Inc. to manufacture Remdesivir, an antiviral medication that helps treat COVID-19. The pioneering initiative was possible only because Cipla could boast of a robust supply chain that was supported by cutting-edge digital technologies, such as automated material flow and AR and VR technologies.
Lend expertise to find novel solutions
“Lead by example” became the motto for some of the biggest corporates during the pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, when there was increased demand for hand sanitisers, leading beer and alcohol manufacturers, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Bacardi, came up with creative solutions to stay afloat. With the Food and Beverage (F&B) business taking a severe hit during the multiple lockdowns, breweries could no longer depend on bars and restaurants for survival. Faced with this challenge, breweries innovated by pivoting to make disinfected alcohol and help first responders battle COVID-19 in the frontlines.
When leading companies in the spirits industry used their raw materials and manufacturing expertise to implement a smart pivot, they set an example for how large corporates can also be flexible in a time of crisis.
Listen to your customers
The global retail industry took a massive hit when COVID-19 hit the world. During the year, several retail giants, such as Walmart, Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Target, became more attuned to what today’s consumer wants. The ‘big box’ stores introduced services such as curbside pickup, home delivery and online ordering to make shopping safe and convenient for consumers during these times of social distancing.
Both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce giants such as Walmart and Amazon used drone technology to deliver groceries and other essentials to customers in a contactless manner.
At the start of 2020, few corporates could have predicted the drastic pivots and strategic shifts to their businesses that would unfold over the year. In hindsight, however, perhaps some good came out of the pandemic. Big businesses were compelled to get out of their comfort zones, innovate and explore unique survival strategies to stay relevant in the long run. In this way, most corporates did pass the ‘survival of the fittest’ challenge brought about by the global health crisis.