Written by Sara DeHoff
Beppe Robiati is a serial entrepreneur based in Milan, Italy. Having started and lead companies on several continents, Beppe brought his extensive experience to help us all #rethinksuccess during a recent ebbf event.
In this webinar, he shared his insights on how companies can address the crisis caused by COVID-19. These are complex times and both individuals and companies are looking for answers. But we’re also looking to build future-oriented, stronger, more resilient companies. Beppe brings a values-driven perspective to help make sense of today’s situation and what we can do to build a better future.
Starting off the webinar, Beppe described the need to understand the coronavirus pandemic at three different levels: global, individual and the company.
Global — At the global level, the world has had a number of crises over the past 100 years: two world wars, several global financial crises, climate change, mass migration of poor people across the world. But humanity never reflected on these problems. Now we are facing a virus that does not regard geographical borders or political systems.
The structure of our society, which is based on national organization, is not prepared to combat a worldwide virus.
Individual — At the individual level, we are learning a lot about the accumulation of wealth and the ego.
This virus is teaching us that we have to share our thoughts, our capacities, our talents, our wealth with the rest of the community, to all be in a better situation.
Company — At the company level, the priority right now is to stay afloat. A company is like a boat. In a severe storm, you have to attach to a buoy to survive the turbulence. This means:
- Reduce the working hours and salaries of all employees by the same percentage, from the CEO to the last worker.
- Be in touch with your clients and let them know you are here for them. If needed, make arrangements for regular payments on their invoices.
- Suppliers should be constantly in touch with you, to understand the financial situation and find a solution to stay alive.
- Use every tool, every means, every instrument the government offers for financial assistance until the turbulence is over.
So these are the four main advices I am giving to all the companies which I am working with. Today two of them applied those steps. They will open on Monday morning.
How do you find this buoy in the middle of an ocean storm when your visibility is not very clear?
Beppe described how in one company they started consulting on everything; all the details of the company are discussed at all levels. No single person has the entire picture. By talking together, they can find solutions. Right now, making plans for an entire year is impossible, so they just make plans on a weekly basis.
Right now, we need to have daily consultation and a weekly vision on everything, including financial problems.
Do you perceive that there’s a European mentality or an African mentality, or is there a global way to approach a crisis?
The problem we have today is that we don’t have a global system. Each country has its own way of dealing with the virus.
The virus is teaching us that in the future, we have to organize a world structure. Because the earth is one country and mankind its citizens.
Companies are facing the same problems, whether in Africa, Italy or America. Their circumstances may be different and their solutions may be different. But the system of consultation is valid worldwide.
Putting together unity in diversity means that each one of us gives their own opinion, their own approach, their own idea on the problem. At the end, we will find the solution.
Beppe related that, in his position at the top of the company, he doesn’t know all the details of the factory. For example, how do you protect two workers who are working on the same machine — at a distance of two meters? You need to consult with these workers to find the solution together with them.
Of course this creates a lot of work, a lot of effort and working and double hours than before. But the solutions that we are finding are fantastic!
After the pandemic, what do you envision the new normal to be like?
Since not much is known about the coronavirus, we have to realize the virus will be our companion for a long time. So we need to organize things in a different way and use the technology for remote work wherever possible. People are actually working better from home than from the office. They are developing inner qualities of honesty and sincerity.
So this virus is teaching all of us a new way of working. We have to try new systems and mistakes can be done. But the way to find the solution is through mistakes.
Will the world seize the opportunities offered by this pandemic to bring about profound changes in our belief systems and practices?
Beppe described our current situation as a war between the virus and materialism. If the pandemic was short, society would not be modified. But because it won’t be short, society will change. Some will go back to the way things were, but society will begin to change.
We will have better people, because a lot of people have suffered a lot. Europe will become more mature, will become more united.
The world is facing a lot of crises. How do we discuss these issues and at the same time feel positive about the future?
Our current political system is a national system. Before that, we had empires. Before that we had city-states, cities, villages, tribes, families. Each time society jumped from one of these levels to the next, there was turbulence and difficulties. To become nations, there were wars of independence all over the world. Now we need to go to the next level — the global level. This time the turbulence is not war, but other crises: economic difficulties, financial difficulties, environmental difficulties, the migration of millions of people and health, the virus.
These difficulties are the pushers of the structure in order that the structure will leave the national level to the international level. And only thinking at the international level we will find the solutions for the main problems about the economy, about migration, about health, about society and religion and so on.
The younger generation of workers, who live alone, are actually suffering by working remotely. Is there anything we can do for them?
This current situation will not last forever. When it is over, companies have options. In one of Beppe’s companies, they have already decided that people will work at home three days a week and come to the office on Mondays and Fridays.
The other thing is to help people connect with one another. In Beppe’s town, they had an online meeting to divide up tasks. One person buys the newspapers for everyone. Others cook food for people.
In one of Beppe’s companies, they have one employee who calls each worker every week to see how they are doing and if they need anything. Another employee calls all their clients. Another calls all their suppliers.
If we don’t change our attitude, when the crisis is over, we’ll go back to what we had before.
Yes, people are recognizing that the virus is a good teacher for three main points:
- Thinking about the global community: the earth is but one country.
- The local community is much more important than we realize.
- We need to develop those inner qualities: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.“
Maybe after the virus we will have another economic crisis. These are the pushers in favour of world unity and in favor of cutting a little bit our ego and accumulation of wealth.
How do we help people see that this time of crisis is actually the time to step up, to develop one’s capacity, rather than focus on scarcity?
For entrepreneurs, their difficulties are so intense that they are starting to understand this.
Sharing is today the most important word that we have to use and sharing means not only sharing ideas, but sharing experiences, sharing profits, sharing the instruments of daily life.
Women heads of state have been handling this pandemic much better. How is this crisis giving us the opportunity to acknowledge feminine qualities of leadership?
Beppe described how humility is connected with service, as humility only works when you serve the community. Women understand that humility is the way to give better service. When heads of state think only of their own country, their own self, it’s not a good example. Slowly heads of state will understand that the way to service is through humility.
In the Baha’i writings it is very clear: this planet will come together only when women will have the same opportunity as men.
What would you say to high school students whose school year has been disrupted by the virus and who may be questioning their own aspirations in life?
The new generation already understands the unity of the world. We need to offer them a vision for the future and help them develop those qualities within them. Beppe went on to tell a story about his own family. His son married a Namibian woman and they have two children. One day Beppe was in Namibia and picked up his 10-year-old grandson from school. In the classroom, he saw students from all different races and nationalities. He asked his grandson:
‘How many colors are you in your classroom?’ my grandson replied puzzled, ‘What do you mean?’ I thought to myself: ‘What a stupid question I just asked!’
Because my grandson doesn’t have this problem. I have this problem, because I am coming from another world. So you see, they [the young people] have the unity of the world inside their blood already. The only thing we have to give them is a vision for the future in order to allow them to study in the proper way and to be citizens of this planet.