FlyTitle: Covid and the company

The pandemic and the damage done will accelerate trends that were already reshaping business

这场大流行病及其破坏将加速本已在重塑商业的趋势

经济学人双语版-沉没,游泳,还是弄潮 Sinking, swimming and surfing

SOMETIMES CHANGE is so vast and dislocating that it is hard to tell disaster from opportunity. In March Ocado, a British online grocer, saw its servers so overloaded that it suspected hackers. “We thought that we were under a denial-of-service attack,” says Tim Steiner, the company’s boss. In fact, Britons were desperately trying to arrange to get food and drink deliveries for the weeks ahead. After Boris Johnson, the prime minister, announced a national lockdown the site filled three weeks’ worth of delivery slots in an hour.

有时候,变化来得翻天覆地,让人难以分辨是机遇还是灾难。3月,英国在线日杂店Ocado的服务器严重超载,它怀疑是黑客在捣鬼。公司老板蒂姆·施泰纳(Tim Steiner)说:“我们以为遭到了拒绝服务攻击。”实际上是英国人在抢着订购未来几周的食品和饮料。首相鲍里斯·约翰逊宣布全国封城后,Ocado的网站在一小时内收到的订单就用掉了未来三周的配送能力。

Companies for which the ill wind of covid-19 has blown some good have been very much in the minority. In February, even as stockmarkets began to crash, business leaders could console themselves with three observations. First, they bore no blame for the crisis. Some downturns, such as the dotcom bust of 2000-01 and the financial crisis of 2007-09 are seen through a quasi-biblical lens of retribution—just deserts for orgies of speculation. This was more like a tsunami, or a war; its casualties had some hope of being treated as innocent victims deserving of support, rather than the authors of their own fate.

新冠的邪风所过之处,有所受益的企业只是少数。2月,即便是股市开始崩盘之时,企业领导人可以用三种观点聊以自慰。首先,这场危机责任不在他们。对于像2000至2001年的互联网泡沫破灭和2007至2009年的金融危机这样的经济衰退,人们会从类似《圣经》中因果报应的角度来看待,觉得那些是对疯狂投机的报应。而这次更像是一场海啸或战争,伤者不认为自己是自作自受,而希望被视为无辜的受害者,理应得到帮助。

Second, most companies—particularly in America—went into the crisis in pretty solid shape; employment was booming, order books were relatively full and the easing of America’s trade war with China augured well. Third, within days of global markets melting down China was tentatively reopening some factories and lifting some of its draconian lockdowns. This suggested a V-shaped recovery, or at worst a U-shaped one, something requiring not life-and-death measures but a battened-down Sufi stoicism: “This, too, shall pass.” As Dara Khosrowshahi, who runs Uber, said confidently as late as early March, “At least from what we’ve seen the bounceback can be pretty quick.”

其次,大多数企业,尤其是美国的企业,在危机来临时的状态都相当稳健——就业增长强劲,订单相对充足,美中贸易战缓和也是个好兆头。第三,在全球市场崩溃后不久,中国开始尝试复工复产,并放松了一些严厉的封城措施。这表明经济将呈V型恢复,或者最不济也会是U型恢复,因而不需要采取生死攸关的措施,只需要准备好践行苏非派的坚忍:“一切终将过去。”优步的老板达拉·科斯罗萨西(Dara Khosrowshahi)3月初还自信地说:“至少就我们所见,反弹可能会很快。”

Unfortunately, many European countries and some American states immediately began to impose social-distancing measures and, soon thereafter, lockdowns. Businesses found themselves looking into the abyss of a largely moribund economy. According to the International Labour Organisation sectors now facing a severe decline in output, and thus a high risk of lay-offs and furloughs, employ almost 38% of the global workforce: some 1.25bn workers (see chart 1).

不幸的是,许多欧洲国家和美国一些州紧接着开始施行社交隔离,不久后又封城。企业发现自己正凝视着经济大部分濒临崩溃的深渊。根据国际劳工组织的数据,眼下面临产出严重下降的行业,也就是很可能裁员和放无薪假的行业,雇用了全球近38%的劳动力——约12.5亿名员工(见图表1)。

经济学人双语版-沉没,游泳,还是弄潮 Sinking, swimming and surfing

Government handouts in America and Europe should ease the pain of some of that unemployment—if fully implemented and if the benefit systems work. But many of the proposed beneficiaries, such as florists, gyms and bakeries, will still go short. Whether they scrape by or go under, that will prolong the slump in consumer confidence—as will the possibility of a second wave of illness after restrictions are lifted. One pessimistic Wall Street banker talks of a future neither V-shaped, U-shaped or even W-shaped, but “more like a bathtub”.

