How to lead when the industry is volatile

Richard J. Bolte, Jr.

Richard J. Bolte, Jr.


​​​​​In 2011, Prince William was marrying Kate, investors’ eyes were on Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, and global trade experts were predicting a volatile 2012.

A decade later, Prince Harry just welcomed his first child with Meghan, Greece is still in the EU, and global trade experts are predicting a volatile 2022. 

As the saying goes, don’t wait for the storm to pass — just learn to dance in the rain. For the global trade industry, this translates into: get used to the volatility.

To build a truly sustainable supply chain in an era where the only stable prediction is instability, company leadership must embrace flexibility. Creating an agile organizational structure that’s ready to adapt at the drop of a hat (or the obstruction of a barge) ought to be considered a critical task for any workforce in the industry. Because — and this is the last quote I’ll reference, I promise — as General Electric’s Chief Innovation Officer Sue Siegel said in a 2018 keynote address, “The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today.”

The experts, however, got the cause of the volatility wrong back in 2011 — they thought it would be inflation. Who would have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, or the Suez Canal disaster? 

Company leaders who pay attention to the growing data on worker productivity and how they rate their satisfaction on their work/life balance will continue to embrace work-from-home culture (now referred to as WFH by those in the know), instead of dismissing it as a temporarily allowable measure during the pandemic.

Within my own company, until last year we enforced a strict policy of keeping computers at the office — we’d decided the risk of damage during transit and at home was just too great. The pandemic forced us to reverse that policy in an instant, on a Thursday in March, without time to prepare. But we haven’t had to replace any equipment yet; it turns out adults can be trusted to take care of their valuables — and to roll with the punches. When I reflect on the resiliency our employees have demonstrated over the past year, I’m amazed.**

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**This text originally appeared in Global Trade Magazine