When Canadian COVID‑19 cases started to climb in mid-March, many businesses were forced to do the unthinkable: physically close their doors. Never before had so many companies been required to swiftly adapt to a new—and unfamiliar—virtual environment. And no one knew what the future would hold.
Hundreds of conversations and a series of virtual roundtables over the summer with Canadian business leaders about how they adapted their organizations to the new realities of COVID-19 revealed a surprising trend. Although numerous businesses found the abrupt economic shift incredibly challenging, a significant number managed to stay afloat—and, in many cases, to even thrive. This reinforced the results of the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), which was based on research conducted between May 4 and June 19, 2020.
Results from the IBR, for instance, showed that more than 89 percent of Canadian respondents expected to be able to continue to trade or operate—and 28 percent said they could continue operating using only their existing funds, without cutting costs or restructuring. The rest acknowledged they required some level of cost-cutting or additional financial assistance to get by. This trend held true throughout the summer, as Canadian business leaders continued to worry about soft revenue and cash flow shortages.
Beyond these concerns, our client conversations highlighted several additional ongoing challenges. For instance, some companies struggled to meet unexpected increases in demand, while others wondered how to scale up operations in the future with a leaner team while also maintaining the efficiencies gained following the initial outbreak. With Canada’s economy poised to continue its recovery and potentially expand by 6.7 percent next year, some companies also reported taking an opportunistic approach to their future, with plans to seek out strategic acquisitions. As a result, these companies have faced challenges around how to finance expansion and access growth capital, and where and how to diversify.
Yet, despite these persistent concerns, many companies demonstrated that they were well positioned to weather the first global pandemic in over a century. This was in large part due to the fact that they had already started developing an agile business model before COVID‑19 hit—focusing on things like crisis management, technology and organizational flexibility. It’s these businesses that unquestionably had important lessons to share—lessons that could prove invaluable in the face of a second wave of COVID‑19 infections or any other future global disaster.
To help other businesses prepare for the future, we decided to aggregate these learnings from both our virtual roundtable meetings and IBR results to develop a blueprint, of sorts, on how to navigate a crisis. As we explain below, the companies that managed to hold steady and, in some cases, even thrive over the past months were deeply committed to four key business areas:
 Advisor’s Edge, August 24, 2020. “A provincial outlook for Canada’s economic recovery,” by Michelle Schriver.