How To Thrive During a Pandemic According to the World’s Top Business Leaders

By the SMU Digital Marketing Team

Global moguls may not always be gurus of wisdom for every aspect of life — we won’t be taking relationship advice from philandering celebrities, for example, or tips on ethical business expansion from the founders of dubious businesses.

However, several business leaders worldwide have proven to withstand the impact of the pandemic, emerging wiser (and often even richer) than before. While a stratospheric net worth and sheer luck are, arguably, critical factors for their success, business acuity, agility, or even simple human empathy are also attributes that have helped them thrive during the current crisis. Here are some takeaways from world-famous business honchos on ways to beat the adverse effects of the pandemic:


Mark Cuban: Be transparent

When Shark Tank fan favourite and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban gives a pep talk, business leaders sit up and listen. The self-made owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks recently dispensed tips to entrepreneurs on ways to succeed during the pandemic, including adapting and adopting learning as a lifelong skillset.

He also advocated the need to communicate honestly, even when situations go south. For example, a company in which he invested experienced a security breach, resulting in a loss of US$500,000 for a client. Instead of covering up the crisis, he urged its founders to be transparent and open in finding a solution. He adds that business owners can gain respect and trust from stakeholders during a crisis through authenticity and honesty.


Sheryl Sandberg: Provide emotional support

She is best known for being a proponent of female self-empowerment through her 2013 bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sheryl Sandberg is also Facebook’s COO and is said to be worth an estimated US$1.6 billion. While the book had its critics, particularly among women of colour who did not feel they possessed the privilege of being able to assert themselves and “have it all”, Ms Sandberg nevertheless struck a chord with professional women who were juggling their career ambitions with domestic commitments.

Recently, she co-authored an op-ed on how the pandemic has been “pushing women to the breaking point” by exacerbating the effects of full-time jobs together with caregiving and domestic duties. Ms Sandberg reiterated the need for employers to help relieve the stress experienced by women through schemes to increase flexibility, rethink performance ratings or narrow the scope of work to avoid burnout. Employers and managers should be aware of the challenges faced by their workers and attempt to provide support — both by checking in on employees’ well-being and readjusting priorities, given the trying situation.


Anthony Tan: Embrace diversification

Helming the region’s first unicorn would usually sound like an enviable job. However, Grab founder Anthony Tan was faced with the uphill task of scaling a company that started as a ride-hailing app — during multiple lockdowns and a shift to remote working.

Now, Grab is a “super app” that offers food delivery, digital payment and financial services to over 187 million users in Southeast Asia. And while other ride-hailing companies like Uber faced difficulties during the pandemic’s onset, Grab saw its food delivery business grow exponentially. Mr Tan notes in an interview with Fortune that “the ability to have massive diversification across services and geographies has created that resilience for Grab.”


Brian Chesky: Rebuild if you have to

Airbnb revolutionised the way we travel, providing affordable accommodation and unique experiences that deviated from cookie-cutter hotel stays. But when Covid-19 hit, revenue for the holiday rental company dropped a whopping 72 per cent as travel came to a standstill. The company also had to lay off 1,900 employees in 2020.

However, Airbnb quickly experienced a rebound and was primed to meet the new travel needs of its customers. How? Rather than accept the inevitable, its founder Brian Chesky revealed how he rebuilt the company from the ground up, mostly over Zoom: Airbnb revamped its website to highlight the risks of travel within days as the pandemic worsened, offered Online Experiences that its fans could embark upon virtually, and focused on longer-term stays for people who wanted to get out of crowded cities and were able to work remotely. This flexibility enabled the company to bounce back in 2021, with a revenue of US$1.3 billion in Q2 2021 (vs Q2 2020 revenue of $335 million).


Forrest Li: Make tech accessible

Sweeping digital disruption is perhaps one of the most profound outcomes of Covid-19, and companies that managed to leverage tech innovation often thrived during the pandemic. Tech giant SEA — the parent company of e-commerce behemoth Shopee — doubled its revenue in 2020 from the year before, mainly due to heavy demand for e-commerce and online gaming.

Bestowed the Businessman of the Year 2019/2020 title by the 35th Singapore Business Awards (SBA), SEA founder Forrest Li spoke about the importance of making tech accessible to everyone: “It is now more critical than ever for us to help those who are uncomfortable with technology to learn how to use it, so that nobody is left behind.” Last year, Shopee introduced measures to assist small and medium-sized enterprises overcome pandemic-driven economic challenges by lowering fees and offering marketing assistance. This enabled more businesses, even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, to easily sell online.


Arianna Huffington: Nurture mental health

Founder of media company The Huffington Post and wellness startup Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington certainly fits the mould of a consummate power female. She also knows a thing or two about thriving amid adversity: In 2021, Ms Huffington launched her new book titled Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-Being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps to “end the epidemic of stress and burnout”, having admitted to collapsing at work due to stress and sleep deprivation, and breaking a cheekbone along the way.

As such, she stressed the importance of measuring “thriving” not only via money and status, but also through well-being and the ability to make good decisions. In an interview with Forbes, Ms Huffington, therefore, highlighted how the pandemic is an opportunity to re-examine the way we work — as the global population experiences a mental health crisis during this unprecedented event. This is the time to rebuild mental resilience and take small steps in avoiding the build-up of stress that may lead to depression, anxiety and other health woes.


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