As I talk to these and other entrepreneurs about how they are navigating the current economy, it is incredible to see that many are not just surviving but thriving. I am struck by some of the similar strengths they have in common. The leadership traits these entrepreneurs embody are:
Decisive. The entrepreneurs I talk to are asking the right questions and then acting on them. They are able to find clarity in the midst of a complex crisis; to re-evaluate and assess what actions are essential for now, but at the same time be prepared for what comes next.
Brad Keywell is the Founder and CEO of Uptake, YPO member and the 2019 EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year winner. Brad was quick to identify a need and then took decisive action. His company is donating its AI-enabled maintenance software to fleet operators transporting food and medical supplies, to keep supply chains running smoothly.
Agile. They are the adaptable, flexible leaders who are able to pivot quickly and react fast to the changing economic environment. Girish Jhunjhnuwala, CEO of Ovolo Group, an Entrepreneur Of The Year™ alumnus and YPO member, explains how they have pivoted their hotel group to adapt to new restrictions. He says, “We continuously strive to innovate. Times like these require no other approach. By embracing the situation, we must adapt.”
Ambitious. Although goals may have shifted, successful entrepreneurs are unstoppable in their quest to make an impact. They are asking: How can we use our drive and ambition to help those around us? How can we grow and innovate? What opportunities does this challenge present? Can we try new ways of working, new strategies and new markets? How can we contribute value, not just now, but in the long term?
YPO member, Glenn Keys is Co-Founder and Chair of Aspen Medical, and Australia 2017 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year. His company has been at the forefront of supporting the emergency medical response to COVID-19. He believes that the companies who will survive the crisis are, “those that can look for the opportunities and pivot very quickly.”
Communicators. I believe this is such an important characteristic for all leaders. In a time when we are unable to meet physically, people still need to feel connected. The entrepreneurs making a difference are regularly communicating with their teams to show empathy, give reassurance, articulate gratitude, motivate staff, be transparent about the challenges ahead and show leadership by example. They are not only communicating with their workforce, but with their customers, suppliers, investors and networks. I love how some are starting virtual happy hours on Fridays via Zoom or sending out daily newsletters to encourage staff.
EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year for Indonesia and WEOY judge, Bernadette Ruth Irawati Setiady, is Chairwoman of Kalbe Farma. She emphasized the importance of immediate communication so that employees were not left guessing. Irawati and her team were quick to start a COVID-19 group on social media to communicate directly with their 12 factory heads. A medical team was also added to the group. It meant they could communicate safety information in an easy and effective way.
She says of this challenge, “It’s important to show empathy and that you care. We have never had an experience like this, but as a team we try to encourage each other.”
Creative problem-solvers. There is no playbook to this pandemic, and leaders are having to get creative in finding solutions. Often that can be through a collaborative approach, such as the pooling of resources and ideas. We’ve watched as the health care sector unites to face a common foe, and I’ve seen it in how entrepreneurs have responded by building partnerships and reaching out to their networks.
This is when communities, such as YPO, can make such a difference. When YPO member, Remy Garson, CEO of IBrands Global, shifted their oil production facility into making hand sanitizer, he called upon the YPO network to help. He said it made all the difference: “I am really proud of the YPO community for stepping up, and I am grateful to be a part of it. It feels good to know that we are helping.”
Resilient. I am seeing so many instances of the grit, determination and energy that entrepreneurs need right now – the leaders who think not only about how they can survive this, but how they can thrive and use the challenges we are facing to make us stronger in the long term. They have a positivity and can-do attitude, those leadership traits amaze me.
I think Girish Jhunjhnuwala sums it up well when he says, “We get knocked down, but we get up again. Ain’t nothin’ gonna keep us down!”
If you would like further insights into business resiliency as you navigate COVID-19, there is some great advice.
Passion for purpose. Everyone wants to know that what they do matters and that they are part of something meaningful. The effective entrepreneur unites their workforce around a common purpose – they have a clear vision and a strong set of values. They are the leaders asking: how are we aligning our crisis response with our purpose? They are digging deep to find their best selves.
Ability to think big. While our physical world has gotten smaller, successful leaders are still able to think big. They realize it isn’t just about addressing the ‘now’ but recognizing the need to reassess the ‘next’ and anticipate the ‘beyond.’
Brave. It is an incredible quality I see in many entrepreneurs. They have the strength to embrace a challenging situation and the courage to make bold decisions. Whether it’s taking the risk to step into a new market, or making a decision to put purpose above profit, they are able to keep pressing forward and see disruption as an opportunity to grow.
I appreciate Keywell’s insight on this. He says, “It’s okay to be a bit scared, it’s not okay to stop. We need to continue to move forward, to act, to build, to create. This is a time when entrepreneurs are vitally needed in our world.”
Generous. This last of these leadership traits may be the most important of all. We are really seeing a generosity toward others that are suffering through this crisis from our YPO leaders and EOY alumni. And the generosity is not just financial, it is the giving of time, learning and ideas. I love the recent story of the 13-year-old Quinn Callander, who answered a request from local hospitals to create ear guards, to help protect health workers’ ears from wearing masks all day. He not only donated all his ear guards, he made the 3D printing pattern available to everyone. In both his creative problem-solving and his generosity of making the pattern available to all, I see all the leadership traits of a future entrepreneur and YPO member!
These are just some of the leadership traits that entrepreneurs are bringing to this moment. They are the qualities that will enable these leaders to not only weather the current crisis but thrive beyond #COVID19 and continue to be a beacon of hope in the days ahead.
To hear more from dynamic entrepreneurs who share an ambition to make a difference join the Class of 2020 for a virtual EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 on 4 June at 20:00 CEST and visit ey.com/weoy for regular updates. Viewing will be on the new EY Entrepreneur On-Demand digital HQ on cnbc.com.
EY is YPO’s strategic learning advisor.