At the recent Fortune Global CEO Forum in October, the chief executive officers of Honeywell, Marriott, and Synchrony came together to share how their companies ‘met the moment’ that Covid brought. These three companies serve distinctly different markets and industries, and each was impacted by the events of 2020 in distinct ways.

Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell’s CEO, shared that the company knew the environment was going to be tough, so Honeywell looked at where the company could do things differently. This is where Honeywell started. Knowing it is a technology company that serves the industrial segment, business leaders across Honeywell started with the questions, “How can we help with Covid-19?” For example, the world needed PPE; what role did Honeywell see it could play in getting things to work in a new way?

Innovation was the answer to the call. Teams came together and broke the mold, both in how people worked and on what people were working.  Now at the end of the year, Mr. Adamczyk is challenging teams to look at how Honeywell can play a bigger role in getting back to what the company does historically, such as having the aviation industry fly. Adamczyk says that he likes people to think about Honeywell three years from now. Doing so helps take the conversation away from how tough today’s markets. He says, “The [Covid 19] vaccination is coming, and we’ll be ready to go when it does.”

Marriott International was hit like few other industries. In the third quarter, Marriott had revenue of $2.2bln, a drop from $5.2bln just a year ago. It’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, shared that the next few quarters are still uncertain, but he’s clear all of this will be behind us all soon. Sorenson predicted, “We’ll all say, ‘” survived Covid-19 and I learned these things…’” He was keen to point out that though some things being done today look odd, with the pandemic behind us we’ll all see how much sense they made.

Key lessons Sorenson has learned so far: be straight about what’s so, and don’t add too much hope or rely on hope too much. Deal with what is so, what is known, and then make as smart-as-possible choices given all that … and then be ready to pivot. One more key learning: delegate and rely on your team. Sorenson said the Marriott team had to trust and to move fast, and that helped Marriott break apart from what was and focus on our people and culture.

Synchrony’s Margaret Keane pointed out that the months and months of Covid-19 have brought so many people to exhaustion (and she didn’t even mention virtual happy hours). Her company took on a strong focus on mental health, as that has been in demand at such a high level since March 2020. It’s been a boon for her people to focus on Synchrony’s customers, especially those in small businesses where the impact of support is easy to see and is quite real.

Keane’s lesson for meeting the moment: you don’t need PowerPoint. Her point is that pivoting is about action, not pontificating. Case in point: Synchrony was able to launch with Venmo and PayPal in the midst of a pandemic and succeed. In the past, the risk-averse planners of the company wouldn’t have acted in this way. The good news: the new venture is working well so far!


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