CEO outlook bright for A/E industry

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they discuss CEO's perspectives in the wake of Morrissey Goodale's VR/AR CEO Week.

By Morrissey Goodale September 28, 2020

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they discuss CEO’s perspectives in the wake of their VR/AR CEO Week.

Place your bets for 2021

We had two goals for our inaugural Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) CEO Week. The first was to provide a forum for CEOs to meaningfully connect, engage, learn, and have fun with their peers at a time when they cannot safely do so physically. The second was to allow them to experience VR/AR technology so that they could see its potential in running their businesses during and beyond the pandemic. Based on the CEO feedback that we have received, we’re encouraged we achieved those goals and more.

We’re thankful to those CEOs who chose to explore this completely new format with us. Their participation created a unique forum that allowed for rich and deep conversations between peers, a renewal of old acquaintances, and the beginning of new relationships between CEOs (the latter was amazing and rewarding to watch unfold as real relationships were being built in VR). Here are just some of the highlights:

Most CEOs experienced three distinct phases as they explored the VR world over the week. The first was, “Wow, this is so cool,” as they initially experienced the VR environment. (One CEO commented on how wearing the Oculus headset made him so much cooler in the eyes of his son.) The second was, “Here is how I think I could use this at my firm.” (CEOs are ALWAYS thinking about how to improve their firms.) The third was, “I can’t believe I’m having these meaningful conversations with my peers like this!” The last was both rewarding and fun to observe as the CEOs fully embraced the 3-D experience. Freed from the limitations of Zoom, Teams, and Webex, they interacted with their peers in a way they had never imagined possible without being together in person. Read the reactions of the CEOs to the VR technology here.

And as always, when industry CEOs get together, there was plenty of fun. The VR environment offered an abundance of opportunities for extracurricular activities before, during, and after the meetings. Some CEOs climbed to the summit of Mount Everest Some took a tour of the rebuilding of Notre Dame. Some got a workout trying to best each other in the fully immersive 3-D boxing game Creed. From throwing virtual footballs across the room to each other, to creating and exploring 3-D objects like Starbucks coffee cups and elephants (“the elephant in the room”), to exploring 3-D models of the Roman Coliseum (very cool) together, to getting their first photos taken in VR (that’s a wild experience) with their peers under the seals of their alma maters, these CEOs thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get together, blow off some steam, and have fun. Given the strain they’ve been under for the last six months, the timing could not have been better.

Beyond the fun the CEOs embraced the opportunity to engage and share. Using the Lean Coffee format of our annual CEO event – which this September was to focus, ironically, on the theme of innovation on the campus of MIT– the CEOs moved through 3 to 5 discussion topics around a particular New Reality theme each day of the week. Every day they were in discussions with a new group of peers.

Welcome to the new reality. The week kicked off with CEOs discussing the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses and end markets. Common to all five CEO breakout groups were conversations around how to maintain and strengthen firm culture in a remote working environment. Additional conversations involved new techniques to connect with clients, the challenges to managing remotely (this was a HUGE topic), Zoom and Teams fatigue, impacts on end-markets, the future of travel, concerns about the outlook for 2021, and the pleasant surprise (for some) of being awash in cash.

Bigger than the pandemic? was Tuesday’s theme where CEOs discussed industry trends and disruptors that are being either accelerated or supplanted by the pandemic. Some of the topics covered included diversity and inclusion, virtual business models, threats from AI/machine learning, how firms are using the unprecedented levels of cash on their balance sheets, and the diminished need for office space.

Innovating in uncertain times was Wednesday’s theme. Discussions included:  techniques to foster innovation, applications of cutting-edge technology, forced/reactive innovation as a result of the pandemic, the emergence of the hybrid tech/engineering model, embedding innovation champions within business lines, and the CEO’s unique role in encouraging and rewarding innovation.

Thursday’s theme was Preparing next-generation leaders to lead in the New Reality.  Discussions ranged from whether the New Reality requires a different type of CEO with new skills compared to the pre-pandemic world to how to get line-of-sight on rising leaders when working remotely. Concerns were expressed about how numerous CEO succession plans have been disrupted and delayed while the clock continues to tick. It was awesome to see the more seasoned CEOs offer support and advice to the cohort of CEOs who took the top job at their firm in 2020, either immediately before or during the pandemic. This exchange of knowledge is such a powerful feature of the VR environment.

Some of the most poignant discussions took place on Friday. The theme of the day was What about YOU? Is it even lonelier at the top for today’s CEO? CEOs shared the techniques they’ve used to connect with and engage their employees through the multiple phases of the pandemic. They discussed the solemn responsibility they feel for the health and well-being of all of their employees. They shared the immense importance of empathy as a leadership trait in 2020. They listened as their peers described how they conducted emotional town halls and one-on-one discussions about social justice over the last several months. They shared tips and suggestions to stay motivated and focused, and to reenergize and self-restore. And they spoke about the importance of projecting optimism and positivity through all of the challenges of 2020— even on those days when they are feeling neither optimistic nor positive themselves. 2020 has challenged CEOs like never before and they seized the opportunity to share with and support their peers.

Plus/Delta wins again. We got a ton of feedback from attendees on pluses— i.e., what they want more of in the next VR/AR CEO Week (including expanding VR offerings to their leadership teams and managers (done!), more 3-D models, even more time for discussions, more examples of how to apply the technology to their businesses and more cocktail time!)— and deltas— i.e., changes/additions to improve the next CEO Week (including private one-on-one conversations and opening/closing large-group plenary sessions).

CEO VR/AR Community News and Updates. We’re planning our next VR/AR CEO Week for mid-January. Click here to be placed on the wait list. For updates on our CEO VR/AR Community, click here. VRCampus— our customized VR/AR meeting and exploration space for CEOs— is available 24/7 for CEOs to hone their VR/AR skills, collaborate with their teams, experiment with VR/AR applications for their firms and meet with clients, vendors, and potential hires.

A frothy fourth quarter lies ahead for industry M&A. Buyers flush with cash are looking to snap up quality firms to help them navigate 2021 and beyond. Sellers are eager to get deals closed before this year’s tax rates expire. Deals are down 9% over last year’s record pace. However, after freezing over in the spring, the M&A market is red hot again.

This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s website. Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.

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