I was playing paddle tennis on a frigid cold Chicago night recently when my partner told me that five people on her immediate team at a leading Fortune 500 company were just laid off, in addition to senior executives of a partner company she’d been collaborating with closely for several years. The day before in the grocery store, another friend, looking glum, told me her husband had just lost what he thought was a “secure” executive position at another Fortune 500 company.

Not a day goes by without news of more layoffs, restructurings, and companies shuttering their doors. Industrial growth has slowed on a global basis. The darkening economic outlook isn’t playing favorites. As I write this, there are reports that Philips Electronics just announced more cost-cutting plans, including a reduction of 6,000 jobs. Caterpillar shed another 11,500 jobs, bringing its total recent cuts to 20,000. Starbucks just announced cuts of nearly 7,000 jobs. It’s no longer just the financial sector or the auto industry. No industry is immune. Plans for businesses to expand are being shelved. No government has been able to stop the bleeding.

You don’t need to hear this doom and gloom from me; we’re bombarded daily by news of the crisis. Heck, we’re all living it. But are we as CCOs prepared for the new reality this crisis has delivered to our doors? In order to help our organizations successfully weather this intensifying storm of unknown depth and duration, we must view our roles through a whole new lens. These are unprecedented times and looking through the rearview mirror won’t help us guide our organizations.

What promises to kick-start our thinking are some of the insights and perspectives from our upcoming speakers at the Arthur W. Page Society Spring Seminar. Addressing our theme “Influence in the Midst of Uncertainty,” we will learn from people who’ve been in the trenches, including
David Walker of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation who previously served as U.S. Comptroller General and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And we’ll hear a fresh perspective on influence from Harvard Professor Howard Gardner, author of Changing Minds, a book that unveils a process for helping people break through long-held beliefs and persuade them to re-examine their perspective. We’ll hear from the auto industry and the financial services sector. We’ll explore the employee standpoint and the media vantage point.

Page members and their guests should plan to join us on April 2 and 3 in New York City for what promises to be a provocative and thoughtful exchange of ideas about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for CCOs during these uncertain times. We all have the opportunity to break some meaningful new ground as we brave the new financial realities battering our organizations.