Tag Archives: Covid-19

Lessons in crisis management: insight from South China

Dr. Harley Seyedin is the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China and of Allelon Energy Systems. Building a low-carbon infrastructure development business, Seyedin has always sought to promote a development model that is sustainable socially, environmentally and economically. He was recognised with the Oslo Business for Peace Award in 2017.

We reached him at his office in Guangzhou, China to talk about the role of business leaders in aiding in the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — and the value of a good crisis plan.



Dr Seyedin at the Business for Peace Summit, 2018. Photo by Johnny Vaet Nordskog


How has the crisis affected your business?

Covid-19 has affected every business. We were shut down from 15 January, and offices reopened by the last week of February. In my organisation, everyone was working from home. We had been working with our member companies for the past fifteen years on a plan in case of an epidemic so that they would be prepared. We were perhaps the least affected companies in China as a result of that.

I remember an article from 2006 written by Keith Bradsher, who at the time was the bureau chief for the New York Times in Hong Kong. In that article, he talked about the possibility of an outbreak in 2006. I discussed with him the possibility of not if an outbreak will happen, but when.

Thanks to that discussion, we did a survey of our companies on how prepared they were and we found out that they were not. We are not as affected by this outbreak because we had a plan. Our preparedness and our willingness to face the problem head-on has helped keep our employees safe. We have worked hard — from home.








You have been doing a lot of work in response to the global pandemic to help those in immediate need. Can you tell us about the initiatives you’ve been doing with the Chamber in this regard?

Our first priority was to raise money. Regardless of the wealth level of a country, there are those that are not caught up and have been left behind. We have raised $38 million USD, which has been distributed to those who need it most in China, Cambodia, and the U.S. We also distributed over one million USD to frontline workers. Business has an obligation to move ahead and not wait for direction. We cannot wait for governments to take action; they have their own priorities. Business has an obligation to fill the void, to continue to secure the supply chain.

One of the many studies we have done this year was in March, and focused on the supply chain. The study raised the alarm that 32% of the 237 companies we surveyed in China were already facing shortage of materials or were already empty. A good portion of these products were to be shipped to Asia, Europe, and the U.S. We need to guarantee that continual movement of supplies.

We are helping people with immediate needs like masks and supplies, and helping to make sure the supply chain is open and operational. Most of our member companies are now fully operational again. There are some that are not, but that is because there are 50,000 expats who have not been able to return to China yet. We are working with several authorities on that to try to find ways to get production back up to the top level.






How have you as a leader responded with regards to your team? What sort of leadership demands have been on you?

We have an excellent team. Everyone here recognises that the problem is everybody’s problem, and no one person can do it alone. No country can do it alone.

What I see is that a lot of people are pointing their finger at the politicians for not being as prepared as they perhaps should have been. Every country in the world is staffed with thousands of professionals whose job is to prepare us. We need to re-examine how to change the process so that the people in charge actually have us prepared.

One of the things that I consider the responsibility of business, is that while we try to overcome the current difficulties, we must look forward to the future. For example my partners and I in Allelon Energy Systems, built a power plant in a poor area of China in 1993. That area developed as a result of having electricity, and they became one of the most well-off areas of China.

We reduced our carbon footprint of the city by recently decommissioning that plant. We took care to make sure that the land was redeveloped and turned it into one of the world’s largest medical instrument development and manufacturing centres. We will be investing in similar projects, and this one will create 35,000 high-skilled jobs. It will house a research development centre, university branches, and all kinds of things that can help solve the current and future problems.

Dr. Seyedin at the Business for Peace Summit, 2017. Photo by Olav Heggø


How do you hope the world changes in the aftermath of this crisis?

There is a fire burning in each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, what country you’re from. None of that matters. That fire is to give our children a better life than the one we have ourselves. Every investment I’ve ever made, I’ve always kept in mind that whoever is touched by my investment, is going to have the ability to give their children a better life than they have. I think that I have achieved that in every one of my investments.

