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Sudden Change – Temporary or Permanent

Businesses in every industry are facing this question. Have the impacts of the pandemic changed how we will do business permanently? Will we move back to the way it was – more or less?  The answer is different for each business and industry and related strategic planning has been (or should have been) in high gear since March of 2020.

The impact of the pandemic is not unlike the impacts felt by particular industries or countries in the past, it is simply much larger and happening on a global scale. In 2001 I was President of Crystal Group Inc., a business that designed and manufactured rugged computer architecture for primarily the communications / telecom industry. Ending the year 2000 at over $40 million in revenue with 78% growth, it was apparent that 2001 had a different feel. It was pretty clear that rising interest rates were starting to impact the kind of financing required by telecoms to continue that trajectory. And by March of 2001 telecom buildouts slowed dramatically, catching many by surprise. An already softening stock market started a historic drop, exacerbated later in the year by the 9/11 attack. Our business ended 2001, a year in which we predicted at least 20% additional growth, more than 50% down from 2000. We reacted faster and better than many in our industry to accommodate the immediate reduction in demand, but we did something else. We looked at alternative markets where we had developed some traction to understand the opportunities to diversify or even pivot in direction. This led to our expanded efforts with the Department of Defense (DOD), a market that had similar hardened architectural needs, had been investing in our products for multiple years, and was far less impacted by the downturn.

Compounding the situation was that during the 2001 / 2002 market crash, the technological architecture used by telecom that required our products to deliver evolved from hardware to software. With that transition, when telecom began building out after the crash, the need for our products disappeared as we were replaced by larger commodity architecture providers like IBM. The impact felt in 2021 turned out to be permanent in our primary market. If we had not diversified our efforts as quickly as we did, our business would likely have failed. Instead, with refocused marketing efforts and additional technology development, the business grew past our record year 2000 mark and with ongoing investment and diversification continued to scale in the years to come. In 2001, a stellar management team, while cutting their teams by nearly 50%, earned virtual MBA’s as the company was saved and put on a trajectory for growth. What started out looking like short-term impact turned permanent, and that was a point in time, like this point in time, where initial adjusting to remain vital coupled with the right strategic planning and execution made the business excel in the coming years. Many that simply waited for the old to come back faltered.

Every business is a living entity that must be constantly nurtured and properly guided. Every employee that makes a business successful relies heavily on leadership to make strategic decisions that allow for them to continue to learn and grow. This pandemic has offered up significant obstacles as opportunities, and every business leader owes it to their team to make sure their business is taking the strategic action necessary to allow for such growth.