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Kevin Sneader: We’re not going back to the ‘normal’ we had before coronavirus

Our global managing partner Kevin Sneader joined Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Wednesday, March 25, to talk live about the business implications of the coronavirus pandemic. Their conversation, highlights of which are condensed and edited below, took place the morning after US lawmakers agreed to the terms of a $2 trillion relief plan, the largest in the nation’s history.

The full interview is available now at CNBC.com. You can read all of our material on the crisis at our coronavirus insights page.

On what CEOs are worried about right now

One thing is clear from all the conversations I’ve had: nothing is going to be the same. This is a new normal, a different way of operating.

I think for our clients, they’re worried about their employees, their customers, and cash—in that order. And they are worried about cash. Even in the health care sector, there are providers who are not getting paid right now, and they’re worried about cash flow just as players in several other sectors are.

Another reality they’re all dealing with is that people keep sending them scenarios as to how this could play out. The message we’re hearing is that the scenarios are helpful, but leaders are wondering what’s going to be true across all these scenarios. Because if it’s not going back to the way it was before, what’s the next normal? What’s the way in which we’re going to have to operate?

The reality is that consumer behavior is changing fundamentally, and so much else is changing, and the question is, “will it go back?” I think the answer in many cases is “no.”

On the big business changes this moment will usher in

If you think about a lot of what’s happened in the last few years, some of it’s going to be reinforced. The shift [to working] online has now been given a boost, and it’s hard to see that being taken back to where it was before.

At the same time, I think one of the biggest shifts will be the way that products reach us. For many years, we and others have been focused on efficiency: how efficiently can I run my supply chain? I think now there’s going to be a lot of conversation about, how resilient is my supply chain?

Finally, we had books written about the “death of distance,” which suggested it didn’t matter if things were far away from us. Now we understand what distance really means (including social distancing).

When things are far away, a lot can happen between here and there. I think businesses are going to bring a lot back where they can control it.

On the crisis’s implication for jobs

One of the lessons we’ve learned from countries that are ahead in terms of dealing with this is that it’s not so easy to bring a business back if you haven’t got employees. So they’re very much going to be asking, “what is the path to the next normal?” And that includes being very thoughtful about how they can maintain what they have by way of employees.

We’re also seeing a lot of companies working very hard to figure out, “if our business isn’t busy, is there another one that is?” We’ve seen a lot of recruiting start to go on because people need distribution warehouses, and logistics companies do need people. So, I think the picture is a lot more nuanced than any sweeping statement as different sectors try to adjust.

On the post-coronavirus economy

I think it’s going to look different, and I think the way investors evaluate it will look different too.

They’re going to build in questions like: is this business resilient? How do we cope with the shock we’ve just seen? Now, let’s hope this is a truly black swan event, but it is going to change the way people think about risk, and it’s going to change the way in which they value that risk.

Investors are going to look differently, and CEOs are already looking differently. That’s why we’re not going back to the normal we had before.

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