Like so many, I have been shocked and saddened by the horrific events taking place in Ukraine. The invasion and ensuing humanitarian crisis impact all of us—whether we have friends, family, and other close ties to the region, or we simply believe in peace, safety, and the dignity of all human beings.
And of course, we’re only now beginning to understand the potential knock-on effects to supply chains, commodities, consumer prices, and the economy at large.
As this crisis has unfolded, I’ve been reminded of a trip that I took in 1990 to Eastern Europe. Inspired by scenes of celebration after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, I set off in my car to drive from Berlin to Prague. As I passed through Checkpoint Charlie, it was like moving from color into black and white. The change in circumstance was sudden and extraordinary. Arriving at Prague at night, there was no electricity to light the streets and nothing on the shelves of the stores.
How far those formerly behind the Iron Curtain—not to mention China—have come in such a short period of time. And how quickly circumstances can change if we’re not careful.
Many of the assumptions that we have taken for granted for the past 30 years must be reassessed. The invasion of Ukraine is the latest—but by no means the first or only—step toward a more fractured, deglobalized world, and every business leader I speak to is trying to assess both the short-term and longer-term implications of these seismic shifts.
I expect the situation will become more challenging over the next few weeks and months. From my perspective, in the immediate term, companies need to focus on those things that can be controlled. Ensure the safety of your people. Meet sanction requirements. Assess your supply chain vulnerabilities. Secure access to critical commodity inputs.
More fundamentally, leaders need to focus on those core strategies that reflect the values of their organization. While the pandemic was different in many respects, there are lessons to be learned from that crisis. While there may have been some missteps in its early weeks, the business response to COVID-19 was unprecedentedly rapid and effective. What can you take from that period? What are the expectations of key stakeholders in the current crisis? Be your own chief communication officer and articulate a clear vision of how you are responding to these disruptions.
For a further insight on Ukraine and what might happen next, I invite you to watch a discussion that I had recently with William Lewis, the former CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and Anne McElvoy, senior editor at the Economist.