A couple of moments have tempered this cynicism. Despite nearly 18 months of the most dramatic economic and societal events outside war, the leather industry has, generally speaking, come through better than we could have imagined and much of the reason unquestionably relates to first class decision making and leadership.

One Italian producer told me last week that he saw 2021 as being exceptionally busy even before adding in the possible outcomes of some new initiatives. While there are big differences around the world and across different sectors, managing to get through 2020 with a final downturn of 30% or below, cash reserves not totally depleted and entering 2021 with a strong order book with a clear direction seems to be a consensus view. Some tanners are surprised to be feeling optimistic at this moment, with free trade issues and climate change worries quickly following a pandemic whose course is far from run, but any objective interrogation of the facts highlights the fact that this resulted from good management rather than good luck.

What is particularly exciting is that some real strategic marketing has been going on; including a thorough re-examination of long-term trends with an associated sectoral analysis all linked to the look of future consumers and how they want to obtain their products and services. So, innovations have been varied with some relating to working in new market segments, some looking more at geographical supply chain resilience, some founded on expanded thoughts of sustainability and some looking at products better designed to stave off the increasing challenge from alternative materials. And of course, everyone has reconsidered how digital technologies should be employed in the business.

The second point arose in a Webinar I watched in what was called the Dean’s Series from the University of Bath. These Webinars were entitled “where are we going” and while useful, were not startling, so I did not have highly raised expectations of the final one on Leadership. Double tasking soon ended, though, as some startling points were made by a previous Dean of the School of Management, Veronica Hope Hailey.

One was how quickly CEOs had learned from Zoom. Everyone gets equal space, so it is more democratic. With the CEO at home, often surrounded by personal things, there are no grand offices. CEOs become more human, and appreciate the reality of family, of pets, of children in everyone’s lives; plus, the personal pressures each was under through the uneven impact of Covid-19. This all meant that many decisions were taken because “they just felt right” as companies came closer to a more basic reality of doing the right thing. There was no rule book here.

CEOs had to network to keep in touch with events and use contacts overseas, amongst suppliers and competitors as well as in government. They also had to listen to people at the bottom of their organisation. Initially, this was about listening with compassion, but soon it became obvious that there was important intelligence here that companies can use.

We are all looking forward to getting back to meeting in real life, but Zoom and Teams have found a place. I doubt I will ever be persuaded there is value in losing an entire day travelling to London for a meeting that lasts only an hour or two; but equally, hybrid meetings must find a proper formulation where the one or two people online are not effectively left out with a fuzzy sight of a room and indistinct sound.

Effective leadership requires humanity
More significantly, we will need to remember that Covid-19 has shown that managers need to think beyond technical leadership and management skills. Can CEOs retain their humanity, empathy and listening skills as society steadily reopens? Many employees have suffered in widely different ways from bereavement through to mental health issues and the normal we return to needs to be a different – a better normal for all.

Mike Redwood
June 2, 2021


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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