Wilton & Bain CEO Reflects on Deeper Meaning of COVID-19

In this time of crisis, one search firm leader takes a moment to reflect on what he has learned and what all of us have to be grateful for. The world of children may be smaller than that of adults, he says,“but the way they look at things brings a lot of clarity to the chaos.”

April 10, 2020 – On March 5, COVID-19 was declared a notifiable disease. Fast moving from China, its impact had taken hold of Italy, but at the time, the U.K. and the U.S. were relatively unmoved. The government posture in both nations was calm, and people and businesses were going about their day-to-day lives as normal.

“It is hard to believe how much has changed in such a small window of time. In the last week, I have read numerous articles from firms and individuals shouting about their readiness, volunteering advice on how to leverage technology, or how to plan your day working from home,” said David Heron, group CEO at Wilton & Bain. “I have read an article reminding me to have a shower in the morning; and I listened to the news at 10 last night, which told me what to do if my car needed an MOT (annual U.K. vehicle testing) or service.” All very practical advice, he thought, but equally important to take a step back and think about what we are seeing unfold in front of us.

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“No other event in my memory comes close to representing the chaos that has been caused by COVID-19, and I have taken this time reflecting on what I have learned about my firm and my colleagues, my family, politics and society,” he said.

Effects on Family

“My daughter Amelia is 11 and every night she reads from a book called ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,’” said Mr. Heron. “It is a remarkably simple book from which we can all learn a lot. Her life has been turned upside down. Her friends mean so much to her and she can’t be with them. She doesn’t know whether she will go back to school and enjoy her final term, her leavers disco or her young entrepreneurs project. She is disappointed that her netball team did not complete their season: second with one game to go.”

She will never know whether they would have become champions, whether she would have scored the winning goal or been devastated by a narrow loss, he said. “She wants to know why her Granny and Poppa can’t come and stay, and why we can’t go and see them in Norfolk.” But mainly, he thought, she is scared.

Mr. Heron also has taken note of his son Charlie, who is eight years old. “He has a very simple life that revolves around his football team, his rugby team and the lads,” he said. “He just wants to play. All day. Every day. He worries very little, but he thinks a lot, and I know he is trying to work out what is going on and when we will get back to normal. He loves working from home but hates being inside. It is a lot for little people to absorb. Their worlds are much smaller than ours but the way they look at things brings a lot of clarity to the chaos.”

Society’s Reaction

The reaction to COVID-19 has been oddly polarized, Mr. Heron said. One half of society has been paralyzed by fear. “Initially, this felt like an overreaction, but on balance, I wonder whether these people were the sensible ones, realizing quickly that the actions they took had a direct impact on others,” he said. “They have prioritized their health and that of others. They have locked themselves in at home and they have been hugely respectful of the advice from government and the learnings from other countries. This half of society has been selfless.”

The other half of society are perfectly prepared for an outbreak of norovirus, he said, “with enough loo roll to last them into the next century,” and quite likely beyond. “They have stockpiled; they have disrespected the advice. They have no time for their colleagues or friends and think mainly of themselves. As recently as the weekend, many of them were gathered in large groups in parks or huddled on the tube on Monday going to work against all advice. This half of society are the selfish. In fact, they are morons.”

Founded in 2001, Wilton & Bain provides executive search, interim management/consulting and technology resourcing services to the technology, professional services and converging digital markets. With offices in London, San Francisco, New York and Frankfurt, the firm has an expertise in technology to focus on digital transformation for clients across TMT, retail, consumer, financial services, insurance and utilities.

Meanwhile, Mr. Heron said he was proud of the critical workers on the front lines, whom everyone should be grateful for. “These people, from the National Health Service (NHS) to the supermarket, to the volunteer teachers working to continue to provide education to our children are a marvel really,” he said. “Their commitment to help and to deliver is at the forefront of what is continuing to make the world go around.”


His comments, Mr. Heron explained, have nothing to do with his political persuasion; they are simply an acknowledgement of the role government continues to play in managing the situation. “I am proud of the calm authority that U.K. Plc is leading us through this crisis. Their response felt slow, but I believe has been measured based on the information they have in terms of spread of this disease, and the advice they have in terms of the ability of NHS to handle large volumes of patients.”

It is refreshing to talk about a U.K. government with affection and pride, after a period of such embarrassment for our country, Mr. Heron said. “There is a long way to go (and a lack of detail on various initiatives), but the intent is well meaning and welcome. Well done to them and thank you.”

Firm and Colleagues

“As a CEO of Wilton & Bain, this has been an incredibly tough 10 days and I can never remember a pendulum swinging so quickly from ‘well placed, growing nicely and performing’ to ‘need to take some decisions quickly to shore up the business,’ Mr. Heron said. “It’s been intense and will continue to be intense, but I have learned so much about my firm, my board and my colleagues, and I am immensely grateful of the support they have given to us to steady our ship.”

In any business there will be challenges, said Mr. Heron, but he feels that the Wilton & Bain team has rallied in extreme adversity. “We have made some tough calls, but we have been greeted by positivity and a can-do mindset, which I believe will ultimately see us come out the other side, as a better firm, with an even tighter group of colleagues. Thank you.”

From Italians singing on their balconies, to stockpiling, through home schooling, government bail-outs, overflowing hospitals, remote working and isolation for the elderly, this has been a strange few weeks. “Never before has the way we live been more challenged or our independence more threatened, but amidst all of this, we all have an opportunity to make a difference,” Mr. Heron said. “I think it is a time to agree that we are bloody lucky to be alive. It is time to say thank you to those: working on the front line in hospitals, serving people in our shops; providing education to our little people; caring for our elderly; funding our businesses or guiding our country, but it is also a time to enjoy what we have.”

It is a time to be with our families, a time to be with our colleagues and time to be with our friends, in a period when the majority have pulled together for the greater good, said Mr. Heron. “Enjoy your weekend and be grateful.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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