Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied
Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied

Don’t stick your head in the sand and wait for Covid-19 to go away, says Sharmla Chetty. Inspire your employees, get out in the marketplace and look for opportunities. Above all, be positive, be brave.

Chetty, head of global markets for the US-based Duke Corporate Education group, has little sympathy for CEOs who wring their hands at the unfairness of the pandemic but do nothing to fight back. It has already destroyed many enterprises. Many more will follow.

But if you’re going to go down, go down fighting, says Chetty. She points to the example of NetFlorist, which has reinvented itself from an online florist into a delivery service for flowers, food, clothing, toiletries, electronics, stationery and whatever else customers want.

Chetty, who opened Duke’s SA office in 2007, says a crisis is precisely the time when imaginative CEOs show their mettle. They don’t withdraw into survival mode. They fight for their company’s future.

“Covid does not give you the right to postpone innovation and investment,” she says. “A lot of companies grow in downturns. What better time to do so than when everyone else is holding back?”

Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied
Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied

This is a time for entrepreneurial thinking, Chetty says: “Take a chance. Find ways to identify opportunities. Keep hopeful. All we are hearing is how bad things are. Find ways of creating momentum, energy and hope in your organisation. You will make mistakes but keep moving. Don’t tell me what doesn’t work – tell me what does.

“Turn Covid into an opportunity – not an excuse for failure.”

She adds: “Markets will rebound. They always do. But some companies have talked themselves so deeply into survival mode that they risk missing the recovery when it happens.”

Like other schools, Duke lost some executive education revenue after the pandemic struck, when companies postponed programmes “They said they needed to save jobs and that the money budgeted for training was needed elsewhere,” says Chetty. Nearly all expect to be back when the situation has stabilised.

Chetty says the school has coped easily with the shift to online education. About 80% of programmes were online before Covid so moving the rest was straightforward.

“When all this is over, we won’t go back to where we were before,” she says. Some face-to-face teaching will return but with remote working likely to become the norm for many companies, and with younger generations, particularly millennials, having grown up online, pressure for a wholesale return to the classroom won’t be overwhelming.

“Younger generations are more adventurous, more curious when it comes to their education,” says Chetty.​


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