如果美国和欧洲政府的救济措施能得到充分实施,福利制度也能起作用的话,应该能减轻一些失业的痛苦。但是,花店、健身房和面包店等许多政府打算救济的对象仍将捉襟见肘。无论它们是勉强维持还是倒闭,消费者信心的滑坡都将延长,解除限制措施后出现第二波疫情的可能性也将有同样的影响。一位悲观的华尔街银行家认为未来经济的恢复既不会是V型,也不会是U型,甚至都不是W型,而“更像是浴缸型”。

Yet even as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, chief executives and corporate strategists are beginning to look to the post-covid world to come. What they think they see, for good or ill, is an acceleration. Three existing trends—the deglobalisation unpicking the business world that grew up in the 2000s; the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life; a consolidation of economic power into the hands of giant corporations—look likely to proceed at a faster rate than before, and perhaps to go further, too. Optimists—and business folk tend to look on the bright side—see this acceleration as offering new possibilities for reinvention, even resurrection. Pessimists see inefficiencies and insularity weighing on profitability for many years to come.

不过,首席执行官和企业战略家即便还在穿越死亡阴影笼罩的山谷,他们已开始展望疫情结束后的世界。他们认为未来的变化将会加速,不论是向好还是向坏。现有的三个趋势看起来很可能会发展得更快,而且影响可能会更深远。它们分别是:去全球化——它正在瓦解于本世纪头十年发展起来的商业世界;基于数据的服务融入生活的更多方面;经济影响力向超大企业集中。乐观主义者和往往会看向光明面的商界人士认为,这种加速为再创造甚至是复兴提供了新的可能性。悲观主义者则预计效率低下和封闭孤立会在未来很多年里影响盈利能力。

Seasick

晕船

Whether or not such doldrums lurk in the future, the present is a mad swell of chop and change in which the fortunes of different regions and sectors vary wildly.

不管未来经济是否会陷入低潮,眼下的现状已是风起云涌,变幻莫测,不同地区和行业的命运大相径庭。

China’s economy shows distinct signs of recovery. Bernstein, an investment firm, notes that many of the swanky metropolitan restaurants it tracks there were full by the first weekend in April. That said, many migrant workers have yet to return to work. Air and rail traffic remain severely curtailed, as do car sales. The Chinese, though, are at least making cars to sell. European and American plants are shuttered.

中国经济显现出明显的复苏迹象。投资公司盛博指出,4月的第一个周末,它所追踪的许多中国大城市里的时髦餐厅都宾客满堂。尽管如此,还有大量外来务工人员尚未复工。航空和铁路运输仍然受到严重限制,汽车销售也是如此。不过,中国人至少在制造汽车以供销售。欧美的汽车制造厂仍然大门紧闭。

Neither is the gloom within countries evenly spread. Some sectors are doing worse than others, and in all the fortunes of the most and least resilient are far apart (see chart 2). Should the coming recession not kill off animal spirits entirely, there will be lots of opportunities for corporate upheaval, takeovers and strategic shifts.

在各国内部,不景气的程度也有所不同。有些行业的境遇比其他行业糟糕,总体来讲,适应力最强和最弱的企业之间命运相去甚远(见图表2)。如果即将到来的衰退不能完全消灭动物精神,那么在公司重大变动、收购和战略转变方面将有很多机遇。

经济学人双语版-沉没,游泳,还是弄潮 Sinking, swimming and surfing

China’s government may encourage its state-owned firms to go global by buying distressed car companies in Europe. The share price of Daimler is less than half what it was when Geely, a Chinese carmaker, bought a 10% stake in 2018. Car companies may also see offers from technology giants keen to improve co-operation between metal bashers and the engineers of autonomy—currently wary at best. The healthier airlines, such as Qantas and IAG, owner of British Airways, will snap up airport slots from their bankrupt rivals and may try to acquire others only just staying aloft. Private-equity firms, which have mountains of committed investor cash, may start buying up fundamentally sound but impecunious suppliers in various industries, aware that when demand returns such companies will see its first fruits. Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra group, one of India’s largest conglomerates, says that as well as big corporations buying smaller ones, many smaller firms will look to merge with peers.

