Blue skies ahead

May 1, 2020

Craig Huntingdon, scaleup partner at RTC North, looks at how an axiom in aviation can be used for any business to find opportunities within these times of disruption

In such unprecedented times, the focus for the vast majority of businesses is on survival, and that often requires every available resource. For many others, however, once contingency plans are in place, short-term cash flow secured, and costs minimised, opportunities exist for those able to broaden their focus. These may not be immediately available but will allow the business to recover faster, grow stronger, increase resilience and reduce exposure post-COVID-19.

Contingency planning needs to be robust yet dynamic. Having confidence in plans to adapt as required will help owners find the spare capacity necessary to adopt a positive mindset and focus on opportunities.

Some of the most effective contingency plans are based around the aviation axiom, ‘aviate, navigate, communicate’. As crises in that sector are literally a matter of life or death, plans are built using years of critically appraising risk with complete transparency.

Aviate reminds us that despite dealing with a critical issue, the business still needs to operate while navigation refers to changing course to deal with the issues faced. It’s unlikely that anybody will maintain ‘business as usual’ in these times, and survival will only be possible by the successful development and implementation of an updated strategy.

Communication is about strong leadership, which is based on setting a clear destination
and motivating people to get you there. A significant change in strategy will need clear and concise communication, something even more challenging when people are working remotely.

Beyond crisis management – when businesses have been steadied or hibernated – leaders should, where possible, assign time to identify what opportunities are available to them.

Finding these in the status quo is never easy but they exist in abundance during periods of upheaval and uncertainty.

I was the trading director at Aldi during the 2008 financial crisis, a company that captured and maximised opportunities that presented themselves during the prevailing conditions.

It was achieved by having the agility in quickly understanding the dynamics of the situation and delivering a proposition to the market that was relevant, concise and easily communicated.

Any retailer could have taken a similar approach but very few did, including most of the discounters. Some failed to aviate and lost large numbers of customers as they focused solely on saving cash by diluting their offers. Others failed to navigate by trying to maintain business as usual at a time when customers were demanding something different.

Meanwhile, others did adopt potentially successful approaches but failed to communicate them to their customers at a time when advertising budgets were being slashed.

Scaleup North East supports business owners to navigate business challenges to scale successfully. Right now, this process starts by stabilising businesses in challenging times and then helping owners identify real opportunities and developing plans to seize them.

RTC North
Scaleup North East is delivered by RTC North and supports the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan. Designed for ambitious and growing SMEs, the programme has been designed to help business leaders learn from the best of their peers, increase productivity and performance, and invest in transformational activity – resulting in scaleup businesses that grow faster and more sustainably than ever before.

For more information about Scaleup North East, visit

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