As we close out our second month of working from home; wearing masks in public and watching our economy swing perilously from one extreme to the other, I can’t help but wonder if the economic impact of COVID-19 will leave an even deeper and longer-lasting impression upon our collective business psyche than expected. I’m not just talking about the better use of technology, the realization that not all business travel is “necessary” or the growing acceptance of the concept of working from home. I’m talking about some fundamental business trends or principles that have guided mainstream American business strategy for decades. And one of those has been the common strategy of maximizing profit and return in the short run without investing in the future.
It’s not just the mortgage industry where investors, owners and top executives demand the most favorable margin possible. We are a profit-first economy. We in the mortgage industry have had the good fortune of enjoying not one but two (and, some would argue, even three) different historic origination volume spikes in the last 20 years. However, it also strikes me that the past three months have really shined a light on how little we hold in reserve in our economy—and not just at the corporate, but the civic level. We’ve seen the impact of archaic technology at the government level; a “just-in-time” supply chain approach that leaves no room for error (or pandemic) and the knee-jerk impulse toward mass layoffs at the lower level any time uncertainty about the market emerges. We’ve seen temporary shortages at the grocery stores and thousands of businesses simply cease to exist as the virus spread. And, certainly, while not all (or even most) of that can be blamed on business strategy, it does make me wonder if things might not be a bit different had our general approach included at least some longer-term planning.
Maybe, just maybe, the next wave of business innovators will make a priority of holding some profits in reserve or reinvesting for future adaptation. Sure, many businesses have “disaster plans,” but most of those focus on keeping the operation up and running in the face of a short term hardship. But maybe some will see the benefit of holding some revenue in reserve for times like this. It has been impressive to see United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia promising not to lay off his team in spite of the massive volatility facing our industry—a unique move as others temporarily shutter their operations and furlough thousands until the economic storm passes. You can bet that loyalty at the front end will pay dividends as we emerge from all of this.
This is a topic to which we could devote an entire book. It’s just an observation at my end. But I can’t help but wonder if, as the storm clears, we’ll see a new generation of successful business leaders who start to move on from the short-term focus we’ve seen so much across industries in the past 20 years.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Want to contribute to Deeper Thoughts? Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until Next Week,