University of Texas at Austin
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Lessons from the Field

McCombs School of Business McCombs School of Business

Introduction

Corporate leaders talk about navigating the COVID-19 crisis and responding to rocky economic times

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have presented unprecedented challenges to industry. Texas McCombs alumni and corporate partners are adapting to these changing times by drawing on their experience with past crises to develop innovative new solutions during unprecedented times.

“Lessons from the Field” is a series of video conversations that explores how their companies are navigating the health and economic challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jay Hartzell, then dean of the McCombs School and now interim president of UT Austin, hosted these conversations in late spring 2020.

Martin Otto, Chief Operating Officer, H-E-B

H-E-B has been praised for its preparation and poise during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Martin Otto, the company’s chief operating officer, talked about how the Texas-based company navigated the crisis — why it was so successful in keeping its stores stocked and how it developed effective safety protocols for both customers and employees.

“We’ve always done a pretty good job at H-E-B understanding that we serve every constituency. So, it’s not just our customers — it’s our partners, it’s our shareholders, it’s our suppliers, it’s our communities. And it’s our elected officials. It’s all of those. I think we did pretty good work early on and throughout the crisis to understand what each of those constituencies needs to feel comfortable and delivered what they’re looking for.”

Paul Knopp, U.S. Chair and CEO, KPMG U.S.

Paul Knopp, BBA ’82, MBA ’83, takes the reins as CEO of KPMG U.S. on July 1, 2020 in the midst of the economic uncertainty driven by the COVID-19 crisis. As he prepares for his new role, Knopp offered insights about how the shift to remote work might impact the professional services industry long-term.

“I think about how companies that I serve are transforming their own business processes from back end to front end, back office to middle office to front office. And we think about that journey of transforming those processes using robotic process automation, using digital tools, digital automation. Many companies have called it “reimagining the way they work.” We’re all going to be doing that now. While the crisis was horrible, it really accelerated the pace of change and caused us to do things in a much more productive, efficient way.”

Brett Biggs, Chief Financial Officer, Walmart

How we shop has been radically upended during the COVID-19 crisis, and Walmart is at the intersection of those changes. Brett Biggs, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and the company’s representative on the McCombs Corporate Advisory Council, shared his insights into how the company’s strategy toward hiring talent has been affected.

“One of the decisions we’ve made as a company was to continue with small things. We continued with our intern programs this summer. We felt like that was a way to differentiate ourselves, and with universities to show our commitment to hiring the best and brightest out of the schools. UT and McCombs are certainly a big part of that. Internships will be remote; it’s going to be different.”