Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

- G Michael Hopf, author, Those Who Remain

Australian airlines were suffering a 93.6 per cent drop in passenger numbers in April 2020; restaurants, shops, gyms and pubs were closed; empty trains and buses trundled past deserted office blocks; and a bewildered population huddled in their homes fixated on dwindling toilet paper supplies. A month later, 870,000 had lost their jobs. 

The quote above by Hopf is from a post-apocalyptic novel, and it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that the world was tumbling uncontrollably towards the sort of chaos and anarchy that would make Squid Game look like a civilised model for society.

There was definitely a need for strong men and women to lead us to better times.


Some more equal than others

However, that need wasn’t exactly felt equally. For some, the pandemic was a very real, existential threat while others could hardly believe their luck at the potential goldmine opening up before their eyes. The early winners and losers may have been fairly predictable but, as the months passed, it became ever more complicated. 

Soon, the impact was less about the nature of the business and more about the nature of their reaction to that dreaded phrase ‘the new normal’. Seemingly identical companies fared very differently to each other, some adapting quickly to mitigate costs and implement hastily cobbled together recovery plans, while others clung desperately to the wreckage hoping loyal customers would see them through.  

As we’ll see, many of the victors didn’t just get lucky, they had a leader whose vision guided them in unexpected, risky directions and whose style of management released the potential of what was possible.


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The early winners

Within a few weeks of the first lockdowns, Business Australia identified nine industries it predicted would benefit the most from COVID-19:



A class act

Xplor Education had been pioneering IT solutions for education well before 2020, but when schools began to close, the Melbourne-based firm moved quickly to not only respond to an enormous consumer demand, but also devise new, improved services, as CEO Mark Woodland explains.

“When the pandemic hit, many parents pulled their children out of child care for weeks or months, so the centres’ viability was at stake,” he tells The CEO Magazine

“We developed a product which enabled the live streaming of classes directly into the home, ensuring consistency in education and maintaining centre revenue to ensure their viability. We also created a digital sign-in process via the parent’s device with a lower transmission risk. These achievements have relied on our culture of innovation and ability to move quickly. 

“Once we create something new, it becomes easy to stagnate. Instead of getting comfortable, great entrepreneurs will manufacture resistance and find new problems to solve.”


The ups and downs

A report by IBISWorld in August 2021 revealed the 10 Australian industries that will grow the fastest in 2021–22, with some surprising entries:



By contrast, the 10 fastest declining sectors for 2021–22 are more predictable, and dominated by travel:

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