Since the beginning of this epidemic, one positive part of our ‘new normal’ has been the emergence of what CNN anchor Chris Cuomo dubs ‘AmeriCANs.’ While the ranks of these AmeriCANs include people going the extra mile for their neighbor, as well as the front-line workers doing extraordinary work on the public’s behalf, corporations are also stepping up. From car companies, like GM and Hyundai offering financial relief to their customers to companies like Salesforce pledging no significant layoffs over the next three months, these companies are both building their brand in a positive way, while at the same time helping society and their customers by doing the right thing.
In his recent editorial, Fortune’s Alan Murray highlighted an opportunity for Big Pharma to fix its broken image by noting, “the key to surviving this pandemic lies in the hands, not of governments, but of biopharma companies.”
He’s right. This is the time for the private sector to step up and lead. By now, we’ve all heard of the Defense Production Act (DPA). It allows the President of the United States to require businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defense. Simply put, it forces private sector companies to supply whatever is needed by Uncle Sam. While ventilators are still important, it’s increasingly evident that testing is crucial to containing the virus outbreak. Only by invoking the DPA will we have a shot at creating enough tests to allow a return to some type of normal.
But why wait? Again, this is not the time for government but for the private sector to lead. It’s fair to assume that most of you have experienced some degree of ‘cabin fever.’ At the same time, many of us are likely torn between knowing that while staying home is the right thing to do, we still don’t feel like we are doing enough to fight this battle.
In my last blog, I noted that CEOs from around the country joined together over the summer and proposed a rethink of the purpose of a contemporary corporation. Briefly put, the idea is that corporations ought to go beyond the traditional purpose of serving shareholders and also factor employees, customers and society at large into its constellation of concerns. This is the time to do exactly that. During World War II, ad campaigns like the one featuring “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged companies and female workers to do their part in fighting the war. B-52 bombers, tanks, bullets, battleships got produced on a scale that otherwise would’ve proved impossible. Most importantly, Americans knew that doing the right thing also helped protect against a deadly enemy.
This is no different. While our political system is broken, every company should take this time and ask, what can we do to help? For tech and consumer companies alike, instead of creating the next big product – unleash the power of American workers to fight this battle. Whether it be creating PPE for our front-line workers, ventilators to save lives or leveraging AI or Machine Learning technology to defeat this disease or come up with new solutions for ways that society can function while a vaccine is still in development. By doing so, you will not only be positioning yourself as ‘AmeriCANs,’ and giving your workers a sense of national pride but will also be saving your company and this country from a future that could otherwise be disastrous.