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Did CEOs knew this is coming ?

The air was ripe with the fruity flavours of pomegranates and berries, while the sturdy mountains of Teheran were still capped with snowflakes. The flamboyant and modernist ruler of Persia, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi suddenly fled his vast kingdom in the face of emerging opposition from the conservative Islamic cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. Shah’s escape overseas marked the end of 2, 500 years of Persian monarchy in Iran and the beginning of hard-line Islam, and a revolution that was to plunge the nation into the throes of chaos and unrest. Why did the mighty Shah flee so suddenly like a deer encountering a hungry lion? Perhaps he had predicted the tumult his country would undergo thereafter…Perhaps he had gauged his declining popularity…Perhaps he knew he could do nothing to stop the spread of hard-line Islam and that of the Ayatollah. Was it his intuition? Or premonition? Or a vague hint about the conspiracy that was to transpire?

Fast-forward 41 years and the winter months of January and February to be precise. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans were reeling under the onslaught of a common enemy. An invisible enemy that appeared almost invincible. As the Asians battled with weapons that proved meagre, this enemy spread its tentacles to the rest of the globe, forcing modern-day governments to tackle it the contemporary way. That is by enforcing quarantines, imposing travel restrictions and debating lockdowns. And at that exact moment, fearing large-scale upheaval, just like Shah Pahlavi who knew it better to escape than confront his enemy, contemporary kings ran away leaving their corporate kingdoms in disarray.   

Match Group Inc. Chief Executive Mandy Ginsberg resigned citing personal reasons, quickly followed by Virginia Rometty, the IBM CEO. Disney CEO Bob Iger stepped down before his term end, while Harley Davidson’s CEO Matthew Levatich resigned after a 26-year stint. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who had shepherded the company through its IPO and its acquisition by Microsoft, resigned too. Joining these CEOs was Les Wexner, one of the longest standing CEOs of a Fortune 500 company who gave up being the Chairman and CEO of L Brands after selling a 55% stake in Victoria’s Secrets. These high-profile resignations happened within January-February 2020, when the coronavirus was eyeing a global pandemic transformation vouching to uproot economies. Why would so many CEOs resign in quick succession? Is it a coincidence? Or did they already know of the extent to which this virus would wreck devastation? Just like Shah Pahlavi knew of the upheaval a religious cleric would cause…

Coronavirus has indeed halted every activity not deemed ‘’essential’’. Businesses are closing down, while consumer spending is witnessing sharp drops pushing markets towards a recession. Central banks in multiple countries have or are cutting rates. Oil has slumped to $26.22 per barrel, the lowest since 2001. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has downgraded GDP to a mere 2.4% in 2020. Furthermore, the virus is said to cost the global economy upto $2.7 trillion, as per Bloomberg Economics. Yes…economic doom looms everywhere.

It is believed that the higher ups always have an inkling of what is to transpire. It is those at the centre and bottom of the pyramid that are often clueless and left to fend for themselves in tough times. Just like the gullible people of Iran in 1979 or the naive employees of these mega-corporations in 2020 that now have to steer ahead a rudderless ship or wait it out till a new captain is stationed to help them navigate the rough waters.   

An afterthought: Did those who resign do themselves a favour? Is it right to walk away in the face of war? Or is it wiser to hold forth, stand strong when confrontation strikes and chart out novel methods to trounce the challenge? History, especially Indian history is replete with monarchs and leaders who have time and again withstood challenges and emerged wiser and smarter. In today’s digitized world, being smart in a given. But holding on instead of withering out in the face of challenges is something only visionaries do.


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