BONUS | Alain Mulder and Bernardin Generalao - Business Continuity in Europe

May 21, 2020 | 13 Minutes

Alain Mulder, Senior Director of Europe Operations for IMA, and Bernardin Generalao, Director of Regional Partner Relations for IMA, join Count Me In to talk about how IMA's European offices in Amsterdam and Zurich are coping with the business disruption due to COVID-19. They both also discuss how they have made strategic leadership decisions to ensure business continues in the region. This regionally focused bonus episode continues the series of conversations we are having to highlight the various efforts across the globe to empower the management accounting profession. This is another informative interview as Alain and Bernardin discuss timely accounting and finance issues. Download and listen now!

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Coronavirus Update from IMA:

: (00:05)
Hey everyone. Welcome back for another special bonus episode of Count Me In. Over the last few weeks, we have interviewed various IMA staff members from across the globe and shared their perspectives on how business in their region is being handled following disruption of Covid-19. We have heard about business continuity in the Middle East and India, China and now today we are going to share information coming from Europe. Adam spoke with Alain Mulder, Senior Director of Europe, Operations for IMA and Bernardin Generalao, IMA’s Director of Regional Partner Relations. For more global perspectives and business insights. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now. 
Adam: (00:48)
So we are going through a globally challenging period and with IMA's regional Europe offices based in Amsterdam and Zurich, can you tell us a little bit about how this region is coping with the situation and what are some of the highlights of government level initiatives being taken? 
Alain: (01:04)
Well, let me first say that I hope that you are all safe and taking care of yourself and your family as we beat this COVID-19 crisis. And I also want to express my heartfelt sympathy to all being affected by this pandemic, and also the loved ones of the ones who have left us. So IMA’s approach to this challenge has been simple, to demonstrate social responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of our stakeholders, including our staff, professionals, and students in more than 150 countries, and of course our partners. Before our local governments decided to call a lockdown, we already decided to start working from home and not from the office anymore. So like I said, the wellbeing of our stakeholders is our priority, and in the first week of March, for example, we had many conferences happening across Europe, including Switzerland and France, and we immediately decided to cancel these events to make sure we, our members and stakeholders are all safe. Of course, it is very unfortunate because I was looking forward to these events for months and the teams and speakers put a lot of efforts into the preparations. But we have to take our responsibility during these difficult times. In Europe we currently have approximately 1.1 million COVID-19 cases, and especially Italy and Spain are heavily affected.  We saw most European countries have observed decreases in daily number of newly reported cases in the last two weeks, and as of April 22nd 20 countries had decreasing 40 day instance with 19 countries reporting a current 14 days instance below 50 cases per 100 K population. And although the composition and intensity of implementation for all European countries, entity UK, if we introduce a range of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as stay at home policies, recommended or enforced, alongside other community of physical distancing measures such as the cancellation of mass entering and closure of educational institutions and public spaces to reduce transmission. So while uncertainty remains about the extent to which the combination and intensity of these measures impact transmission in several countries here in Europe, certain measures are associated  created at least temporarily with decreases in the number of newly reported cases at the population level. So also transmission rates within the countries are heterogeneous and even in countries with high incidents of COVID-19, there are areas where sustained community transmission has been halted or strongly reduced, and countries with appropriate measures in place as well as in areas where transmission has declined or remain low probability of infection with COVID-19 is currentlyin his assessed low. And in many European countries we see the early signs of post-lockdown rise in activity and governments are now taking first steps reopening societies and economies. Here in the Netherlands for example, elementary schools were reopened for half of the time, and also other countries are now reopening. 
Bernardin: (04:33)
Well here in Switzerland and an easing of measures in three phases was introduced end of April. So public institutions, schools, private businesses are scheduled to reopen with three-week intervals until mid-June. There are various guidelines and regulations towards social gatherings and onsite events. So similar to most countries, physical distancing measures are highly recommended and also followed by the public. So as Alain mentioned, we have all had to act fast and remain vigilant. Hard to say that any organization was prepared for a pandemic and we are privileged to be at an organization with a high level of readiness for this unusual time of crisis. 
Adam: (05:15)
So as leaders in this region, you guys have had to make some difficult decisions to ensure that business continues and the staff is safe. What have been some of your guiding principles during this challenging time? 
Alain: (05:28)
Well, like I said, the wellbeing of our stakeholders is our priority and our senior leadership and our President & CEO, Jeff Thomson, has been very clear from the beginning, the wellbeing of our stakeholders is our number one priority, and that has always been the guiding principle for me. Safety is above commercialism and therefore we postponed our events across Europe, and we immediately started working from home. We are very fortunate that our organization was well prepared for that, and we used to work from home remotely while traveling and have all the systems in place. 
