History has a way of repeating itself. When it comes to challenges out of your control, disrupt or be disrupted. 

Companies are constantly faced with navigating a storm of business, health, social, economic and geo-political challenges. Today it’s a combination of supply chain issues, the Covid-19 pandemic, labor-related challenges, high inflation, and the war in Ukraine.

For companies that have been around awhile, it’s eerily similar to what we saw 20 years ago, emerging from the Sars health crisis, facing an intensely competitive global market and a global war in Iraq.

History has a way of repeating itself, and companies would be wise to plan for the transformative and disruptive approach to the next wave of global crises.


The strategy for surviving and emerging from recessions, health crises and global political crises must be focused on the future, not the present.

Companies that seek to disrupt, rather than be disrupted, not only survive these challenging circumstances, but put themselves in the position to thrive in the years that follow.

As managing director of 3M Thailand in 2002, Jack expected the economy to be turbulent and global competition to be more intense. But as top management, Jack was committed to finding the way to growth for 3M much like the company had in the years following the 1997 economic crisis.

Even when the 2003 Sars outbreak severely restricted business travel, Jack and 3M found opportunities. Companies started to use 3M technology to connect people and work collaboratively as if everyone were in the same room and using the same whiteboard to brainstorm, signaling the first wave of teleconferencing. Looking back, 3M changed the game of business communication as Net meetings increased nearly 5X compared to pre-Sars usage, and the 3M Digital Wall Display created new ways for companies to reach their colleagues, customers and suppliers around the world.

zoom call

>> Fast forward to early 2020.

As Covid-19 lockdowns began, companies were forced with a new operating environment. While many operational employees could find alternate ways to complete their jobs without coming to the office, the same was not true for those on manufacturing and production floors. For businesses to survive the pandemic, keep up with consumer demand, and effectively navigate compounding business challenges, leaders were forced to make tough decisions. Media framed these as protecting employees by halting operations, or putting employees at risk by staying open.

But this decision did not reflect the operating reality.

James Hardie, under Jack’s leadership, made the strategic but tough business decision that aligned with its business strategy. The company kept its manufacturing plants open since day 1 of the pandemic. In doing so, employees continued to benefit from a paycheck and the company was able to satisfy the increased demand Jack predicted as consumers started investing in upgrades to their homes.

Keeping plants opened

Employees still get paid

Satisfying consumer demand

But James Hardie went even a step further. As a good local and global citizen, Jack took care of employees, their families, and local businesses by providing extra bonuses, meals, and goods purchased from the members of the community, investing in local restaurants and food service companies that were struggling to keep doors open.


In both cases, the results were not only continued growth and transformation, but increased goodwill and loyalty among the stakeholders that matter most.

Companies can learn a lot from successes like these. But it starts with leaders being committed to going beyond your typical business planning efforts and make the right but tough decisions at the right time. Find ways to leverage expected turbulence – like the next Sars or Covid-19 health crisis – to your advantage. Disrupt the market and you have the opportunity to see long-term benefits.