If we go forward with that in mind, then all of the questions of a better environment, global warming, world hunger, all of these things will have been answered, because our focus will have been to create a world where ALL of us can give our children a better life than we had.

If we make that a reality for everyone, we will not worry about wars, hunger, or the environment. Whatever you do, whatever your investment, has to have this in mind.

This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to covid-19 and has been edited for length and format. Watch the full interview here: https://www.facebook.com/businessworthy/videos/2880110645413004/

“This is the Olympics for businesses” – Interview with Vladas Lasas





The Olympics haven’t been cancelled for this year after all. According to 2012 Honouree Vladas Lasas, this current moment is the Olympics for businesses. Everyone needs to find their inner athlete and put their energy towards recovery and building a new way of life. 

Lasas has been an entrepreneur his entire career. He is Co-Founder of the Carbon War Room, Founder and CEO of UPS Lithuania, and an inventor. He is a leader for many. Always an advocate for quick and responsive action, we spoke to Lasas about the actions that he has taken in response to the crisis. 




Honouree Dean Cycon talks with Vladas Lasas at a Business for Peace Summit. Photo: Olav Heggø




You’ve taken swift action to start new initiatives in response to the global pandemic crisis. Can you tell us what you’re working on? 

“In mid-March, we started Hack the Crisis, which is now a global initiative. It is supported by the European Union and is attracting people globally. In the beginning, only small countries like Estonia and Lithuania were part of the initiative and we were surprised at how productive it was. We had 1000+ attendees joining; everybody managed to work on Zoom and Slack teams. Everything was almost as if it happened in person, even though it was on teleconferencing. It is incredible. We need to stay up-to-speed if we want to make an impact on the world and help people.”




How has the crisis affected your core business? How have you as a leader responded?

I am trying to help our CEOs with what can be done. In a time of crisis, there is a lot of opportunity to grow new leaders, to help them, to encourage and mentor them. I think it is better for everybody and for the future if you use the situation as an opportunity to grow leadership in your young colleagues.




You’ve previously told us that sometimes one has to be a rebel to make change. Is that what you’re doing now?

Yes absolutely. People are reluctant and, as always, a little bit afraid of change. One thing that institutions and officials do not recongise or understand is that democracies and their resources are optimised for an ordinary way of living. We are right now in a completely unprecedented situation. It is understandable that governments do not have resources to deal with this on their own. We have exponential growth of our enemy, and therefore we need stronger exponential growth in order to break the barriers. 




What sorts of collaborations and partnerships are needed in order to respond quickly? 

Institutions should not have any objections to accept help from professionals, academics, and the private sector, and let them do things that institutions in the government cannot. Sometimes in business the best people are outside of your company. 

In democratic societies you can easily mobilise people. If you communicate in the right way and are open. That is really the test as to how democratic a country is, if you can accept help from people and let the professor work next to the minister and have a level understanding that the academic knows better in this situation.  The Lithuanian National Health Authorities at first were really slow at communicating. The data was handled mostly manually. No system was prepared for this. In a few days, we managed to get the best IT guy next to the Head of Authority, and within a few days we got these pain points fixed. It’s only one example but I remember 30 years ago, early in Lithuania’s independence, we had some code to take over from the Soviets at that time. I worked with no official authority but I was working with the Parliament to help communicate and translate for journalists about what was going on. That was also without any approval or order or law for that. Red tape that is usually useful in ordinary times, needs to be cut. 



What would you say to fellow business leaders about how to act during these times?

Use this situation to make your organisation stronger, to grow new leaders. Look for new opportunities. These are really huge right now. It is hidden as a crisis, but actually we can handle the crisis and build up more new and good things for the future. 

Thank you so much for your insight and time, Vladas! We are feeling more confident in winning at the Olympics now. 

This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to Covid-19. For more on Vladas Lasas and his rebel leadership, see: https://vimeo.com/404685461

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