Savvy managers understand the fundamentals of crisis management, at least on the theoretical level. Their careers rise and fall on an individual’s ability to rally their teams, project deliberate calm and empathy, take decisive action, and communicate effectively. The most fortunate among them have not had to face a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic now rampaging through the global community to devastating effect.
But there are managers out there whose stories and experiences of leadership in moments of disruption and upheaval can be instructive. To learn more, we spoke with three senior advisers to McKinsey with just such experience. Hugo Bague was group executive of organizational resources at Rio Tinto during the Ebola crisis in 2015–16. Jeff Cava was chief human-resources officer (CHRO) at Nike during two major economic crises, executive vice president, administration, at Wendy’s in 2003, during the SARS outbreak, and CHRO for Starwood Hotels and Resorts during the financial and swine-flu crises of 2009. And Manley Hopkinson served as an officer in the Royal Navy during the first Gulf War, set a record skiing to the magnetic north pole, and has sat on the board of directors at Atlas Consortium, Hewlett Packard Defence UK, and Ark Data Centres. We spoke with them individually but present their comments here in a virtual roundtable format.