CEO: A Lesson In Crisis Management

Chris Rice, CEO at STL Access Solutions, shares his learnings from the coronavirus pandemic.

The digital landscape gained renewed importance during the pandemic. While access technologies paved the way for the applications in the digital landscape, their importance never became more noticeable than during the pandemic.  The pandemic made everyone really need better, higher speed broadband.  All of those home-bound workers relying on video conferencing to perform their jobs and to maintain connections to the outside world needed not just more bandwidth, but symmetrical bandwidth that fibre technologies bring. This change in our work/home life has been dramatic and, likely irreversible. 

The last 18 months have been quite interesting for me. When the pandemic hit, I was working at AT&T, a place that I left after 25 years of service.  I joined STL as the CEO for the newly formed Access Solutions business unit that was looking to redefine the digital landscape with open networking technologies and software-driven infrastructures. Having been in a leadership role at a telecom operator and creating technologies and architectures that led the pivot to software-defined networking (SDN), I brought this experience and perspective to the role, helping STL strengthen its value proposition in this space. STL was already working with top operators in the US, UK, South East Asia and India, delivering technologies that are helping to redefine the digital landscape. At STL, our goal is to differentiate the way our customers create networks and empower them to connect people in a faster and more cost-efficient manner. 

Pandemic Drives Lessons In Leadership 

With the pandemic causing more disruptions than ever, CEOs not only had to lead and grow their organisations virtually, but they had to do so while maintaining business performance. While some found it taxing, others found it an opportunity to lead from the front in a more positive and impactful way. Agile CEOs would generally find themselves in the latter group. 

The pandemic brought with it the need for an agile mindset that equally prioritises technology tools and processes, and enables increased levels of collaboration.  The physical separation drove a need for clearer communication, better decision-making and openness to change. Flexible CEOs adopt this mindset while still driving the business’s strategic roadmap and vision. 

An Open, Digital-first Approach Is Indispensable

With customer behaviour changing due to larger digital adoption, businesses have to look at technology to deliver a better customer experience. There is a need to digitise as many business processes as possible and focus on driving customer engagement on their terms and on their time schedules.  Almost 80% of the CEOs in 2020 accelerated their digital transformation programmes during the lockdown period. The digital-first way of working and collaboration leads not only to better customer experience but also to supercharging business operations, driving higher productivity and smarter ways of working. Forward-looking CEOs lead this transition from the front and pave the way for more digitised business practices. 

The New Digital Era Is Driven By Diversity And Inclusion

This shift to a virtual workplace is a great opportunity for a leader to find the best talent across borders, ethnicities, genders and abilities. Inclusive CEOs democratise merit and competence; they live the principle of equal opportunity for all in the truest form.  They make technology the common denominator and integrate new, diverse talents into the existing employee culture. At STL, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion are a way of life, creating our STLer employee culture.  The STL culture provides equal opportunity, provides a gender-equitable recruitment system and considers all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation equally deserving when it comes to promotion, remuneration and compensation.   

A CEO’s Role Evolves In The Hybrid Workplace 

With the pandemic still bringing disruption in abundance, CEOs will see their roles evolve at a rapid pace. The need for blending work-from-home with work-in-office, creating a truly hybrid workplace environment, is critically important going forward.  This new environment must ensure seamless operations, while maintaining results-driven performance. In this transition, CEOs must adopt a hands-on style of leadership that is progressive and elevates their ability to engage, inspire, and motivate employees, even if done virtually. While the pandemic is not yet over, CEOs who can empower themselves, and the team of people around them, will go a long way in minimising the effects of the pandemic and in creating the proper model for the hybrid workplace of the future.

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