Managing business in uncertain times: Impact of the recent crises and how companies can become more resilient
The Master Class CEE Alumni Association and the CEE CercleWU organized together a panel discussion on 23 May 2023 at the WU Campus. The idea was to bring together alumni of the Master Class CEE with the current class and learn from the alumni how to cope with the multiple crises and become more resilient.
The Master Class CEE and its predecessor Meisterklasse Osteuropa can look back on a nearly 30-year history with more than 600 alumni. During this time, the students and alumni have experienced booms and busts, more or less marked changes and crises in our economies and societies. The COVID-19 crisis was specific. It started as an unprecedented pandemic in modern days. The economies were hard hit but able to recover. Immeditate surges in demand, supply chain bottlenecks and labor shortages further challenged management. With the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 security and political aspects came to the fore. An accelerated digitalization and rise of AI, demands for more sustainability and inclusion, high inflation, and changed attitudes towards work have complicated the situation for management. On the other hand, crises create opportunities and room for new ventures. We invited alumni of the Master Class CEE to share their thoughts and experiences with us:
Michal SZUBA, Global Finance Director, CROMA-PHARMA
Aladar TEPELEA, ALLINDEX EMEA Lead & Co-Founder Mindset Technologies
Marcus LEBESMÜHLBACHER, Co-Founder, Halloid
Magdalena MÖSLINGER-GEHMAYR, Operations Manager, PUSH Ventures
Martin RAFAJ, President of the MC CEE Alumni Association
Crises create opportunities and support the entrepreneurial mind
Talking about how to manage in uncertain times and having three startups at the podium was already a strong signal. The main finding across the podium: To overcome a crisis you have to be entrepreneurial. As Marcus Lebesmühlbacher boiled it down: In a startup your default mode is crisis”. He left a paid job for a vision, to build the market for Holloid's 24/7, real-time, image-based in-line monitoring solutions that help producers of food, pharma and energy to reduce costs, improve quality, and raise safety.
Magdalena Möslinger-Gehmayr agreed with him: Crises also have winners and create opportunities. PUSH Ventures are betting on startups with a focus on health care and sustainability. However, the venture capital market took a dip in the last year due to rising interest rates and more risk averse investors. Not easy times in the venture capital scene.
Just going by sectors is not enough, so the opinion of Aladar Tepelea. Health care did not learn from the COVID-19 crisis, people and institutions are back in their previous behavior instead of utilizing the learnings from the pandemic. And he added you have to dig deeper to find attractive segments in health care. Magdalena Möslinger-Gehmayr pointed at solutions for chronic diseases where too little is done in relation to the potential. Michal Szuba of Croma-Pharma jumped in and referred to his own company. Their minimally aesthetic medicine with hyaluronic acid fillers are a full success. The Hidden Champion reported a 27% revenue growth in 2022. Croma-Pharma is global market leader in this very small but lucrative niche on the world market. So they made many things right. No wonder, that they are considering an IPO to fund their future growth.
Build resilience by good old risk management
As Marcus Lebesmühlbacher stated that there is no strategy on how to build resilience – it is just about good management. And stay agile. Being fast in applying news ways of thinking should become a standard approach in companies even without crises agrees Michal Szuba. He underlines that bringing clarity into the organization is important: What do we want to achieve? What is my role? How do we improve our communication with our employees? Proper communication with staff that also addresses their concerns is often overlooked in dense management situations.
Magdalena Möslinger-Gehmayr picked the suggestion up and continued: “You have to pay attention to your employees, to secure their (mental) health”. Furthermore, stick to your purpose and stay trustworthy.
Aladar Tepelea highlighted: “The way you approach such demanding situations as a manager is crucial.” And he continued: “You have to be able the imagine the good times, the achievements that will come. Manage your emotions and keep a positive mindset”.
For large industrial companies with operations in many countries of the world “classic management principles” still apply, so Michal Szuba. Good risk management comes on top. You have to keep the company running despite lockdowns and supply chain interruptions. Smart shift models during the pandemic that kept operating teams apart reduced the risk of production stops due to quarantine. In his former job he learned that steering a company through a huge crisis as the pandemic by just looking at financials is not possible. You have to understand the impact of supply chain interruptions on production or of health concerns on demand and your staff. A holistic view is necessary to cope with the different challenges.