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The Science to Coming Back: Rebuilding After Crisis

Featured Events | Apr 05, 2021 |

By Andrew Clark

The impact of the pandemic has put countless businesses in difficult and rather unprecedented positions. However, even though they continue to face a slew of challenges, many still have the opportunity to rebuild and grow even stronger.

On March 17, the Gabelli School’s marketing area hosted a virtual event “Transforming and Leveraging Business Communities During and Post COVID-19 Crisis.” The event featured Michael Critelli (CEO of MoveFlux and MakeUsWell), Cathy Blaney (lead of partnership development at Bloomberg Philanthropies), and Hooman Estelami, Ph.D., (professor of marketing at the Gabelli School of Business), with each expert sharing the professional lessons they learned from three major crises—the September 11th attacks, the SARS outbreak, and the 2008 financial crisis—to illuminate how business communities can come back strong in a post-COVID world.

Collaboration is Key

When faced with rebuilding after any major disruption, collaboration can solve complex business problems, build resilience, and also address societal needs. In fact, many instances, the Gabelli School’s Hooman Estelami said, “I don’t think we have a choice other than to collaborate and to work toward that common ground.”

Michael Critelli, who is also the former chairman and CEO of Pitney Bowes, shared how collaboration helped organizations across several industries effectively deal with the SARS crisis and other major incidents.

“At the time of SARS, we brought together medical directors from a bunch of companies to do risk assessment in a fast-changing situation,” he said.

During the 2001 anthrax attacks, Critelli said that his company created industry-wide task forces that brought in a wide range of people from nonprofits, such as AARP. They had one goal: to “rebuild confidence in a communications and package delivery medium that was threatened by the fear of anthrax.”

Blaney, who is also special advisor to the president and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, echoed those sentiments, emphasizing the importance of connections and transparency. She spoke about the process behind planning the museum and emphasized the many interactions she had with communities in lower Manhattan. Informing them of plans and explaining in detail how building it would play out helped to build trust with the people living and working in that area, she said.

“Collaboration and communication bring in the trust element,” she added. “The more you can collaborate, I think the more true your message will ring, and then that will allow you to take the next step.”

Learning from the Past

Estelami, who refers to marketers as a “combination of historians and scientists,” said it is helpful to look at the past, identify what has worked and hasn’t worked, and then quantify it all.

“Even going back to events before 9/11, there is a pattern as to how companies come back,” he continued. “There is a science to this.”

While discussing past crises and referencing recorded strategies of military warfare, Estelami said that companies have to “look for that point of weakness, penetrate and focus all sources on that, and then rapidly deploy in that area.”

“If you as a company don’t know what your strength is, how can you even apply it?” he said.

Critelli said one of the things he learned from working through these multiple crises is that companies need to use the best and most granular tools to be able to assess risk and opportunity.

“Part of what businesspeople need to do is to eternalize the idea of continually learning, and not just from the big disasters, but learning from the small failures that could be the next big disaster,” he continued.

There are historical lessons that we can learn from disasters. Using 9/11 as an example, Blaney learned that if communities come together—with a single purpose of being united—then you can get the work done for the community and, on occasion, disagree later.

“We need to remember it starts in our own families, with how we react when we come home from work or from school, and how we react with our parents and with our kids. We are teaching the next generations how to handle problems.”

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