2020 Hindsight!

On January 20th of this year, I became one of the very last foreign executives to officially visit Wuhan — a hitherto unknown city. Today, on December 31st, I am confined to my hotel room in Hong Kong for my mandatory three-week quarantine. Clearly COVID-19 — the greatest global health crisis in over one hundred years — has been the dominant theme of this year.

Contemplating the forces shaping this unique year, many images flash before one’s eyes. I have been living with the reality of this pandemic for nearly the entire year. As China began to shut down city after city in January and February, we worked round-the-clock with authorities, suppliers and customers to ensure critical Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and suits were manufactured, available and shipped to those in need and not end up in the wrong hands. Suddenly our frontline manufacturing workers, our shippers, drivers and laborers became the most critical and valuable employees, who sacrificed everything to ensure uninterrupted supply of material and services. As the world became fully engulfed in the coronavirus storm, we found ourselves working non-stop with people around the world, protecting employees, containing the spread, ensuring supplies of critical products and services in nearly 100 countries and setting up new capacity for masks and ventilator components in record time. Daily zoom calls starting at 5am became a routine matter. Like most people, we learned to be half dressed for video calls and always ready to connect with staff, suppliers, authorities and customers. Worldwide travel came to an end and WFH (work from home) became the new normal even though most homes in the world were ill-equipped to handle the entire family at home.

Now as we close the chapter on 2020 and are grappling with yet another worldwide surge, I find myself reflecting on some of the salient features of this year — large and small — that will continue to shape our world for decades to come.

Oneness: Whilst we have been talking about globalization and interconnectedness of the world for decades, COVID-19 sapped any doubt about the modern world becoming one global village. The interdependence of the nations and peoples of the world is no longer debatable and confined to the arena of commerce and trade. It’s a matter of human survival. The oneness of humanity is an undeniable force of reality.

World Order: By April, I was involved in more intellectual seminars with people from around the world about the failure of our existing world order than any other topic. It seemed that, even though we had built many institutions for global trade and commerce, when it came to dealing with a truly global affliction, our present order was “lamentably defective.” It is not about east vs west, south vs north or capitalism vs socialism. It’s about devising a new world order that recognizes our true oneness at a global level as it’s main design feature.

China-ward: By any measure China was central to the discussion of peoples and nations of the world in more ways than ever before. While the current popular narrative seeks to demonize China for either the COVID-19 virus or the trade imbalances in east and the west, the fact is that China represents not just the largest emerging economic force, but also the largest body of humanity that is now integrating into every aspect of our planetary lives. China’s rapid rise in the past four decades is unprecedented in human history and it can be a conduit to usher in the “rest” of the emerging economies to become full participants in the affairs of an ever-dependent global world. Our attitude and posture toward China will have serious repercussions for all of humanity in the decades ahead.

isms”: Central to the theme of a faltering world order was the fervor of “nationalism” around the world. Populist ideals from the east and the west, began to have nations creating sub-optimal and often flawed national policies to protect themselves, only to fail at the alter of a worldwide pandemic which recognizes no borders. In America, following the brutal murder of George Floyd, once again the entire nation was thunderstruck by the reality of “racialism,” as our “most challenging issue.” A new consciousness is arising that is energizing people from all walks of life to tackle this scourge head-on and with the urgency that it deserves. Finally, this generation must rise to deal with these “false gods” at whose alters people have been worshipping.

The disconnect: Whilst most economies worldwide suffered the greatest losses since the great depression and millions of people lost their jobs, their businesses and their very livelihood, large corporations and “new economy” digital businesses saw their stock price meteorically rise to record highs. The disconnectedness of the real economy and the stock market partially painted the grim reality that the poor, the minorities, people of color and the working middle class were the most affected by the pandemic and their cries are hardly heard. The gulf that separates the rich and the poor — the so called 1% vs 99% — is so vast and deep that it threatens the very foundation of our society. The images of long lines for food banks and homeless shelters in silicon valley’s richest neighborhoods is hard to fathom and forget. A new consciousness is arising that is making these disconnects undeniable.

A happy planet?: The virus ravaged the “human world” and economic activity came to a screeching halt — airplanes stopped flying, factories slowed down production and our industrial engine pulled back the throttle to near idle. On the other hand, clear skies appeared in big metropolises and animals began to roam streets of large cities. A world which could not agree or commit to serious carbon reduction and environmental goals, suddenly found itself cleaner, healthier and happier for all species save the homo sapiens! While positive environmental and natural outcomes did emerge, the story is far more complicated and begs a deeper and more profound consideration. One thing is clear: prioritizing the health of the planet and emissions of greenhouse gases is within the grasp of this generation and should no longer be relegated to the future.

Encore: The pandemic of 2020 was not just predictable, it was inevitable. What is just as inevitable is that this will not be the last of such worldwide maladies afflicting the entire planet. Most people living today will experience another such crisis in their life times. If anything, the rapid rise in industrialization, urbanization and standards of living, will accelerate the next worldwide affliction. The lessons learned from this year will need to inform how we will deal with our next big challenge.

The true cost of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be known for decades. The economic costs will likely run into tens of trillions of dollars and the human cost is incalculable. The heroes of this drama are the frontline workers, the healthcare providers, the laborers, drivers and many who were, in fact, also the most affected by this pandemic.

As we prepare to administer the vaccines which were developed in record time through accumulation of decades of technological innovation, the question in the minds of many people around the world is: “when will we go back to normal times?” We will conquer this pandemic and some things will feel normal again, but my wish for 2021 is that we would not go “back” to what seemed “normal,” but rather move forward to embrace an ever-advancing civilization and build the foundation of a much anticipated new world order.

Hindsight is always 2020!

Shane Tedjarati

31 December, 2020

Hong Kong

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President & CEO Honeywell Global High Growth Regions

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Shane Tedjarati

Shane Tedjarati

President & CEO Honeywell Global High Growth Regions

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