A soft economy spurs transformation

By Natalie Laackman, CFO

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Crain’s Chicago Business Chief Financial Officer Breakfast. Deidra Merriwether from W.W. Grainger and Katie Rooney from Alight Solutions joined me on a panel hosted by Luigi Zingales, Professor from the University of Chicago.

While CFOs will face uncharted waters in the next year and beyond, challenging times, like a soft economy, can be the best time for innovation and transformation.

Take COVID-19 as an example. Who would have thought that healthcare teams would administer tests in parking lots? Non-traditional manufacturers produced plastic face shields and health systems collaborated with their competitors to care for their communities. Initiatives that were never even considered before made their way onto the board during that tumultuous period.

Looking forward, one of the most exciting transformations I see is the “pre-revolution” work underway in ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). In this uncertain economy, organizations are trying to balance the desire to reduce their carbon footprint with gaining a return on investment.

ESG initiatives our panel discussed included smart packaging, reducing unnecessary miles driven, fleet electrification, charity and community initiatives, and automating to reduce waste. As my fellow panelist suggested, ESG is migrating from a series of side projects to become part of an organization’s DNA.

Inflation, supply chain shortages, labor constraints, and other obstacles are poised to test us in 2023 and beyond. But I think this can be an opportunity, and I look forward to seeing how we will innovate next.

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