Accenture is responding to coronavirus ‘as if it may last for a very long time,’ CEO says

In response to the economic and workplace disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, companies face a difficult choice of whether to implement temporary or longstanding changes, as public health experts remain unsure of how long the spread of the disease will last.

Accenture (ACN) CEO Julie Sweet, whose consulting firm employs 505,000 people worldwide and offers management advice to 6,000 client organizations, says her company is implementing adaptive measures with a prolonged interruption in mind. This uncertain period requires transparency and calm from company leaders, Sweet said.

“What we're trying to do is put in the infrastructure and the connections for our people and with our clients as if it may last for a very long time,” Sweet told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on Tuesday.

Asked how long she expects the disruption to last, she acknowledges, “that’s anybody’s guess right now.”

“There really is no playbook,” she adds. “In terms of just absolutely knowing.”

‘We’re relying on protocols we’ve had in place’

On Tuesday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to more than 46,800, as the worldwide total surpassed 398,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of people diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. has grown dramatically since March 1, when there were roughly 100 confirmed cases.

Countries across the globe have taken major actions in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The United Kingdom on Monday announced a nationwide lockdown that requires many shops to close and residents to remain in their houses as much as possible, while at least 17 U.S. states have implemented stay-at-home measures.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Accenture CEO Julie Sweet speaks onstage at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on October 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Yahoo)

As the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus comes into view, President Donald Trump is concerned about the effect of measures that shut down large amounts of business activity, Vanity Fair reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.

For more than three decades, Accenture senior management have worked around the globe, coordinating their efforts remotely, Sweet told diginomica last Friday. “Mobilizing to address this situation has been seamless,” she explained to the online publication.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, Sweet advised that companies exercise transparency and calm.

“First, it’s sometimes comforting to just acknowledge both to your employees and clients that we don't know what's going on, but that we're focused on making sure that we're navigating as it comes,” she tells Yahoo Finance.

“The second is continuing to remain calm,” she adds. “You know, we're relying on protocols that we've had in place, not for a global pandemic, but for other crisis situations, we're executing on those with discipline we're sharing that knowledge with our clients.”

Even as the virus has spread rapidly since it was discovered in Wuhan, China in December, Accenture has learned some best practices and shared them with clients.

“As this has moved around, we've been able to prepare many other companies more quickly in other countries based on the lessons we've learned in the early stages,” Sweet says.

“It’s a global pandemic, so every country will be affected,” she adds.


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