The power of resilience in business

By Alfonso Elías Bornacini, Chairman of the Board of Directors at RSM Mexico

The global health crisis we have been experiencing for nearly two years has taught us all what the word “resilience” really means. For business leaders  in Latin America however, they have been practicing it long before COVID-19. A landslide of changes to economic policies over the years have trained us to read the signs of the environment, and to use that intelligence to adapt our strategies and protect our businesses.

According to the study “Resilience and Reinvention of Latin American Entrepreneurs in the Context of the Impact Caused by the Pandemic”, which was recently published by the Inter-American Development Bank, almost all respondents of the survey within the study said that they took action to face the crisis. Some did it in a purely reactive way to protect their business during this emergency, seeking, for example, to balance their cash flow, or implement the infrastructure, processes and technology needed to allow their employees to work remotely.

Whereas we saw other businesses take more proactive responses, which saw them launch new products and roll out company-wide initiatives, change processes and adopt new technology, for example. This was accomplished without changing their business model.

As a Mexican I experienced the first great economic crisis at the age of 12 during the presidency of Luis Echeverría. This was triggered by the financial authorities ending 22 years of fixed parity of the peso against the dollar, which resulted in the first devaluation of these times. This naturally had a significant impact on business operations. Since then, and in every moment of all the future economic or financial crises that many of you might remember, after the uncertainty came a greater awareness of the root cause of these problems, and creativity helped to put solutions into action. This is how I learned, even as a foreground witness in the working life of my entrepreneurial father that crises have devasting effects, but they also come to an end. What can make a big difference in the long-term is how we decide to deal with them.

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my friend and colleague, Rafa Bravo, Director of Special Projects at RSM Mexico, to witness him fulfill his dream of crossing the 20 Bridges of Manhattan in a 30-mile swim in just over nine hours, without a break! Without even trying to, he gave me one of the greatest examples of resilience that I would like to share with you and that perfectly applies to the business world.

Rafa told me that the challenge was more difficult than he expected. Before the swim, it was estimated that he would make the trip around the entire island of Manhattan in approximately eight hours. For the first five, everything seemed to be going just as he and his kayaker had planned. There were only three hours to go. However, entering the Hudson River, the wind and surf were very strong. At that moment, they realized that the pace of progress would be slower and that instead of having three hours ahead, it would now be five. Additionally, Rafa already had a very strong pain in his shoulder. How did you keep going? I asked him. He replied “In my mind I thought, do I let the world come to me? Of course not!”. Joining only 20 Mexicans who have achieved this feat in history, Rafa chose to use all of the physical and mental tools he learned during the eight months and 800 kilometers of training. He mustered the strength to go through the resilience process in a very short period of time: Shock, Awareness, Taking Action and Transformation. This also represents a clear roadmap for business leaders to follow to aid their success and business growth.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank study, “an unavoidable fact is that the entrepreneurs who managed to carry out the proposed changes said they had suffered less from the impact of the crisis. On the other hand, a large portion of those surveyed stated that they had relied on an actor or institution in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this sense, it is interesting that those most closely linked to these actors are those that register the least impact in terms of their activity and their performance indicators (sales, cash flow or employment). In other words, they have achieved greater resilience”.

In business as in life, resilience is an individual process that is lived out in community. It is demonstrated in the way that we tackle problems that arise, and handle crises – big and small . It is important to consider what we want to achieve and why, continuously develop our physical and mental strength, and do not be afraid to ask for help, seek out collaboration with your peers and never stop trying.

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