How To Manage Change In A Pandemic? Ask An MBA

In a time of social distancing, an MBA at Warwick Business School offers four tips on putting skills to use. File photo

Multinational corporations and entire industries have had to manage change amid an unprecedented global health crisis. Though minor in comparison, MBA students have had to adapt to their own set of challenges under lockdown.

Here are four distinct strategies for how MBAs at Warwick Business School are managing change in uncertain times.

1) Use Limitation To Fuel Innovation

Top programs infuse rigorous academic work with social gatherings, startup pitches, talks from industry leaders, and networking events at Warwick’s London campus at the Shard. But with no in-person activity permitted, our learning experience has been radically impacted. The pandemic has introduced a range of limitations — physical, logistical, social, and psychological.

But according design thinking guru Tim Brown, limitations can sometimes open up new pathways for innovation. My MBA colleagues and I have used the limitations imposed by the pandemic to fuel our creativity.

For example, when the pandemic hit, all campus meeting spaces, including our MBA lounge and campus pubs, were shut for business. In response, Kathryn Heppinstall created the MBA Coffee Club, a morning video chat between students and professors that recreates the collegial atmosphere of our MBA lounge. I launched the Saturday night MBA Zoom Quiz to maintain the camaraderie of our traditional after-lecture pints.

2) Carpe Diem

Author Damian Manire, left, and MBA colleagues at Warwick Business School before the Covid-19 pandemic. Without social contact, MBAs have gotten creative in how they communicate, network, and more. Courtesy photo

If you have an opportunity to lead, take it.

At WBS, we are not waiting for the end of the pandemic to build our network. Instead, I have created the virtual Warwick Networking Project with the help of my fellow MBAs Juan-Pablo Zeballos Raczy, Aditya Vikram, Ruchi Sankrit, Pushpam Raj, Viktoria Tavits, and Grace Farias. Over 40 Warwick MBAs are now contributing to the project, along with executives from top companies around the world.

At the same time, Sresha Banerjee and Chaarvi Chiduruppa created a guest speaker series that aims to connect Warwick MBAs with leading global organizations while also promoting women in business. While the events started in-person at the Shard, the organizers have moved swiftly and now host the popular series online.

3) Make Lemonade

According to WBS Professor of Entrepreneurship John Lyon, when launching new ventures, “Timing is everything.”

But what if your perfect moment never comes?

MBA candidate Jamie Graham came face to face with this uncertainty when he and his brother launched their new hard seltzer beverage, NATRL, in March — just as UK pubs were closing for business. “We had to cancel our launch party, postpone production and completely re-evaluate our fulfilment strategy. In many ways, we had to start from scratch!” Jamie says.

His adaptation strategy? Jamie focused on a key priority: e-commerce channels. Since supermarkets were prioritizing the supply of essential goods, the Graham brothers leveraged the power of social media to drive online sales of NATRL.

“We ran competitions, formed new partnerships with influencers, reached out to celebrities and fitness fanatics in a bid to create as much hype as possible about this new product category in the UK,” he says. Two months later, pubs remain closed, but NATRL has been inundated with orders. Jamie’s strategy seems to have paid off.

Warwick health-tech startup GlucoLive also encountered challenges. The venture was created by MBA students Adam Pilarski, Kamal Aliyev, Samantha Gosnell, Alex Papamichalopoulos, and Jacopo Serra as part of the Reload Greece YEP accelerator program. But just as GlucoLive was set to deliver their final pitch, lockdown struck.

Instead of being frustrated by these challenges, Adam and his team saw an opportunity. “At first, we saw this as a real shame — less networking, no opportunity to stand up and pitch to a crowd,” he says. “But the move to digital, if anything, reduced distance for us. Geographic barriers that existed before the pandemic have been broken down, meaning we’re getting interest from investors outside of our normal circles.”

As Professor Lyon says, “There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and the uncertainty of entrepreneurial ventures.” Warwick MBA startups NATRL and GlucoLive have proven that with some ingenuity, entrepreneurial ventures can survive these uncertain times. When life gives you lemons, make (hard) lemonade.

4) Seek To Collaborate

I mention a lot of names in this article and that’s intentional: Managing change requires teamwork.

Tapish Malik and Kathryn Heppinstall demonstrate this every week in their MBA newsletter, launched just days after lockdown, which brings together personal reflections on productivity, well-being, motherhood, and culture from across the WBS student body. The publication also has served as one of the central vehicles for students to stay informed on the latest research on energy markets, private equity, and financial reporting from WBS professors John Colley, David Elmes, Hossam Zeitoun, and Lisa Weaver.

At Warwick, they call us the “change-makers.” But perhaps this year’s MBAs will be best remembered for how they managed change: through leadership, innovation, teamwork, and perseverance.

Damian Manire is an American studying his MBA at Warwick Business School in the UK. Prior to joining the MBA, Damian was a senior consultant at PwC, where he specialized in client services in the tax and advisory practices.

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