Our May CEO Round Table was a great success and provided new insights on current issues. Our Eastern Europe partner, Natalia Beketova, hosted the event via Zoom. The CEO Round Table included several CEOs across various industries providing perspective from Europe, Asia Pacific and North America. A special thank you for the global insights from SynFiny’s CEO, Jeff Wuest, and Managing Asia Partner, Webster Shao.

Topics that were discussed include current pandemic’s impact and the office reopening process. To discover new insights on the topics discussed and the perspectives shared, check out the conservation points below.


Perspective from the CEOS

Western Europe and China

  • Each country has its own pace and set of regulations for back-to-normal, making it difficult for international business to do planning. The countries that were less restrictive tend to go back quicker, while countries on full lock-down (Italy, Spain) are coming back slower. China is only back 50-70% after 2 months. Russia’ scenario seems like a slower one.
  • Second wave is very likely once the restrictions are lifted – China has seen some of that already.
  • People are afraid to go back to the offices – there is a need to build up confidence in employees that it is sufficiently safe. Training on new behaviours and habits is required.
  • Businesses are forced keep the office population down to the min level dividing office staff population into teams and/or shifts according to the need to work from the office. However, those, who are allowed to go into the office may choose to work from home.
  • To enable the split-teams work from the office a basic external and office infrastructure needs to be up and running in addition to public transport and schools/ kindergartens.
  • Increased staff safety requirements including frequent sanitisation of common areas, testing for the virus and provision of infection control supplies such as hand soap, sanitisers and face masks lead to extra costs for businesses. Those requirements are critical – in one case in China 1 employee infected over 200 colleagues. Failure to follow the safety rules affects business reputation.
  • The pace of external changes and new requirements is very high and hard to keep track of. Business needs to keep in touch with employees and overcommunicate.
  • E-business has stepped up – in Europe retail businesses are forced to embrace contactless payment systems such as ApplePay, including conservative Switzerland. In China Nike has grown online sales by over 30%.
  • Retail habits would need to change – e.g. in cosmetics the shoppers will no longer be able to try the product the way that used to. The stores and the beauty companies would need to figure out the new options.
  • The pandemic has driven local vs global focus and has affected globalization. It remains to be seen how much it will drive localization of supply chains.


Perspective from the CEOS

Businesses in Russia:

  • Overall: A two-three months period may not be enough to move back to the “new normal”. There is a general feeling that the situation will not dramatically improve for another 2-3 weeks. In the businesses that remained open there has been an increase in contamination rates. The most important objectives remain to protect people, secure the supply chain and provide sustainable cash flow.
  • Office re-opening: Some companies have already made decision to delay office opening beyond the official date of June 1 (provisionally mid-June or later). Base plan is gradual return, with ca 20% returning originally and working in shifts.
  • Safety/infrastructure: It is still not clear what is required to provide safe and secure office environment. New basic office infrastructure including food delivery needs to be developed.
  • Internal surveys have indicated ca. 60% of employees at this stage are unwilling to return to the office. Some are keen to remain working remotely in the future (more in IT, much less in Sales).
  • Employee engagement was high originally but has been going down in May. To keep it up some companies have restarted more frequent communication sessions and daily leadership meetings
  • Layoffs: many are still in denial, but layoffs cannot be avoided and there are plans in place already
  • BCP: it is crucial to consider back up for critical people, processes and systems. People with unique knowledge or in critical roles will need a trained back up.