Learning from pre-pandemic crises

A crisis will give you a competitive edge, writes Tim Wilbur

Learning from pre-pandemic crises

COVID-19 has made us all crisis managers. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, we share a sense of communal trauma that can provide many lessons for the future. Yet, many institutions have been dealing with crises for much longer, which can offer lessons for us all today.

Hobbled for years by corruption allegations and a political scandal, SNC-Lavalin is forging ahead on a new path. The Montreal-based global construction giant has implemented an international integrity program to prevent, detect and respond to any situation contrary to company values. 

“The landscape is changing, and how we work is changing with much more remote work, so we have to be adaptable and conduct continuous risk assessments,” says Charlene Ripley, executive vice president and general counsel at SNC-Lavalin. “Our program is consistent across the organization, and we use different types of internal controls to attack the various types of potential risks.”

While this program will likely prevent scandals, it should also give the company a competitive edge when bidding on international contracts. SNC-Lavalin’s approach provides a template for other companies that face business crime risks as the pandemic dust settles.

Alberta’s oilpatch has also known crisis management since well before COVID-19. “There has already been intense pressure on the industry for several years for sustainability, emissions reduction, workplace safety and proper engagement with Indigenous communities,” says Stephanie Stimpson, a partner in the Calgary office of Torys LLP.

These long-simmering crises have forced Canadian energy companies to take environmental, social and governance goals seriously, giving them a competitive edge over companies in other locations looking for investors. 

“If you’re not considered one of the best in your industry in terms of ESG, access to capital is going to get more and more difficult because the capital providers — whether they be on the debt or equity side — are going to become much more discerning about where they put their money,” says Bob Rooney, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Enbridge.

Both SNC-Lavalin and Enbridge can teach the rest of us an essential lesson for our times: Don’t let a crisis go to waste. If you play the long game, it will give you a competitive edge. 

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