When Mike, our President & CEO, asked me recently what I was thinking about in terms of the business, I let out a sigh. It was March 18, 2020 and we were staring down a period of economic uncertainty.
The world was dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian government had just announced that they’re releasing $82B in financial support to help Canadian businesses and workers get through uncertain economic times. The stock market had lost 20.3% of value in 30 days and we were expecting hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada alone to lose their livelihoods.
Internally at Multiview, we had just transitioned to all staff working remotely and were in the midst of making sure communications with our employees, clients and partners were clear, concise and cautious. There were end-of-year activities to be completed and start of year plans underway. There was a lot to think about.
In hindsight, all those different thoughts really reflected three priorities:
- Can we survive this?
- What do we need to continue operating on the other side of this crisis?
- Is this an opportunity to thrive?
The week before Mike asked me the question, we had already met to discuss our company budgets for the coming year. Some clients were already starting to practice social distancing, closing their offices and having employees work from home. We thought about the broader implications of what might happen as COVID-19 spread. Financially, the company had never been in a stronger position to weather an economic storm. However, as CFOs and financial professionals, we’re always thinking about risks. With so many factors to consider, we still had to keep asking the basic question; can we get through this, and at what cost? Could we survive?
For every question that the team comes up with to test this, we have to be able to answer it. It doesn’t need to be a perfect answer, but the answers have to be reasonably accurate, timely, and they have to be consistent as we revisit them in the days, weeks and months to come. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic Controller who understands all of this and has access to the tools and resources to be able to respond to these. We’re making sure to understand the assumptions and how circumstances might change the responses. We are confident that we will survive the immediate crisis in front of us, and have communicated this to staff and clients. This is critical for us because we count on them as much as they count on us.
As a business, we cannot exist without a product to sell or service to deliver, clients to purchase and staff to deliver the products or services. The communication allows us to calm nerves and allow staff to focus on what they do best – being client obsessed. For our clients, they are having the same internal conversations on getting through the next few months and we need to make sure they know they can rely on our continued support and service so that they can focus on their business.
Operating once we’re through
Multiview is a 30 year old company, has survived its share of economic storms, with every intention of making it through at least the next 30 years. Retaining all of our current staff and addressing the long list of vacancies and required investments initially proposed by our budgets (pre-crisis) is a continuous process. In a sector with high profile competitors, surviving the storm but coming out weaker won’t allow us to execute our plans as intended. We are therefore thinking beyond the immediate and need to ensure that we can at the very least hold our position in the market, and even consider some semblance of growth. This means being sensible about the necessary operating cost reductions required to survive, and being strategic about the benefit from each dollar spent. We try and do this with each of our everyday decisions, but there’s nothing like a crisis to focus everyone’s attention on getting to the best answers.
What this means for us might include deploying existing staff into new roles so that we can maintain levels of service in teams that need the help while retaining our hard-earned product expertise from years of experience. In another example, we will put in place the process to better coordinate staff travel to ensure clients can still see us in person, but we can achieve this with fewer overall trips and with less disruptions to client schedules. Discretionary travel will be better managed, leading to immediate and continued cost savings, and freeing up staff resourcing for critical projects. Having the tools to manage all of this is critical, but more important is getting everyone to understand why we were making these long-term choices in the face of immediate threats.
The reductions in costs are not going to be pleasant to communicate but by being open and transparent about ‘the why’ with our leaders, staff and teams, everyone can get behind them. More importantly, it opens the door for everyone to think about how they can help in their own way and with their ideas.
Could we thrive once this is done?
Knowing that we can survive through this crisis and beyond, we’re asking ourselves if we could thrive. Having answered the first two questions, extending our thinking to thriving once we return to “normal” is next. If we can help our clients operate through this crisis, could we help other companies prepare for the next one (we don’t know when, but there always is another crisis). How could we expand our services, broaden our marketing reach or make those tremendous strides in the product that we normally couldn’t for all sorts of reasons? With fewer sales expected and therefore more time for our sales and marketing team, what could they do? With potentially fewer client implementations, could we actually get the whole team to focus on making not just incremental improvements, but major changes to processes and practices? Could outside resources not normally available or within our financial reach now be possible to engage? Acting upon these ideas requires reliable information, and the courage to execute.
There are many more bad news days to come in the weeks and months ahead, I wish you the best as we all prepare ourselves for the tumultuous times ahead. Andy Grove, the legendary former CEO of Intel said “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
As a CFO, I want to make sure that Multiview isn’t just good, but great.
About Justin Winchiu:
Justin has worked at Multiview as the Chief Financial Officer since 2017. Prior to this, he held progressive finance roles in multiple Canadian headquartered international development agencies. He has worked with local and international governments, boards of directors and funding agencies in North America, Africa, Asia and South and Central America.
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