March 2020: Countries around the world are shutting down in an effort to ‘flatten the curve’ and stop the coronavirus’ spread. This inevitably means that businesses must close their doors, cancel meetings and, when possible, let their employees work from home. When individuals and corporations are facing difficult times across all industries, how can companies survive, and perhaps even flourish? Walter Soriano, CEO of UK veteran crisis management and security services provider USG Security Limited and WS London Management, answers some of the most burning questions concerning COVID-19.
Walter Soriano is the CEO of USG Security Limited. Image credit: USG Website
Walter, could you tell us a little bit about USG Security Limited and its background?
USG Security Limited started as a security services provider worldwide, with one major advantage; we were always the best at assessing risk from the perspective of the attacker. Our team members come from military and intelligence backgrounds, which means they excel at planning from that perspective. With this knowhow we developed our tailor-made security technique; we don’t like to overload a place with CCTV, entrance control systems, dogs, bodyguards, fences and lights. Instead, we like to adapt our security plans to the specific real threat.
Close to the financial crisis of 2008, a lot of our security clients started asking us to advise them in crisis management, as well. One day, the world woke up to the major collapse of the financial systems, which today we know was caused by an inflated bubble. When that bubble exploded, Disputes broke between individuals, corporations, financial systems and also governments, who were looking for money to recover their national treasuries. Many people who were in a business partnership, for example, learned that their partners did not have the resources they claimed to have or that they had hidden money in offshore structures.
In times of crisis or panic, people asses quite quickly who are the factors that they can rely on and turn to those they consider the most trustworthy. For many, USG was that trusted factor, after providing years of personal security, business security, data protection and so on. That’s why, when the 2008 crisis started, it was natural for many of our clients to turn to us for help. After several cases, we started developing our own doctrine of crisis management.
What is crisis management and how can it help companies?
First of all, we need to define the word ‘crisis’. People sometimes refer to any problem as a crisis, but a crisis is when an individual or an entity suddenly find themselves in such circumstance that they don’t know what to do. If you wake up with a fever, you know what to do: you call your doctor. But if, for example, you find out that your partner is stealing from you, there is no clear solution – if you go to the police and start raising havoc, maybe the banks will close your accounts, tax authorities will come after you and creditors will persecute you. In this situation, “the remedy calling the police) could be potentially worse than the illness”.
Crises, being complex problems, call for complex solutions. Firstly, you must assess the problem. Our clients sometimes, inadvertently, tell us very one-sided stories or are unaware of the facts. We need to investigate at length, exhaustively, and go into the details before we can give a diagnostic of the extent of the problem. Only when we have the full intelligence and a clear understanding of the problem, identifying all the components, do we start to think about potential solutions. The solution must batch the reality of the individual case, and not necessarily what the client believes to be the reality.
A good solution must be tailor-made, considering the challenges that the multiple-thronged problem presents. It’s important to add that good crisis management serves as an interface with a client’s legal team to provide them with real facts, a full reconstruction of the event, chronology, evidence. etc.
How do you see businesses and companies being impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19)? What risks or crises are different businesses facing?
COVID-19 exposes the fact that neither the free market nor governments can foresee every crisis. We can’t pretend we have emergency plans for everything. Time will judge, but we must be wary of a chaotic, disproportionate reaction and carry on with applicable solutions. For example, only cancel what’s unnecessary and allow everything which isn’t that certain to be contagious. Governments should impose restrictions, but also inform the population about alternative things they can do to keep living, to avoid collateral damage.
Like I said – when you manage a crisis, take into consideration a much wider scope of thinking, not just a single isolated factor. In this case, total isolation might take care of one aspect the pandemic, but what are the side effects? Our roads are dangerous, but we don’t stop people from driving them, we try to improve safety.
To return to your question, companies are facing enormous risks and irreparable damages. The impact on restaurants, which to begin with are not very profitable, would be catastrophic. These are small-medium enterprises which rely on cash flow and don’t have big profit margins. This causes a domino or snowball effect – unemployment, a financial crisis, debt. Everything a business forecasted in terms of projects, activities and revenue will be cancelled or delayed. Companies will need to deal with multiple claims from suppliers or contractors and solve problems they never created.
What can business owners do to avoid damages during this time, from a crisis management perspective?
First, always keep cool. Don’t get hysterical and lose control. We’re influenced by the hysteria of the media, which can sometimes be obsessive and apocalyptic.
Second, use your common sense. Which measures are unavoidable and strictly necessary? Which ones are not? Try to adopt a realistic plan according to your circumstances, and not something which ends up being unsustainable.
Third, prioritize daily and weekly tasks. Distinguish between the strictly necessary, the perhaps unnecessary and whatever is in between. What’s urgent and what can be postponed?
Fourth, be cautious and don’t undertake big commitments at this point, when the markets and currencies are unstable.
Fifth, look inside and find strength – you are stronger than you were made to believe. Sometimes things aren’t as bad as they seem.
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