Across geographies, millions of lives have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period of great uncertainty in terms of public health and economic environment, it is now the time for global leaders to think constructively about how to reshape the future of the world.
In the “Leadership In A Novel Crisis” webinar hosted on May 5th 2020, we were delighted to be joined by Mr. Antony Leung, the Chairman & CEO of Nan Fung Group, to provide his insights on the current macro economic environment and COVID-19’s implications for businesses. Under the compounded effect of the pandemic and global economic recession, he shared about how global leaders could navigate for survival and pave the way for recovery.
How COVID-19 differs from past crises: the compounded effect of the pandemic and economic recession
Having weathered SARS with the Hong Kong SAR Government in 2003 and global financial crisis with Blackstone in 2008, Mr. Antony Leung expresses that the magnitude of COVID-19 impact is different and unprecedented compared to past crisis.
The negative impacts of the pandemic are compounded by the economic downturn.
He sees that the current macro situation is driven by two key risks: the widening of the wealth gap globally and the increasing tension between the U.S. and China. Uneven distribution of wealth is accelerated as a result of technological advances, globalization and printing of money.
Impacts on the Hong Kong economy
To mitigate the severe economic impact from lockdowns, governments around the world have been accelerating their speed to roll out stimulus packages. There is an advocacy of “Modern Monetary Theory” which suggests that governmental spending can lead to full economic capacity without automatically leading to inflation. As such, we are seeing an unprecedented speed in printing money around the world. Mr. Leung sees the consequences as two-folded: while it may eventually still result in further devaluation of money and lower economic growth over long run, but on the other hand, the extra liquidity may uphold the investment market and potentially the Hong Kong property market in the near term.
A follow-up question was on the types of assets that investors with the new money should be looking to invest in. Mr. Leung believes that one such opportunity is well-located real estate properties in global talent hubs. The value of those properties is expected to increase given the wealth generated by the talent pool in that location. The second type of assets are companies that are well-managed through the crisis which over the course of time will result in higher valuation.
How can global leaders navigate for survival and pave the way for recovery?
A crisis comprises both challenges and opportunities. As the prolonged effect of COVID-19 remains to be seen, Mr. Leung advises businesses to maintain enough cash at least for the coming 2 years in order to survive. Conserving cash by reducing non-essential activities, cutting expenses and salaries is the first step. It is important to look for new revenue opportunities which may include shifting businesses to online channels, market expansion and mergers & acquisitions with targets that create synergies.
Upon surviving COVID-19, it is time for businesses to re-imagine the new world in the post-pandemic era. Facing the new norm, leaders should review both the external factors and internal structures of their organizations. For Nan Fung Group, Mr. Leung states that the company has been pondering on how property demand will change in a post COVID-19 environment. While remote working practices and social distancing measures remain in place, there are inevitable consumption pattern changes in people’s daily lives. For example, there is an increase in online spending including food delivery and online shopping. Such may impact the demand for shopping malls, retailers and food & beverage related properties.
Lastly, Mr. Leung advises leaders to evaluate how businesses should position themselves and organize themselves under this new norm, especially relating to sustainability. As COVID-19 has created a global health crisis which also threatens the economy, both businesses and consumers are expected to put more emphasis on environmental, social, and governance factors (ESG) in upcoming business decisions. It will be imperative for companies to learn and apply the lessons learnt from this crisis. Putting sustainability principles into action will become the center of building resilient businesses for the future. Mr. Leung concludes that in the post COVID-19 world, citizens will be urging the government to prioritize and accelerate efforts on sustainability: in terms of both doing good and doing well. Companies will be evaluated on how they address ESG issues and integrate sustainable practices into their business processes.
To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Leung encouraged all of us to keep calm, reflect on one’s priority and ponder on the calling in life. Facing the shortage of optimism at the moment, Mr. Leung advised founders in particular to reflect on their initial purpose and motivation of why they first started their business and pave the way for success in the future.
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