Bernardin: (06:05)
Well, I couldn't agree more with Alain. As cliche as it sounds, safety first is more prevalent than ever. Worth noting aside from the behavior for organizations, every individual reacts differently to this punctuated equilibrium. Prior to this current situation, there was a relative period of stability contrary to where we are now, where there are periods of rapid change. So for many individuals, this pandemic has been a period of loss, for example, with regards to normalcy, safety and livelihood. So consequently one should be mindful or at least familiarize themselves with the grief cycle from Kubler Ross. The grief cycle is stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and lastly, acceptance. Any individual or organization you're dealing with can be in any one of these stages. So what I'm saying is remember to be empathetic, or more empathetic than usual. 
Adam: (07:05)
I think that's some great advice Bernardin. We're all, we're all dealing with differing levels of that grief cycle as we're dealing with the loss of normalcy and this new normal is taking over. So how has IMA adapted to this new situation of working remotely? I know Alain you mentioned that IMA was very well prepared for that because a number of people do work from home at times, but how else has IMA adapted? 
Bernardin: (07:32)
Well, IMA immediately adapted to the new situation of remote work. So as a global organization we have been monitoring the effects of the pandemic on our colleagues located in other offices where COVID-19 had previously reached peak levels. The Zurich office is in the center, which means that my commute includes public transportation by a bus, train, and trams, and of course I wanted to avoid all of that. And the company directive to work from home came regardless, so I was never in a position to feel that I was being an inconvenience to our processes. I also traveled frequently within central Europe to manage relations with our stakeholders, which means that working from a cafe or hotel or a train or plane, on my laptop, cell phone or tablet was more or less normal for me. Personally, remote work did not present much of a transition. That might not be the case for everyone, especially if one is used to having a routine commute on a daily basis. For most professionals in these times, they're not only working in a new physical environment, but more importantly in a new emotional environment. So this also means that the motivational stimuli in this new way of work have to be adapted as well. And IMAhas given us a chance to climatize, particularly with regards to work life boundaries. So most working professionals have additional obligations during this lockdown. Children are homeschooled, so you have to be the teacher, and the elderly need extra support in errands, you know life as we know it now. 
Adam: (09:12)
So how was IMA managing this task at hand? What are some of the immediate actions you've taken? 
Bernardin: (09:18)
Well, our stakeholders have been very appreciative and cognizant of our actions. In this time of need, we definitely want to be there. We want to help those in the accounting and finance profession, cope with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As you know, IMA has made many valuable education resources available, free of charge to the greater community for 90 days. And the variety of resources provided to nonmembers include select learning products, publications, and career networking resources. So we believe that committing to being a learning individual or a learning organization and education is part of our social responsibility. As an example, a classroom and teaching resources for made readily available for academics, besides the virtual CMA info sessions we have conducted at dozens of European universities in recent weeks we have also launched the new IMA Data Analytics and Visualization Gundamentals certificate as well as Blockchain 101 just recently and both have been well received in thousands of finance and accounting professionals have already completed it as a means of continuous professional education. Now in addition, our member volunteers and chapter leaders from Switzerland, Germany, Amsterdam have facilitated several webinars with current topics to keep the engagement level high among IMA members. Most events have been converted into a virtual format providing the flexibility we all need. The IMA, Switzerland chapter, and this is brand new, is organizing a virtual management accounting conference on June 17th with presentations from renowned speakers, a round table discussion and a keynote speech from IMA’s Global Chair Elect Paul Juras and a virtual networking feature within the event. So if you're interested in learning more, do follow our channels. 
Adam: (11:18)
So to kind of wrap things up, what advice would you give to other regional and global leaders going through the same challenges that you are currently? 
Alain: (11:25)
Well we have all been united in our effort to understand and come to grips with the COVID-19 crisis, and as a leader you now have to think about the safety of your staff. We also have to make sure they feel safe to do their work and make sure they can work in comfort and take care of their family. We ask our team in Europe if they have everything at home to do their work safe like equipment and if not, we made sure it was delivered. As a leade,. you now also have to understand that there is no strict difference between work and private anymore. So don't make a fuss about it, if you children in a conference call, we all understand. Also trust your stuff, I see tremendous motivation and work gets us in my team. So my advice for now is to be a servant leader and trust your team. And I'm confident our team will come out of this situation stronger than effort and we will hit the ground running when this is all over. 
Announcer: (12:27)
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