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Implications Of Coronavirus On Business, According To Top B-School Deans

We asked deans from Stanford, Oxford Saïd, Cambridge Judge and six other top business schools, to explain the business implications of the coronavirus pandemic

Sat Apr 18 2020


Business schools might become more relevant than ever as the world adapts to the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. Fundamental change in everything from global supply chains to remote working brings with it the opportunity to rethink traditional ways of working. 

In this period of rapid change, business leaders will need to navigate complex, uncertain environments. There is also a sense that leaders need to step up to actively shape the future of business. 

Who better then to unpack how the coronavirus, or COVID-19, crisis will reshape the world of business than the deans of the world’s top business schools?

Business implications of coronavirus 

Opportunities for business leaders

Jonathan Levin, Stanford Graduate School of Business 

The global pandemic has shaken our everyday lives and disrupted every aspect of how we conduct business. Something as basic as human touch and face-to-face interaction have become potentially dangerous, exposing stark realities in the definition of ‘essential business’.  72f8e061879dd57dc00477ac9d5281665945e93a.jpeg

Some sectors—for example, healthcare, medicine, protective equipment manufacturing—are strained to the breaking point. Yet others—travel, tourism, performing arts—have screeched to a halt, laying waste to businesses large and small and leaving communities devastated.

In the wake of the pandemic, uncertainty exacts the heaviest toll. In the months and years ahead, the world will need leaders who can chart a path through the chaos to bring stability to their organizations—a daunting task to be sure. Yet, there are opportunities for business leaders to rethink the role of the corporation and their accountability to society. 

As the economy reboots, several elements will become increasingly clear.

Science and medical discovery are crucial to economic recovery. Has the coronavirus been eradicated? Has a vaccine been developed? Can people safely go back to work? Knowing the answers to these questions is key to getting the economy back on the rails. Knowledge and independent research are vital, and with it the role of educational institutions.

 The economy is interconnected and global. Countries must cooperate to contain the spread of the virus, develop and deploy a vaccine around the world. Moreover, policy-makers must be held to account as they work with business leaders at all sectors of the global economy, at organizations large and small, to assure the health and well-being of society. Economic recovery depends on it.

Three key trends 

Franz Heukamp, IESE Business School


It still remains to be seen what the 'new normal' really means for business after this crisis.  However, there are three trends that I think we can already see will have a big part to play in this:

1. More scrutiny and emphasis on purpose

Many businesses are doing their part to try to help society during this pandemic; this is very positive. Companies that are transparent in their communications with their employees and are trying to do right by them and wider society - even when hard decisions have to be made - will come out with renewed loyalty from employees, customers and clients. Once the public health aspect of this crisis subsides, the focus on purpose and thinking beyond the bottom line will be more important than ever. Especially as, in straightened economic times, people will be thinking more carefully about which companies and brands they choose to support.

 2. A focus on entrepreneurial agility

The economic and societal impact of this crisis is huge. As such, we need agile businesses who are able to spot opportunities and innovate quickly in light of a new playing field in terms of both supply and demand. As a global crisis, recovery will not be quick nor even, and a changing economic and societal context means a change of consumer tastes and needs.

3. An increase in the trend for remote work, as well as virtual meetings and events

While many companies have been moving towards allowing employees to work remotely, never before has so much of the workforce, at all levels, been required to do so at any one time. All types of companies have thus been forced to put in place new tools that allow them to manage employees remotely and learn how to do it well. As such, once the crisis subsides, it will be much easier to make the case for more remote work.

At the same time, while I expect business travel and face-to-face gatherings or events to pick up again post-crisis, it is likely the quantity will be reduced. Instead, businesses will be moving many of these interactions online, and only concentrating on meeting in person when there is a clear value added by doing so.

Need for transparency

Bill Boulding, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business


As I’ve been speaking to our faculty, students, staff and alumni about the implications of COVID-19 on business, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the importance of leadership in this moment, specifically the need for transparency. I believe this has always been an essential leadership quality but is more important than ever in this challenging moment. 

A business leader’s job is to instill a sense of common purpose across a team to achieve the mission. The leaders who are most successful in creating common purpose have a combination of IQ (intelligence) + EQ (emotional intelligence) + DQ (Decency Quotient). DQ means a leader is genuinely trying to do right by others and is looking out for team members.

As teams are working remotely with an extremely high-level of anxiety in the world, DQ is absolutely vital. Transparency is a key part of decency. A leader with high DQ will naturally be transparent to provide reassurance to his or her team when appropriate, but also be honest about challenges of the moment and a company’s pathway forward.  

Leaders who exhibit DQ will continue to retain their team’s trust and the team will give their best to find solutions to support the company through turbulent times.

Beyond leadership , I also believe the COVID-19 pandemic will change how people think about what can be done online versus face-to-face. We are living in a real-time experiment in which suddenly we find ourselves engaging in ways we never have before online. Many people are finding an upside to online engagement and that will carry over when we have a vaccine and can again safety interact.