中国政府可能会鼓励其国有企业收购陷入困境的欧洲汽车公司,以此走向世界。中国汽车制造商吉利2018年买入了戴姆勒公司10%的股份,现在戴姆勒的股价还不及当时的一半。汽车公司可能还会收到科技巨头的收购要约,这些巨头很想改善传统车厂和无人驾驶研发者之间的合作——目前这两者之间的关系最好的也不过是互相提防。状况较好的航空公司,例如澳洲航空(Qantas)和拥有英国航空(British Airways)的国际航空集团(IAG),将从破产的竞争对手那里抢夺机场起降时段,并可能试图收购其他只是勉强度日的对手。拥有大量已到位投资者资金的私募股权公司可能会开始收购各行业中基本面良好但资金窘迫的供应商,因为它们知道,当需求恢复时可从这些公司率先收获成果。印度最大的企业集团之一马恒达(Mahindra)的董事长阿南德·马辛德拉(Anand Mahindra)表示,大型企业收购小企业的同时,许多小企业之间也将探索合并。

Around the world, small and medium-sized firms are particularly exposed. In America, a survey published on April 3rd by MetLife, an insurer, and the US Chamber of Commerce found that 54% of non-sole-proprietor firms with fewer than 500 employees were either closed or expected to close in coming weeks. It has been a similar story in China. As well as driving unemployment, this has systemic implications. Though such firms are often relatively inefficient, the nimbler ones can play a role in supply chains that would be hard to duplicate. Aware of this, some big firms, such as Unilever, are attempting to buoy up suppliers by paying them more quickly.

在世界各地,中小企业面临的风险尤其大。在美国,保险公司大都会人寿(MetLife)和美国商会4月3日发布的调查发现,员工少于500人的非独资公司中,有54%已经倒闭或预计将在未来几周内倒闭。中国的情况也差不多。这不仅会推高失业率,还会产生系统性影响。尽管这些公司通常效率相对较低,但那些更灵活的公司可以在供应链中发挥难以复制的作用。鉴于这一点,联合利华等一些大公司正努力加快向这些供应商付款以缓解它们的财务困境。

Much of this activity will happen on the fly, as disasters and opportunities present themselves. As time goes by, though, the currents of the great acceleration will begin to assert themselves. For companies enmeshed in the comparatively freewheeling, Anglo-American model of business that has been in competition with Chinese-style state capitalism in recent years it will be a distinct shock.

随着灾难和机遇的来袭,这类举措很多都将是匆忙实施。但随着时间的推移,“大加速”的洪流会开始显现自身影响力。近年来,相对自由放任的英美商业模式一直在与中国式国家资本主义竞争。对那些融入英美模式的企业而言,这样的洪流会带来明显的冲击。

Take China and its supply-chain primacy first. By 2017, when average Chinese manufacturing wages had become as high as those in the poorer parts of Europe, it was clear that the logic which saw a large fraction of the world’s supply chains pass through the country needed re-examining. The former boss of a big American company’s Chinese operations says that in the past few years the trade war and other risks of business disruption saw many global firms seek to reduce their dependency on China. One of their favoured strategies was to put more business into factories elsewhere in Asia.

先来看中国及其供应链的主导地位。到2017年,中国制造业的平均工资已赶上了欧洲经济较落后的地区,那时就已经很清楚,需要重新分析全球供应链的一大部分放在中国是否合理。一家美国大企业的中国区前主管说,过去几年中,贸易战和其他业务中断的风险促使许多跨国公司寻求减少对中国的依赖,它们偏爱的策略之一是把更多业务转移到亚洲其他地区的工厂。

But the acute stage of China’s covid-19 crisis made it clear how essential China remains as a provider of inputs to such factories elsewhere in Asia and around the world. “What people thought was a global supply chain was a Chinese supply chain,” says Mr Mahindra. The quest for supply chains independent of Beijing needs to go further, and deeper.

但是,中国新冠疫情高峰期的情况表明,对亚洲和世界其他地区的工厂而言,中国仍然是至关重要的供应方。“人们以为的全球供应链其实是中国供应链。”马辛德拉说。寻求不依赖中国的供应链还需要更深远的努力。

经济学人双语版-沉没,游泳,还是弄潮 Sinking, swimming and surfing

Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, says that if there is one lesson people are drawing from the pandemic in this regard it is that “single source is out and diversification is in.” In other words, companies do not just need suppliers outside China. They need to build out their choice of suppliers, even if doing so raises costs and reduces efficiency. Mr Mahindra expects to see new demand for production in Vietnam, Myanmar and possibly, if it can grasp the opportunity, India.

