Lessons Learned from Past Crises: A Conversation with John Chambers, Founder and CEO, JC2 Ventures, Chairman, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum

On March 30, John Chambers joined Mukesh Aghi, the president and CEO of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership (USISPF) to share his insights on effective leadership during times of crisis, gained from his experience as CEO of Cisco Systems, and now, as the founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures.

Chambers started off the conversation by sharing some basic rules for leading during a crisis. In terms of developing a strategy to guide their company through a period of crisis, he advised leaders to understand how much of the crisis at hand is self-inflicted or market-driven, have five to seven ‘focus areas’ to address with their strategy, and think ahead to where their company will be on the other side of the crisis. He also highlighted the importance of communication and company culture.

During the webinar’s question and answer period, discussion focused both on Chambers’ general advice for business leaders in times of crisis, and on issues specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about how leaders should communicate to their employees that they care in times of crisis with a high human impact, such as this one, Chambers advised that such an approach should be framed through an individual company’s culture, but that it is important to be candid and communicate with employees. In response to a question on the habits a leader should cultivate during times of crisis, he emphasized the importance of visibility, communication, and strategy.

On the topic of the current coronavirus pandemic, he praised Prime Minister Modi’s response to COVID-19 in India as well as the U.S. government’s recently announced economic stimulus package, and highlighted the opportunity for the U.S. and India to lead through the example of their strategic partnership, to avoid a post-coronavirus world in which countries refuse to cooperate. He also highlighted the importance of not criticizing organizations such as the WHO for the challenges they face in responding to the current crisis, and instead, focus on learning from those challenges in order to respond more effectively in the future.

He advised that the impact of the coronavirus on companies’ global supply chains is a reminder to not become overdependent on one country for their inputs, stating that “it is important to have multiple sources for every major import.” However, this is also an opportunity for India to grow in its role in the global supply chain. In light of many countries around the world banning the export of medical equipment and supplies, he stated that it is important to learn how to share these resources, and that this is an opportunity for manufacturing companies to step forward and utilize their capabilities to meet the demand for medical infrastructure. The human impact of the COVID-19 crisis makes it particularly important for companies to ‘give back’ to their communities.

On addressing the current crisis itself, Chambers stated that the effectiveness of responses will depend on how quickly countries are able to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of COVID-19, and the cooperation of banks, companies, and governments in economic stimulus efforts. 

When asked what the business world may look like after the end of the current crisis, Chambers said that video conferencing will likely remain as a “new norm.” He also said that this crisis will shape the next generation of companies, and that we will emerge from this crisis as a “smarter world.”

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