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WEATHERING THE STORM: Leadership Lessons from a Global Financial Crisis

This research project reviewed studies of business adaptation during the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. We looked for common characteristics and behaviors resulting in long-term success. What we found were three components that made a critical difference: organizational resilience, business strategy and entrepreneurial activities. How and why did these factors give some companies the edge?

Amidst a global pandemic, organizations in every sector face hard choices.

Some will weather the storm. They will survive the crisis and thrive.

Others will struggle to recover pre-crisis revenue and impact. 

Too many will collapse or wither away.

Decisions companies make now mean everything for the future.
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Are there lessons to be learned from past crises? What can we learn from 2007-2008? What helped organizations survive the financial crisis? As we attempt to lead through the COVID-19 crisis, how do we set our organizations up for success?


Invest in practices that create interdependence = Resilient organization

Companies that implemented alternative corporate social responsibility strategies before the crisis were more resilient during the crisis. Resilient companies:

  • Support employee rights and safety, including those of your suppliers;
  • Consciously commit to a diverse workforce; and
  • Support the rights of indigenous people.

Culture of diagnosis = Ability to survive a crisis

Companies that thoroughly understand themselves and their environment are more able to deal with crisis. These companies make a practice of understanding and predicting:

  • Areas of vulnerability in a crisis;
  • Roles, responsibilities, expectations and limitations of internal and external stakeholders;
  • Shifts in stakeholder perception of the organization’s mission and vision; and
  • Organizations that have experienced crisis in the past (real or simulated) were better able to handle the 2007 crisis.

Retrenchment + Investment = Ready to thrive

While it may seem risky, balancing cost-cutting and investment in innovation during a crisis is the path to success.

  • Most organizations focus on short-term survival and opt not to innovate.
  • Most prefer retrenchment strategies like reducing staff and slashing budgets for R&D, training and marketing.
  • Companies that combine retrenchment and investment strategies are more likely to thrive during an economic crisis.

Autonomy = High performance

Multinational companies that allowed units, subunits or subsidiaries to play by their own rules outperformed those who insisted on uniformity.

  • Units make important decisions without consent of headquarters.
  • Units do their own R&D, generating unique data and innovation.
  • Units develop new products to meet the needs of their environment.
Weathering the Storm - Report Cover Page
Weathering the Storm - Report Preview Page
Weathering the Storm - Business Strategies Report Page

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