Lessons From The Past, Thoughts For The Future

Time makes us forget a lot of things. It made many businesses forget the learnings from the GFC. In 10 years from now, many will most likely forget the learnings from the current COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn't have to be that way according to Syndicate Chair, Mark Schultz.

During his 25+ years of business consulting in Melbourne and regional Australia, Mark has worked across a diverse range of sectors and regions. As well as Chairing at The CEO Institute, Mark is currently on 3 non-profit Boards and acts as a Chair for 3 private company Boards.

The GFC, GST reforms, and COVID-19 crisis have been major events that many businesses have had little control over. How businesses were managed, lead and structured prior to each event has a major impact on how they survive and grow from the experience.

For example, many organisations cruised along post GFC thinking the world was never going to change - business was going to be good forever. The businesses that never stopped to look at the sustainability of their business model, never committed to a process of strategic planning or risk management (what happens if my supply chain dries up, what do I do if I lose 30% of my customers?) are now faced with unprecedented internal and external pressures and threats. Whilst it is highly unlikely that any business included a pandemic and its ultimate consequences into present or future thinking, this current economic and social / health event has exposed major weaknesses in many businesses’ ability to survive in turbulent times.

When we have major change externally, it singles out the businesses that lack substance - businesses that only exist because the market is buoyant and times are good. We will see a lot of collateral damage from COVID-19 - most likely this will be businesses that were struggling or just bouncing along prior to the pandemic, with no Plan B, no unique offering, no plan for the future or assessment / consideration of risk. A long time ago, someone once said that "failing to undertake any form of strategic and business planning has one benefit - failure comes as a complete surprise and it is never preceded by a period of worry or anxiety!" - this maxim very much reflects the current situation for many businesses today as a result of COVID-19.

In terms of the future and sustainability, small to medium size businesses have to apply the same principles as those applied by large organisations and ask themselves, 'how do we structure our business to give us the best chance of success?' It's important to set time around managing any business at a strategic level, not just going to work to be busy every day of the week.

In support of this new approach however, one of the biggest changes Mark has seen in business leaders over the years is the shift in mindset - acknowledging that they don't always have the answers and that it is alright to seek peer and external support.

Mark believes that when it comes to regulations and compliance, businesses have become so much more complex. Compliance should not be seen as 'tick the box', but rather an opportunity to improve the performance of an organisation. The big shift Mark has seen in business, particularly in growth SME sector, has been increased willingness to take external advice - contractors, specialist services like marketing, IT, HR , mentoring services, the recent growth in Advisory Boards and organisations such as The CEO Institute. The adoption of Advisory Boards has increased considerably in recent times, enabling organisations to implement the principles of good governance around strategy, sustainability, risk and compliance.

One of Mark's greatest challenges and achievements was launching and growing a successful business. When setting up SED consulting 25 years ago, Mark took a long term approach and paired it with strong critical analysis and thinking. SED consulting provided business support and strategy to growth SMEs and the company grew to have over 20 offices across Australia under a License model. Despite the economic downturn, the company successfully navigated the GFC through establishing and maintaining strong relationships with their clients and working from the premise that "we will be successful when our client is successful". In 2012, Mark set up Governance Today, which is still operating today providing governance and advisory services for non-profit organisations as well as applying the same principles to his work with SME Advisory Boards.

When asked about the future of business, Mark says "businesses that are open-minded, nimble, adaptive, customer / client centric and apply sound strategic planning and governance principles will be the ones that will be the most likely to survive and thrive". Mark foresees professional service organisations adopting a hybrid model - time divided between working in the office and from home, which would allow people to have a better quality of life by saving time on commute, and would also greatly assist employees manage family and personal commitments. The model could also mean a significant reduction in expenses for larger organisations, without loss to productivity. This new era will focus on outcomes not process, with greater flexibility provided across the workforce, enhanced personal accountability and the client at the centre of all strategies.

One of the challenges with new workplace models is how people will continue to learn and grow whilst working from their homes. What will be the effect on organisational culture with diminished face-to-face interaction? How will people, especially young staff, learn and grow? All this will require new thinking if we are to capture and build on the opportunities created by this new way of work forced on us by the pandemic.

In addition, if businesses are going to become more disparate and dislocated, the CEO could become further isolated, not only because of hierarchy but also geographically. Finding a peer mentor program becomes even more critical for a CEO and business owner.

"The CEO Institute is a really valuable proposition as it allows people to come together on a regular basis, at the moment virtually, in an environment that's comfortable, non-judgemental or threatening, to talk about issues and support one another. COVID-19 has particularly demonstrated its usefulness and value to members. It offers a great support model to assist CEOs/business owners navigate the unknowns of the new working world ahead."

Mark vacated his Ballarat office 12 months ago and has been working from home, an office in the garden, a timely decision in hindsight. While he enjoys working from home, Mark does miss being around people and the stimulation and learning from working with like-minded people.

Mark is at the "transition to retirement" stage of his life. A successful transition requires thoughtful planning and application and he is still learning how this will unfold over the next few years.

A tragic Melbourne Demon supporter, a consumer of books, wine, craft beer and music, a growing professional online shopper and active traveller, Mark has also written 4 eBooks and 3 hard copy books on corporate governance. And his next challenge... a novel?


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