As with all bad things, this pandemic too shall pass. There are brilliant people around the world working tirelessly to get us out of this mess. I’m confident we’re in the thick of it right now, and the next few weeks will bring an increasing amount of good news. The focus for many entrepreneurs will therefore begin to shift towards how to pick up the shattered pieces of their businesses.
With that in mind, I believe we are entering a period where pre-Crisis rules may no longer apply. The Law Minister of Singapore was recently quoted as saying, “In such a situation, you don’t talk contract. You talk equity, you talk justice, you talk about what is the right thing to do…”
You know the rules of engagement have changed when the Law Minister says chuck the contract and do the right thing. Be a decent human being. Be a responsible corporate entity. Take your share of the pain.
Big companies armoured with contracts may be in for a surprise once the dust settles. I like to put a common sense lens on things. I find it hard to believe governments will allow our courts to be inundated with contract disputes post-Crisis. For too long, the saying “Might Equals Right” has rang true for many. The strong get their way, regardless of whether or not they are right or wrong, simply because they have the legal muscle.
But this will end. Governments will need to put in new frameworks to deal with disputes in efficient, fair and transparent ways. If this doesn’t happen, we’ve just destroyed the global middle class – and that doesn’t seem like a logical post-Crisis outcome to me.
I believe we will enter a period of rebalancing, where one-sided contracts and strong-armed negotiations will be replaced by fair agreements. Facebook has exploded with support groups across all industries. In Singapore, hundreds of restaurants have banded together to demand a Fair Tenancy Framework to end the tyranny of REIT-controlled landlords. I’m sure there are dozens of such groups in Singapore alone, and maybe thousands around the world. I hope their voices remain united post COVID-19.
Regardless, the world will change. In the years to come, before I sign any new lease or contract, I will be sure to ask, “How did you treat your tenants, your customers and your employees during the Crisis? Were you good, or bad?” For as long as I’m an entrepreneur, I will not approach opportunities with a fear of missing out. I will insist upon principles of fairness and partnership. If the other side doesn’t agree, my answer must be “No.”
I hope every entrepreneur does the same.
Ultimately, the power to change the rules lies with us.