Bloomberg Breakaway CEO Think Tank: The Great Reopening

By Jennifer Roach, Bloomberg Live

Each month the Bloomberg Breakaway CEO Think Tank convenes CEOs and founders from across the globe to discuss important topics of common concern. This month, we met with CEOs across industries and regions to discuss the monumental task that lies ahead for companies to return to business-as-usual and the global economy to reopen fully.

Here’s what they had to say.

Participants:

  • David Blatt, CEO, CapStack Partners
  • Jim DeCarlo, CEO, StratWealth
  • Marie Dzanis, CEO, Northern Trust Global Investments
  • Vladimir Funtikov, CEO, Creative Mobile
  • Dan Hawkins, CEO, Summit Leadership Partners
  • Clive Jackson, Chairman & Founder, Victor
  • Brooke Jennings, Founder, Hygia Pharmaceuticals, LLC & ClearCureBiosciences, Inc
  • Karl Kilb, CEO, Boloro Global Limited
  • Sergio Retamal, CEO & Founder, Global4PL
  • David Roberts, CEO, Verra Mobility
  • David Rosenthal, Vice President and General Manager, Digital Business, Razor Technology
  • Sanjay Viswanathan, Chairman & Managing Partner, AdiGroup

Moderated by:

  • Carol Massar, Host, Bloomberg Breakaway, and Co-Host, Bloomberg Businessweek TV and Radio

Shutting down the economy was hard. Reopening businesses is even harder.

Clive Jackson, chairman and founder of private jet charter service Victor, described the operational challenges of his business, which was classified as a critical service in the early days of the pandemic as they helped with medical evacuations and repatriation. He noted that with critical infrastructure projects, you have to keep people moving — but it’s tough to do. They are working hard to keep an eye on signs of employee fatigue, not just by asking employees if they are okay, but also keeping track of other performance metrics that might indicate stress and fatigue. “Recognizing those signs of burnout is something we’re constantly focused on,” said Jackson.

Marie Dzanis, CEO of investment manager Northern Trust Global Investments, noted the complexity of navigating different countries’ regulations. “The exit was a lot easier than the entrance,” said Dzanis. “The status of countries and regions and, in the U.S., even by state, is changing dramatically and rapidly.”

Vladimir Funtikov is the CEO of Creative Mobile, a video game developer in Estonia. His company was luckier than many, he noted, as they did not need to shut down and the transition to remote work was seamless. However, with video game development, there is a point where you need to “capture the magic,” which usually involves getting in a room together and generating great ideas. His challenge is balancing the dynamics of the workforce — some employees want everyone to come back to the office, while others wish to continue with a remote work situation.

Managing relationships remotely seems to work. Developing new ones is harder.

For service businesses, one of the big questions: Whether or not client relationships would falter with remote work arrangements. “We haven’t skipped a beat,” said Jim DeCarlo, CEO of StratWealth. For wealth management and financial service companies like his, he feels this was a wake-up call, as technology allows them to be more effective and productive, with greater reach. “New business development is a little trickier,” he said.

Dan Hawkins is the CEO of Summit Leadership Partners, a consulting services firm. He was nervous at the beginning of the pandemic about how their services would be provisioned virtually, but clients have the same level of satisfaction and, in general, also find it more cost-effective. “Everyone has found a way to do work virtually,” said Hawkins. However, he echoed DeCarlo’s point on new business development. “Meeting clients you have never met before in your life and trying to establish this rapport over video … That’s tougher,” said Hawkins.

Karl Klib, CEO of payment services platform Boloro Global Limited, highlighted the fact that a lot of new business gets developed at very large industry conferences, which are likely to be among the in-person gatherings that take the longest to come back. “Who knows when those really large-scale events will come back? Those are great opportunities for very large-scale introductions to new business,” said Klib. David Blatt, CEO of CapStack Partners, highlighted virtual events. He’s found in many cases that they can be a more efficient use of his time — both for watching key sessions and networking. “A lot of [in-person] events are an exercise in business card collection,” said Blatt. He explained that virtual events let you get straight to the follow-up conversation more effectively. “We’re skipping to that part, without me having to travel, absorb the cost and lose the time from my day-to-day.”

David Roberts, CEO of Verra Mobility, noted that while some companies may be benefitting from the cost savings of less travel, businesses that are highly correlated to travel will lag other industries as the economy recovers.

Government support and stimulus are crucial.

Sanjay Viswanathan, chairman and managing partner of diversified conglomerate AdiGroup, discussed how his company is working with governments around stimulus policy. In terms of capital, how can governments accelerate deployment of capital? Two ways: first, provide to start-ups so younger generations can begin new businesses during this time; second, provide to larger enterprises — where they may need to lend capital differently. They are also looking at three industries that they think are crucial: manufacturing, agriculture and infrastructure, and how governments can take stakes in these industries to influence their direction.

Sergio Retamal, CEO and founder of supply chain company Global4PL, discussed the stark contrast between countries that treated the pandemic as simply a flu and those that better recognized the threat. “The countries that took this seriously as a health crisis, I think they are going to be much better than those who haven’t,” he said. He also noted that those countries that took it more seriously tended to put financial resources behind their efforts as well — thus incentivizing people to stay home. He worries about whether governments will provide further relief programs to stave off a global recession.

“It’s our small businesses that are the most worrisome,” said David Rosenthal, vice president and general manager of Digital Business for Razor Technology. “If consumer confidence tanks by November, we’re in trouble.”

Brooke Jennings, founder of Hygia Pharmaceuticals, LLC and ClearCureBiosciences, Inc, offered some hope for the outlook on therapeutics. Her company is working on developing a quick, 15-minute test that, she feels, in combination with an immediate therapy, will do a lot to stop the spread. “People are afraid of dying. If we have something that works, a vaccine that works in combination with what everyone else is developing, we have a good chance to get back to normal life. I’m hopeful for that,” she said.

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About Bloomberg Breakaway
Bloomberg Breakaway is a membership of CEOs and founders who lead sizable businesses with an appetite for growth. Members receive exclusive benefits from Bloomberg including data and intelligence and invitations exclusive virtual and in-person gatherings throughout the year. For more information about Bloomberg Breakaway, visit our website at BloombergLIVE.com/breakaway or contact Michael Forbes at mforbes24@bloomberg.net.