In this interview with Proa Comunicación, Laura González-Molero, president of the Association for Progress in Management (APD), analyzes the economic crisis that the containment measures established by the coronavirus are going to unleash in Spain. He admits that if in March the priority was “to face a pandemic in which we were overwhelmed from the health point of view”, at this moment, when we are already in a second phase, “we have the challenge of looking for solutions to not stop the country, so that the activity of our companies continues, because if not the impact will be enormous”.
The IMF projects an economic recession of 8% for Spain (3.6% for the world), the Bank of Spain up to 13%, and in the face of this disastrous forecast there is only one way, in his opinion: “to work on what we are calling the new normality”. Once “we know and have processes in place to protect the health of our employees, we have to work on ensuring that our business model, with the modifications and adjustments required by the situation we find ourselves in, continues to be active”. And the key to this is “to understand our clients very well, to be very close to them and to make them feel more present to us than ever”, because, otherwise, the greatest risk would be, in his opinion, a triple crisis: one of demand, another of supply and the last financial one, which would lead to a serious situation of unemployment.
For González-Molero, the fundamental thing now is “to get the best out of ourselves, to understand how we can help our clients, what new mechanisms and tools we have to use”. She believes that if all companies have made progress in this crisis, it is in digitalization. An advance that, he assures, “we had not achieved in the last year”. All this has materialized in providing “tools and material to our employees so they can telework and automate processes to ensure that it does not stop, because the priority is to maintain the activity and do it, moreover, with creative solutions.
He believes that it is absolutely essential that consumption is not stopped. “We need a strong demand (for products) that will enable us to give stimuli to companies, especially to SMEs, which is the sector that is going to suffer the most, and we have to make a big effort in the short and medium term (and I don’t like nationalism or limiting markets, she adds) to support our companies and buy from our producers, farmers and stockbreeders to help the local economy” in these exceptionally difficult times. This is the only way, she says, to “keep some of the jobs and generate supply, because this will slow down the economy, but at a slower rate”. “We are not going to be able to avoid an economic recession, but we can, with our individual behaviour, make the economy not stop”, she adds.
Laura González-Molero does not forget to stress how Spanish society is demonstrating its human quality and generosity. “Millions of people and employers are making great efforts, providing the most vulnerable groups with solutions and, at the same time, generating work so that their employees are not unemployed, even if it is not economically profitable or does not reflect positively on the income statement”.
Asked if the digitalization initiated by some companies will be abandoned when we reach a moment of certain normality, the president of the APD is emphatic: “everything that companies have evolved in digitalization has no return” and it will be this way because, in her opinion, “we have been surprised at how we can be much more effective and efficient by not wasting time in trips or meetings”. “I believe that the benefits and positive lessons of this crisis will remain in time, because entrepreneurs, workers and society have learned that the face-to-face does not make any sense,” she says.
Thanks to this crisis, “we have become more efficient and have improved our capacity to use technology… We have done accelerated training in technology to be more effective in our work”. And this is obviously not at odds with personal contact, but it is true that the normality that will come will not be “the same as the past”, because “life, the ecosystem evolves”. In this sense, she stresses that “in the new normality that will come, I believe that digitalization will continue to be a very important pillar”.
She also points out that “we are going to have to work in a different way to ensure that in this new normality we have a fairer, more collaborative, more generous society, in which public-private collaboration, collaboration between employees and companies, collaboration between companies and between institutions and bodies of any ownership is a reality”. According to the President of the APD, we must not forget that “what is at stake is the model of society that Spain, Europe and the world want for the 21st century”.
Regarding the leadership that is required in this time of crisis and uncertainty, González-Molero understands that it must be based on transparency, teamwork, collaboration and effort, a value that had been lost and that has been recovered in this situation we are experiencing. “We are going to have to give examples of generosity and, in fact, there have already been many executives who have reduced their salaries or given up their bonuses,” he stresses.
The president of the APD believes that a pact between business-people and the government is essential, adding that “trust, credibility and honesty” are key to rebuilding the new normality. Only with these ingredients, which have been used by countries such as South Korea, Portugal and Germany itself, “will we be able to achieve collaboration from everyone, from the entire political spectrum, from business and from the private world”.
Biography of Laura González-Molero
Chairman of APD and Independent Director of Bankia S.A., Viscofan S.A., Acerinox S.A. and Ezentis S.A., he was Chairman of Calidad Pascual SL until July 2016, which has allowed him to gain in-depth knowledge of various sectors such as Infrastructures, Industrial, Financial and Mass Consumption in listed and unlisted companies operating in Spain and internationally. He has extensive experience in the area of Appointments, Remuneration, Auditing and Corporate Social Responsibility as a member of these committees. He is also a member of the ISS Advisory Board and, until December 2019, of the Adecco Foundation Board of Trustees. Member of the PwC Directors’ Club, WCD (Woman Corporate Directors) and the ICA.