COVID’s Silver Lining

5 Learnings from 2 Global Leaders on Re-Inventing Your Firm for an Evolving Normal

“2020 has been a fascinating year with what COVID is bringing to the table. We are focusing our efforts in three big buckets. The first and most important one is to keep our associates safe. The second one is to keep our business running.  And our third priority is to accelerate the reinvention of Mars Wrigley”

Blas Maquivar

That’s Blas Maquivar speaking.  He was one of two world leaders to join Cornerstone Chairman Simon Wan recently in a webinar discussing Global Leadership Perspectives in an Evolving Normal.

Blas is president of Global Emerging Markets, one of four geographic leaderships in Mars Wrigley, a family-owned multinational doing $37 billion a year in confectionery and  food products. He’s based in London.

Daniel Gamba

The second speaker, Daniel Gamba, is located in New York. He is the co-head of fundamental equities at BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager.

Two heavy hitters. And one of the key take-aways from an exceptional exchange  was not just the fact of change, but the Speed and the enormous Breadth of the changes brought in during 2020.

Learning #1 – Engaging employees

“The priority on our associates, or employees, is fundamental,” says Maquivar. “Our number one challenge as leaders is to engage our associates, to keep them energized, to keep them motivated, to build their resilience.  And it’s not just about physical health, but also emotional health.”

With the right associates and the right brands, other priorities fall into place – keeping the business running and accelerating the reinvention of the firm.

Acceleration at BlackRock also has a human focus on talent development, incorporating not only traditional learning but skillsets in technology and data sciences.

“We still recruit in the top Ivy League schools, but we also go to a much broader number,” says BlackRock’s Gamba.  “We hire about 500 people from over 200 schools globally, looking for diversity.

And not just in technology and skillsets but also age. We have to build a bench of talent who can represent the next generation.”

Learning #2 – The Digital Default

Mars Wrigley has over 50 global brands in the marketplace. Being in business over 100 years would indicate a solid understanding of consumer habits.  Today, to remain a leader even two more years calls for prompt understanding of the dramatic change in those habits.

We need to be agile, courageous and take risks. Like everyone else, we have limited resources. We have to get this right.”

The single most disruptive development is the “digital default” — making services so easy to access online that it becomes the natural place for people to go to.  Another macro shift is a back-to-nature and close-to-home preference associated with the environmental awakening.

“We really need to be best in class first on understanding these consumer changes,” says Maquivar, “and they are happening fast.  Something that was going to happen in five years probably will happen in a year and a half.”

Learning #3 – The Circular Economy

BlackRock has a unique world overview, with professionals practically carpeting the planet. According to Gamba, the firm is in contact with between 5,000 and 10,000 clients every week.

As an investment manager for $7.4 trillion of other people’s money, being not just on top but ahead of trends is everything. Today’s focus is on the circular economy and sustainability.

Our CEO made a big statement in January about sustainability and how sustainability and sustainable-driven companies are going to actually outperform the market. We are seeing acceleration of that.”

“We’ve seen tremendous success on sustainable related solutions,” continues Gamba. “Companies that invest in circular economy or are really aligned to the UN sustainable development goals are outperforming companies who haven’t really evolved into the new clean energy world.”

Learning #4 –“There’s no rest at the top”

If you are a Formula One racing fan, you are resigned to seeing Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton quickly build up a lead from the start, then be able to ease off to stay there.

Not so much in Daniel Gamba’s world.

“Being a leader is actually the task of remaining a leader,” he says.“It’s always easier to be #2 or #3 because you can just watch and copy #1.”

BlackRock stays ahead in several ways, one of the most important being diversity and leadership training.

“We create a lot of internships so our younger colleagues can have several different experiences both in skills and geographies.”

The secret is to view the Covid disruption as an opportunity to re-invent your business.”

Learning #5 – Finding the Balance

Both of the webinar speakers believe implicitly that success is determined by talent. Daniel Gamba interprets his priority in 2020 as “keeping our talent safe, healthy and able to operate despite the pandemic.”

We’ve gone very rapidly from about 35 offices globally to 66,000 “offices” where our people are now working”

Maquivar, too, obsesses about his people.

“The associate angle is in my mind every day. While digital and online are now a part of our DNA, we miss the human connection. There is a lot of creativity and spark achieved through physical human connection. The tricky part in the future is how do we find the right balance, so we don’t go back into the past but still acknowledge the need for human connection.

“I don’t think we have the answer yet. And it’s going to be very, very important that we crack the code and find the right balance on that physical and digital connection amongst us.”

You can view the full discussion on video here. 

Replay this topical exchange in full

In times of great ambiguity, leaders of global organizations require long-term vision, purpose, determination, and adaptability.

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