COVID-19 and Beyond: the Critical Role of the Private Sector
Interview with Maissa Abou Adal Ghanem, Holdal
In her Board Member role for Holdal, a third-generation Lebanese family firm with partnerships in Retail, Distribution, Supply Chain and Manufacturing covering Luxury, Lifestyle, Healthcare, Personal & Household Care, Beauty & Grooming, Maissa Abou Adal Ghanem is also actively involved in sustainability, philanthropy and communication. Her 10-year journey with Holdal has given her a unique perspective on Lebanon’s shifting economic and social realities.
We spoke with Maissa to learn more about her family business’ response to the Covid-19 crisis and her take on what we can learn from this situation for the future:
Q: What was Lebanon’s economic situation before the outbreak of COVID-19?
The past six months was already a period of significant financial upheaval. Lebanon had the third-highest debt ratio in the world, which triggered a raft of complications for the country’s currency, infrastructure, banking sector and standard of living. 35% of the population was living below the poverty line. Despite the adversity, however, tourists were still visiting, restaurants were still serving food, bars were still packed with patrons and a great many family businesses were sustaining themselves.
Q: What changed?
COVID-19 has effectively shattered Lebanon, and whatever commerce was keeping the nation aloft before has become a casualty of the pandemic. Lebanon’s historic economic woes still exist and will only be exasperated by the closed doors and quiet airport. Like many other countries around the world, Lebanon’s healthcare system has become overloaded, but our infrastructure was already ailing before the pandemic hit. Now, it is stretched beyond the point of strain.
Lebanon does not have robust governmental resources and mechanisms to act as fail-safes against national catastrophes. That said, we are no strangers to crisis, and what we lack in public support we rely on a robust private sector to make up.
As we navigate yet another disruption, albeit a novel and particularly virulent one, Lebanon’s business community, including its family firms, have a significant role to play in protecting the people and institutions key to the nation’s identity, survival and eventual recovery.
Q: What can family businesses do to ensure their sustainability through the worst of this downturn?
In our family business over the past six months, we have been working on the crisis management plan to respond to the economic situation in Lebanon. We established five task forces with different focus areas to ensure that we properly manage our business priorities, our people, our organisational resilience and our engagement with all stakeholders. So, to respond to the Corona situation, we were able to form a committee within a few days to build the business continuity plan and spread it throughout the entire organization within the week.
I truly believe that as a family business, we are actually uniquely placed and can draw upon our past to take the right actions now.
Develop a crisis management plan and align the organisation on the right focus areas.
Ironically, it has been a daily priority for us at Holdal over the past six months, and it is frankly never too early or too late for contingency planning. Communication is critical. Where possible, a task force dedicated to managing people and communicating with stakeholders is an investment that reassures as much as it raises awareness. As we discovered, a team that also focuses on taking operational functions in an automated and digital direction puts an organisation in a safer place when traditional business models start to break down.
Be prepared to act swiftly, decisively and empower your teams.
Our team became aware of the distressing statistics related to COVID-19 and saw that even after a full week, the response from the government and the nation’s institutions were insufficient. The preparation we had done as an organisation allowed us to put a continuity plan in place that included support for every single one of our colleague to work from home while providing the right resources and infrastructure to enable our heroes to deliver the necessity goods to our community.
Look around, learn and anticipate.
The challenges we faced before the COVID-19 pandemic taught us important lessons, and similarly, lessons can be learned from this crisis that may be invaluable when the next crisis hits.
Organisations achieve sustainability by continuously rethinking their business models – it is an effective strategy, whether a pandemic-sized obstacle arises or not.
Develop impactful collaborations and synergies, both internally and externally.
Every single team member has an important role to play during a crisis. Crises offer a focal point for businesses to redefine those roles and realign the core values that inform them. Many businesses benefit by having their employees think like entrepreneurs. In a time of crisis, this might generate ideas that can help keep people and communities safer. Moreover, the spirit of constructive cooperation felt in a crisis will continue to serve an organisation long after the crisis has passed. This extends outwards as well – to key partnerships with other organisations or institutions that share the same core values.
Q: What would you say to family business leaders struggling to find some positivity in all of this?
The opportunity to build on pre-existing strengths, coupled with the knowledge we can gain simply by looking around us through these extraordinary circumstances, might be the only silver lining to this crisis. The authenticity and the core purpose of any organisation is the basis on which we can draw our strengths to overcome any crisis. Facing adversity together might enable us to become better parents, partners, consumers, employees and citizens. COVID-19 is a brutal wake-up call; we must emerge from it stronger.
Maissa Abou Adal is a 3rd generation family business member and Director on the Board of Directors of HOLDAL in Lebanon. She is also responsible for the group’s CSR and SDG roadmaps and involved in various governance functions across the organisation.
After a successful international corporate career, Maissa joined her family business and in 2010 started heading the 10-year transformation strategy of the group, as well as managing corporate strategy and corporate communication. She recently graduated Advanced Management Program – IESE Business School (University of Navarra) and is the co-author of “Recettes de Vie” a social and humanitarian project that is helping vulnerable populations in Lebanon.