中国欧盟商会会长伍克德(Joerg Wuttke)表示,如果说人们从这次大流行病中吸取了一个教训,那就是“单一供应源已经过时,多元化是新风尚。”换句话说,企业不仅仅需要中国以外的供应商。它们还需要扩大供应商的选择范围,即使这样做会增加成本并降低效率。马辛德拉预计越南、缅甸,以及印度(如果它能抓住机会的话)将有新的生产需求。

For some, the need to have more suppliers looks like an opportunity to promote possibilities at home. The government-owned Development Bank of Japan plans to subsidise relocation costs of companies that bring production facilities back to the country. Rich Lesser, the CEO of Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which advises big global firms, says that robotics and other new approaches to manufacturing make the case for moving factories closer to home more compelling, because they reduce the cost difference. Just as previous information technology was put to work underpinning the spread of supply chains, so today’s can be used to shorten them—potentially making companies more responsive to local tastes.

对一些国家来说,扩大供应商的必要性似乎是一个在国内增加可能性的机会。国有的日本开发银行(Development Bank of Japan)计划对把工厂迁回日本的企业给予搬迁费用补贴。为大型跨国公司提供咨询服务的波士顿咨询公司的首席执行官李瑞麒(Rich Lesser)表示,由于机器人技术和其他新的制造方法缩小了成本差异,把工厂搬回距离本国更近的地点变得更名正言顺了。之前信息技术曾是供应链延伸的基础,如今信息技术也同样可用来缩短供应链,这可能让企业对本地需求的响应更快。

And the range of the changes information technology makes possible will only increase: that is the essence of the second current of post-covid acceleration. The growth of firms built on digital connections with and between hundreds of millions, or billions, of people, and which collect reams of cloud-based data in the process, was central to the bull market that met its end in February. That growth still has plenty of room to run.

信息技术可能带来的变化的范围将只会越来越大:这就是疫情后的第二个加速浪潮的实质。许多企业成长的基础是它们与数亿乃至数十亿人之间以及这些人彼此之间的数字连接,还在此过程中收集了大量基于云的数据,这种成长是在2月底结束的这一轮牛市的核心,而且在未来仍有很大的发展空间。

Responding to covid-19 has seen many people and companies realise that IT had more to offer them than they had realised. Zoom, an online videoconferencing service, was serving 10m customers a day at the beginning of the year, most of them in business meetings. Now it is providing 200m people a day not just with meetings, but with Tai Chi classes and “quarantinis”. Slack, which provides a medium by which far-flung colleagues can co-ordinate things, has become part of dinner-table conversation. It is not only young tech-companies, and tech companies that were previously mostly used by the young, that have prospered. Microsoft’s Teams product is gaining many converts. No one expects the amount of distance working ever again to be as low as it was before the virus hit.

抗击新冠疫情让许多人和企业意识到,信息技术能为他们提供的东西比他们意识到的更多。在线视频会议服务Zoom年初时的日用户数为1000万,主要用途是商务会议。现在它每天有2亿用户,他们不仅用它来开会,还用来上太极课和共饮“隔离鸡尾酒”。Slack让天各一方的同事得以协调工作,现已成为餐桌话题的一部分。现在业务红火的不仅是年轻的科技公司,还有过去以年轻用户为主的科技公司。微软的群聊产品Teams收获了许多新用户。没人认为远程工作量会再跌回到疫情爆发前的水平。

Restrictions put in place during the SARS outbreak of 2003 helped accelerate China’s embrace of e-commerce. Covid-19 is having a similar effect, even in economies where e-commerce is already common. Chris Grigg, boss of British Land, one of Britain’s biggest retail and office landlords, says that as a result of covid-19 his company has brought forward by several years the time when it expects the share of shopping done online in Britain to double from its current 20%—already among the highest levels in the world. The pandemic may not just highlight the convenience of online life; it may also make some of its drawbacks less disturbing. Germans, who have historically well-founded privacy concerns, are resistant to anything that looks like “surveillance capitalism”. But Karl Haeusgen, chairman of HAWE, a maker of hydraulic pumps, says an app that helped maintain public health by tracing covid-19 infections could make them less protective of their data. If that were the case, they might become converts to other data-driven business, too.

