SALT LAKE CITY — In a virtual seminar for Utah businesses embroiled in the economic storm brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Mitt Romney told business owners they must maintain communication and optimism if they hope to weather the crisis that is sure to go down in history books.
“There’s nothing like the circumstance you’re going through now. I never faced anywhere near that kind of challenge that each of you faces in a setting with a pandemic. I mean, we had downturns, but nothing of a global nature where virtually every business in the country was shut down,” Romney told the virtual audience.
“So these are challenging times. Don’t be panicked by it. I can assure you that many years from now, you’re going to look back on this and tell your grandkids about where you were when the great pandemic hit (and) what you did to save your business and to help people and to save your family. This is history,” Romney said.
Romney appeared as an expert panelist Friday for the first in an ongoing series of free webinars titled “Navigating COVID-19: How to Save Your Business,” conducted through the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. During the interactive online seminars, participants will receive advice and guidance at no cost on managing their businesses in the midst of the global health crisis.
Expert panelists will offer practical business intelligence on topics including business recovery, financial assistance, business planning and finding useful information sources. The forum, hosted by Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, was developed to provide useful insights for businesses of all sizes across Utah.
“Start thinking about COVID-19 as a long-term risk that needs to be managed, not a short-term issue that we can immediately solve,” Leavitt said. “That’s an important principle as we begin to make these decisions.”
While Friday’s seminar spoke broadly about the issues businesses are facing during the pandemic, future installments will focus on specific industries or questions.
Romney drew on his experience in the private sector prior to entering the political arena. Before offering his thoughts on the current crisis and insights on how to manage from a business perspective, he acknowledged the uniqueness of the economic morass Utah and the nation are facing today.
From a business viewpoint, he advised connecting and communicating in order to maintain a sense of the economic reality with creditors and partners associated with your business.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, your fear of bad things is a lot worse than the reality. Therefore, it’s really critical in a time of distress to be talking to your bankers to let them know precisely where you are,” Romney said. “Also to talk to your suppliers. Have them understand where you are. To talk to your employees, even those that you furloughed, to let them know what’s happening. Talk to your customers and to tell them what’s happening.”
He said the key is to establish and maintain credibility.
“Don’t tell them pie in the sky kinds of things that won’t come true. Tell them your very best knowledge, what you hope to be able to accomplish. Underpromise and overdeliver, but make sure people are hearing from you and understanding the extent of the challenges you have and understand how hard it is you’re working to overcome them.”
Leavitt also advised businesses to study the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which was passed by Congress to provide financial assistance to individuals and businesses impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
“There’s a lot there and it will affect your business and your capacity to save your business,” he told the online audience. “Become a student. Contact your banker and the people who are important in the context of financing your business. Be direct with them. Be upfront with them. Show them a plan, make them your partner, ask for their help.”
He also advised businesses should understand their cash position as it relates to their supply chain and start thinking long-term about how their supply chain needs will change due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. Also, make prudent decisions regarding workforce to maintain the long-range viability of the enterprise, he added.
He said in a crisis such as this, there are moments that can test one’s resolve to persevere and to be resilient. But history has shown that society will endure, he said.
“This will end. It will end and we’re going to get through it. And we’ll be stronger as a country. Though, undoubtedly different,” Leavitt said. “Be decisive. You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to be moving. Decisions are made when they’re directionally correct. And moments of crisis require that we’re constantly reframing our plan based on the best information, but move forward.”
He said moments like this “project a brand-new sense of unity and humility upon a nation.”
“We should be grateful that we live in a place where the government has the capacity to be a partner to whatever extent they can to give us the tools required to make this work,” he said. “We live in a state where there’s a sense of community. There is invigoration and crisis if we’re part of the solution. My deep suggestion is that we move forward together in a way that’s united with an optimism that we will not only save our business, but we will prosper.”
Leavitt said despite the struggles Utah businesses and others worldwide are enduring, there will be better days ahead.
“We’re all going to look back on this and realize that we’ve been through a reshaping event around the world,” he said. “We’ll get through this. We’ll all learn from this. Normality will return, but may not look exactly like it did before.”