As the world slowly begins to shake off the unprecedented effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, corporate executives around the globe have been forced to grapple with challenges that even the most forward-thinking business leaders couldn’t have imagined just two short years ago. For many of the top-scoring chief executives in Institutional Investor’s 2021 All-Europe Executive Team, supply-chain issues top the list.

“Supply chains around the world are in significant disarray,” said Nestlé’s Ulf Mark Schneider, the top-ranked chief executive in the food sector. “The consequences are rising raw material and freight costs.” Schneider said that the secret to overcoming these issues — and coping with an uncertain geopolitical environment — lies in increased agility and flexibility. For him, that’s not about knowing all the answers, but knowing he can delegate decisions to those who do: “We rely strongly on our people in the markets to know the best way to deliver for consumers, the company and society.” 

The pandemic has also heralded a kinder way of doing business for this year’s top-scoring chief executives. “Leaders need to be empathetic, agile and lead with integrity,” said Capgemini’s Aiman Ezzat, the top scoring chief executive in the software technology sector. “The experiences of the last 18 months have brought this into sharp focus for me.”

At Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, the top scoring chief executive in metals and mining, said that the coronavirus forced firms to reassess their goals and values. “Companies had to demonstrate that they were really there for their communities when they needed them the most,” he said. “I’m proud of how Anglo American rose to the challenge.” Cutifani took the “tough but necessary” decision to close mines at the start of the pandemic. Even during the closures, Anglo American guaranteed salaries for its employees in South Africa, as well as housing allowances and company contributions to medical and pensions funds. “Being a partner to our local communities is much more than simply providing employment opportunities,” he said.

Several chief executives said they see the pandemic as a test case for further interruptions on the horizon. “We continue to expect an elevated level of geopolitical volatility,” said Nestlé’s Schneider. Faury agreed. While production at Airbus is down, the company is ramping up its resilience for future shocks. “We learned a lot from this crisis,” he said, “and we concluded that maintaining the status quo cannot be an option.”

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