在2003年SARS爆发期间实施的限制措施加快了电子商务在中国的普及。新冠肺炎也有类似的推动作用,即使在电子商务已经很普遍的经济体中也一样。英国最大的零售和写字楼物业业主之一British Land的老板克里斯·格里格(Chris Grigg)表示,受新冠肺炎影响,他的公司已经把英国在线购物份额预计实现翻番的时间比原来的预测提前了几年,目前这一份额为20%,已经位列世界最高水平。这场大流行病也许不仅突显了线上生活的便利,可能还让网络的某些弊端不再那么令人担忧。德国人向来对隐私问题有很多顾虑,这样的担心也有充分的理由,所以他们对任何看起来像“监视资本主义”的东西都比较抵触。但液压泵制造商HAWE的董事长卡尔·霍伊斯根(Karl Haeusgen)表示,通过跟踪新冠感染来帮助维护公众健康的一款应用可能会让德国人不再那么小心翼翼地保护自己的个人数据。若真如此,他们可能也会转变心意,接受其他受数据驱动的业务。

This trend will be good news for giants of the tech scene such as Alphabet, Amazon and Apple. So will other factors. The need for economic resilience will be added to the arguments against breaking up the biggest tech companies. If the tech world splinters into rival Chinese and Western camps each side will want its champions.

对于Alphabet、亚马逊和苹果这样的科技巨头来说,这一趋势将是利好。其他因素也是如此。恢复经济的需要将成为反对拆分超大科技公司的又一个理由。如果科技业分裂成相互敌对的中国阵营和西方阵营,那么双方都将希望有自已的领军企业。

If things look pretty good for big tech, though, they look none too shabby for big everything else. As the world gets back on its feet, big firms will have better access to capital markets, giving them an extra edge over smaller competitors. And across the world there will be one increasingly big customer, too—the state. As Mr Mahindra says, “the only engine of consumption for the next 12 to 24 months will be government.” Big companies fit well with big government: they make its life simpler; they lobby it more assiduously.

但是,如果说科技巨头形势大好,其他行业的巨头情况也不坏。世界从疫情中恢复的过程中,大企业将有更多的机会利用资本市场,这让它们比规模较小的竞争者更具优势。而在世界各地,也将有一个越来越大的客户——政府。正如马辛德拉所说:“未来12到24个月内唯一的消费引擎将是政府。”大企业和大政府很合拍:大企业让大政府的日子更简单;它们游说大政府也更努力。

These trends will inevitably have pernicious side-effects. Less dependence on China will mean less access to the rapid-fire innovation that takes place there. The bigger the tech firms, the harder it will be for startups to gain sufficient scale to challenge them. Not impossible; Zoom has done well in a world where bigger companies offer services along similar lines. But more difficult.

这些趋势将不可避免地产生有害的副作用。减少对中国的依赖将意味着利用中国创新大潮的机会也随之减少。科技公司规模越大,创业公司就越难达到足够的规模去挑战这些大公司。不是说不可能,Zoom就在一众提供类似服务的大公司中表现出色——但难度会更大。

But though innovative businesses may face challenges in the post-covid world, they may also help bring it into being. This is not just because pharmaceutical and biotech companies are feverishly searching for drugs and vaccines. It is because business can knit people together. Mr Lesser of BCG argues that companies which build a bond with “emotionally vulnerable” consumers during the crisis may help reduce their anxieties on the other side—anxieties which might otherwise linger. Businesses will need to encourage people back to restaurants, bars and boutiques when lockdowns end but fears persist. And because small companies are being badly hit, recovery in these sectors will need to see new relationships formed.

但是,尽管创新企业可能会在疫情过后面临挑战,它们也可能帮助塑造未来。这不仅是因为制药和生物技术公司正在疯狂地寻找药物和疫苗。这主要是因为企业可以把人们凝聚在一起。波士顿咨询的李瑞麒认为,在疫情期间与“情绪脆弱”的消费者建立起纽带关系的公司可能会在疫情过后帮助他们缓解焦虑,否则这类情绪可能会挥之不去。人们在隔离结束后会继续担忧,企业就需要鼓励人们重新走进餐馆、酒吧和服装店。由于小企业目前受到的冲击很大,这些行业要复苏就需要建立新的客户关系。

Mr Lesser recalls the anxiety he used to feel walking through Grand Central Station after September 11th 2001. He would look at the throngs and queues for coffee and quicken his step at the thought of another catastrophic attack. Eventually, though, that fear subsided and the cavernous space regained its appeal. This, too, shall pass. ■

李瑞麒回想起他在2001年9月11日之后穿过纽约中央车站时的焦虑感。看着周围人来人往,咖啡柜台前排起长龙,他会不由加快脚步,生怕发生另一场灾难性的袭击。但最终,这种恐惧逐渐消退,这个宏伟宽敞的空间又恢复了往日的魅力。一切终将过去。