Mar 25, 2020 - Economy

What U.S. companies can learn from Chinese businesses that weathered the coronavirus

A person checking another person's temperature

Photo: Xinhua News Agency / Contributor

American companies can learn from the experience of Chinese companies that stayed afloat during the months-long shutdowns as China fought the coronavirus, Boston Consulting Group’s chief economist Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak told me in an interview.

What they're saying: CEOs should lead the response themselves. "You have to really be in the moment. This is moving so fast," said Carlsson-Szlezak.

  • Company leaders have to "reframe this on a daily basis;" it can't be delegated to a task force.

Redeploy workers, don't lay them off. "You don't want to go into a mode where you lay off workers particularly since you don't know the duration," said Carlsson-Szlezak.

  • Some Chinese companies found creative ways to redeploy their temporary overcapacity — for example, one Chinese company quickly retrained staff as online influencers and were able to expand online sales.

Consider which consumer behaviors might change permanently. Some changes will be temporary, but others might stick.

  • The crisis may lead consumers to embrace different ways of interacting with companies and products.

Prepare for the rebound ... whenever it comes. "For many Chinese companies ... it was not easily predictable how soon a rebound would be underway."

  • Carlsson-Szlezak said that companies have to prepare in advance for that scenario, so that they are ready when the rebound comes and don't lag behind.

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