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Triumph through innovation: COVID-19’s effect on business

7 Min Read

“Prioritising innovation today is the key to unlocking post crisis growth.”

This is according to management consultants McKinsey, who have delved extensively into the impact of COVID-19 on businesses around the world.

According to their research, 90% of organisations believe the COVID crisis will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, and 85% are concerned that the crisis will permanently impact on their customers’ needs and wants.1

Coronavirus has been a catalyst for change for many businesses. Those who have been most successful are organisations that have been quick to adapt, diversify and innovate.

In fact, business innovation is so integral to our economic and social recovery, that the UK Government charged Innovate UK with delivering £750 million of investment and support for UK businesses driving innovation and development during the COVID-19 pandemic.2

“During uncertainty, it is not the complacent who succeed, but the risk takers. It is not the ‘fittest’ who survive, but who best adapts to a changing environment through innovation. During the current crisis, we see firms innovating across all sectors,” says Jose Argudo for Innovate UK.3

Online innovation

One of the areas that have seen the biggest growth during the pandemic is anything that can be ordered, or accessed, online. Online food ordering and delivery platforms, e-commerce and online auctions all currently feature in the top-10 fastest growing industries in the UK by revenue growth.4

Even before the pandemic, over half of retail sales were expected to be online by 20285 – a seismic shift in our buying patterns that has no doubt been accelerated by the ongoing global pandemic.

As a result of repeated lockdowns, a fifth of UK micro-businesses set up an online presence for the first time6 and more than half of businesses who already had a website bolstered it with additional content, social media use or by adding an online store.7

The government investment awarded by Innovate UK is being used to support some exciting new online developments including The National Theatre, who are developing a cutting-edge virtual entertainment platform, Volunteero, who have developed an app that facilitates community volunteering and Elchies Estates, who are providing a platform for retailers to sell their produce at online farmers markets.8

Online innovation has also been seen in some of our most essential services, including healthcare and education. Usage of virtual GP services has grown steadily during the pandemic9 and many areas of education from primary through to higher education have moved to online learning. Incredibly, virtual learning has even been developed to enable medical students to upskill remotely and perform simulation surgeries.10

Rapid scale-up

For some organisations, the demand for their products and services skyrocketed during the pandemic, bringing with it a different set of challenges for their leadership teams to navigate.

For those who found themselves in greater demand, it wasn’t necessarily a diversification from their usual business model that was needed, but a rapid scale-up of existing operations to cope with demand.

Those involved in the production and distribution of PPE and vaccines are key examples of businesses that have had to rapidly speed up their processes to meet the demand caused by the pandemic. Customers wanting to buy antibacterial products also went into overdrive. Clorox, who sell cleaning products, responded by mobilising their resources to produce more bleach, including procuring ten additional suppliers.11

Another interesting player in the scale-up space is Netflix, who, having gained an incredible 26 million new subscribers in the first two quarters of 2020,12 now face the challenge of creating enough content to retain its 195 million strong customer base.13

Innovate now for future growth

For the shrewd business leader, successfully conquering the challenges posed by COVID is not the end of the process, but a stepping stone to future wins.

Like Netflix, Clorox CEO Linda Rendle wants to seize the opportunity to capitalise on the current situation and ensure the appetite for their products extends beyond the initial Coronavirus-induced demand.

“Where do we go from here, and how do we leverage what is an opportunity to serve so many people around the world, not just with our disinfecting products but with our broad portfolio?”14 says Rendle, who is now planning to accelerate the companies’ multi-year plans.

The importance of not being complacent is also echoed in a report by Accenture, who believe that “leaders are rapidly turning their attention to the ‘next’, a period of unpredictable and possibly muted economic recovery which will raise new competitive threats and opportunities at great speed.”15

Responsive business leadership

Whether you are a small business or a multinational corporation, having a competent and flexible leader at the helm who can respond and adapt in a crisis situation is often the difference between success and failure.

“A responsive leader recognises the ever-fluctuating nature of business and can quickly react to new challenges and circumstances. [They] also go one step further, anticipating challenges before they arise and taking proactive measures to face them” offers Donna Rae Smith, Founder and CEO of The Bright Side. “A responsive leader [also] acknowledges when she doesn’t have the necessary tools/skills to handle a situation, and she seeks to build those skills, however uncomfortable that growth may be.”16

Responsive leaders are often thought to have four main characteristics; curiosity, humility, empathy and resilience. These traits enable leaders to be interested in growth, recognise the importance of building a strong team, understand the feelings of others and be able to pick themselves up again in times of adversity.17

Of course, holistic experience of how organisations function and a detailed understanding of best practice are also essential skills that compliment these traits, and ensure a well-rounded leadership style. Many professionals accelerate their path to leadership through qualifications – often fast-tracking their career progression with an MBA.

The 100% Online MBA at the University of Birmingham enables students to develop the skills they need to become responsive business leaders, able to lead and innovate at the highest levels of global business management.

For more information fill out our request for information form or call +44 (0)800 032 7101 to speak with a member of our Admissions Team.


  1. MCKINSEY & COMPANY (2020) Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 15.01.21]
  2. CAMPBELL, I (2020) Innovate UK’s business-led innovation in response to global disruption (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  3. ARGUDO, J (2020) Innovation and public intervention during the COVID-19 crisis (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 15.01.21]
  4. IBIS WORLD (2021) Fastest Growing Industries in the UK by Revenue Growth (%) in 2021 (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 15.01.21]
  5. BUTLER, S (2019) Half of UK retail sales will be online within 10 years, report predicts (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  6. COSTELLO, T (2020) New survey finds nearly 20 percent of U.K. micro-businesses set up online presence for first time, as they innovate to survive lockdown (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  7. GODADDY (2020) Despite Pandemic’s Devastating Impact, World’s Smallest Companies Are Bullish About the Future, GoDaddy Global Study Finds (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  8. CAMPBELL, I (2020) Innovate UK’s business-led innovation in response to global disruption (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  9. UNKNOWN (2020) Virtual GP services show steady growth since Covid-19 outbreak (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  10. I3DROBOTICS (2020) i3D robotics has won funding to develop a virtual-reality training platform to enable medical students to upskill remotely (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  11. WAHBA, P (2020) How Clorox’s new CEO plans to turn disinfectant wipes into future wins (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  12. ALEXANDER, J (2020) Netflix adds another whopping 10 million subscribers, but warns growth may slow (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  13. SHERMAN, N (2020) Five ways the virus has changed Netflix (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  14. RENDLE, L (2020) How Clorox’s new CEO plans to turn disinfectant wipes into future wins (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  15. ACCENTURE (2020) Navigating the human and business impact of coronavirus (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  16. SMITH, D (2012) What does it mean to be a responsive leader (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]
  17. JENKINS-SCOTT, J (2020) 4 Attributes of Responsive Leaders (Online) Available at: <> [Accessed 18.01.21]

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