IR Global Insights: Working smart, surviving and thriving

When Covid-19 first surged across continents, most companies had to mothball projects, downsize and quickly review their costs, supply chains, sales strategy and customer relationships.

US-based Danny Cortenraede, managing partner of Wannahaves and president of 433 digital medic agency, was typical of business leaders affected by the pandemic. After quickly downsizing operations and taking a closer look at his business survival strategy, he opted for a smarter, more long-term approach. For Cortenraede it was all about building on existing relationships and looking at long-term partnership goals rather than focusing just on short-term gains.

This included building the business around future demand, developing new online opportunities and focussing on sustainability. Cortenraede, like all canny business leaders across the globe, understood the gravity of the disruption, but he also had the vision to see past that disruption.

As companies continue to hurt from tariffs, trade protectionism and Covid-19, savvy business leaders have started to work smarter to build the international trading networks of the future.

Even before Covid-19 shattered the world’s global trade networks, international business had been affected by a series of seismic happenings. President Trump, Brexit, the US-China trade war and a resurgent nationalism and protectionism across the world signalled a serious deterioration in the notion of globalization. And on top of all this came Covid-19.

Following the election of President Biden some issues have changed for the better (or will in due course), although most business analysts believe it will take time to see a long-term upward trend in international trade. However, that’s not to say a turnaround is some way off – for many companies it’s already started.

As developed nations ease their way out of lockdowns there is clearly emerging a positive return to something like normality or in the current jargon, “new normality.” Making the best out of the worst, according to Cortenraede’s approach. The pandemic ironically could be the dividing line that signals a fresh start for companies big and small eager to take on new opportunities in a very different business landscape.

While still unpredictable, the transformation is going to be substantial and offer competitive businesses and their CEOs significant opportunities in the months and years ahead.

The major catalyst that will lift businesses out of the current malaise is technology. Even traditional technophobes have waxed lyrical about the positive changes the likes of Zoom and Teams have had on their business operations; increased engagement, saving on travel costs and it’s even got them thinking about downsizing from that expensive city centre office address.

Businesses have traditionally relied on a list of excuses to put off transforming businesses, but even the most jaded luddites now understand they need to be bold and take the initiative to build for the future. Investing time and energy in a clear vision of how, when and where the business needs to evolve is key for survival.

According to IBM, the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of businesses by as much as 60%. Within 18 months of Covid-19 first erupting everything transformed. And with this metamorphosis has come a different approach to remote working, the office as a location, business transparency, sustainability and customer expectations. Adaptability is now the order of the day for any company and in almost all sectors priorities are around workforce resilience, supply chain management, innovation, crisis management and enterprise agility.

Suddenly everyone’s talking about AI, IoT, blockchain, and the cloud – terms most CEOs had never used or understood two years ago. For a company to be competitive and successful they need to ensure their people are capable, resilient, and adaptable.

Meanwhile, supply chain risk management will be critical in the years ahead as businesses attempt to widen their supplier base while reducing their reliance on China. This will increase supply chain visibility and future planning to deal with supply chain risk, particularly regarding transport. According to KPMG, many companies admit they will try to shift to domestic production and less than one in 10 business leaders polled believe trade will go back to the way it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With this new world opening up for enterprising business owners, unsurprisingly CEOs and their legal and financial advisers are becoming busier once again, looking at cross-border opportunities in the wake of the pandemic. Companies are starting to emerge from their lockdown hibernation, implementing new strategies and eyeing international trading networks and possibilities – particularly where distressed businesses have had cashflow problems or there has been a rise in insolvencies in a particular jurisdictions.

Expanding a business overseas is once again becoming a strategic opportunity to build new partnerships, diversify revenue streams, revitalise product development and get a high return on investment. Expanding operations into a new jurisdiction is fraught with the old challenges and risks as well as the new ones, but for the smarter business leaders there’s possibly never been a better time.

In the following pages, IR Global members in different jurisdictions write about the challenges and opportunities of investing in their jurisdictions. Whether you’re looking at investments in India, Hong Kong, the UK or US, this guide is essential if you want to steer through the tax and legal issues that need to be addressed. With their incisive, in-depth knowledge, our legal and financial advisers will help you, the smarter business owner of the new post-covid era, make the right decisions right now as the world opens for business once again.