How to Build an Adaptive Business

What are the qualities of an adaptive business, its ingredients relative to culture and technology and the difference between adaptability and resilience?

The truly adaptive business will go far as many of us have had to learn the hard way this year. It is sometimes surprising therefore that it is only relatively recently that that has filtered through into the wider public consciousness. Bigger was historically seen as better, but, with democratisation of technology, and the readiness of smaller companies to utilise that advantage, bigger became burdensome. Or has it? How to Build an Adaptive Business questions the genetic make-up of a truly adaptive business, its machinations and drive, and its future.

With Bloomberg Live’s Sasha Qadri moderating, the speakers of this roundtable include: 

  • Colin Wilson, Enterprise Architect, Verizon
  • Esteban Remecz; CIO VP information Technology and Digital, Iochpe-Maxion, S.A
  • Charlotte Baldwin, CDTO, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  • Dax Grant, CIO, HSBC
  • Eileen Jennings Brown, Head of Technology, Wellcome Trust


Agreeing definitions

For Dax Grant an adaptive business “is extremely connected, end-to-end, from business to technology and has a truly enterprise-wide workforce behind that.” 

But for Charlotte Baldwin in the legal sector, the definition requires expansion.

“Adaptive means to me the ability to respond to changing business environments,” she said. 

“Many businesses I think we can all agree have become more adaptive over the last 12 months but do that they have had to focus on some core competencies. First is the client; companies have to have real client focus and eyes on how those client needs are changing.

“Data driven understanding allows you to map those changing needs proactively, but what I would add here is that change can also be incremental.”

Pulling together those capabilities is no mean feat, of course, especially during a pandemic, and so the roundtable considered other factors that may help or hinder a business to be adaptive. Colin Wilson felt maybe in this case, size did matter.

“Companies have to have a willingness to change rather than seeing change as a threat to the business, and it’s not easy always being open to looking at new ways of doing things. But I wonder if different sizes of organisations have responded differently. Larges firms have more resources to action change, yes, but it’s much harder to culturally evolve their compared with smaller ones.

“Furthermore, if new startups, say, are disrupting a market, are they adapting or just creating something new?”

Wellcome Trust’s Head of Technology was a little more succinct in her delivery. 

“Adaptability has to be intentional,” said Eileen Jennings-Brown, “and requires bravery, great people and a great mindset.”


Case studies

Of course, adaptability in the abstract is all well and good. These leaders however have had to, themselves, incite much change, much adaptation to survive the recent turmoil. From intentionality to culture, data to nimbleness, what mark would each of these executives give themselves in the class of adaptability, Sasha wanted to know.

“The legal sector is not known from its advanced transformation state,” quipped Charlotte.

“Luckily for us we were able to turn to a virtual law firm almost overnight thanks to our technology and digital foundations we had put in place in the past. It allowed us to quickly respond and adapt in the ways previously outlined. But our task of adaptability is shaped in part by our clients are evolving too, so there is this balance between proactive and reactive changes that we are mindful of—it’s not just about technology,” she closed.

In one of the most global firms in the world, Dax explained how impressed she was how her teams worked together wherever they could, regardless of function. But she questioned how organisational structures play their part in honing adaptability. 

“Large companies can have lots of small teams within them that they themselves can claim to be adaptive,” she considered. “Where leadership comes in is recognising what worked and with whom and replicating that for the vision, the growth perspective and beyond.”

Colin replied with one step further: the acts of the individuals. 

“The pace that certain people adapted was astonishing and I want to call out specifically those new starters who, without knowing the team or culture, got stuck in.”

Those new starters, experiencing a baptism of fire in a way, will have had the perfect grounding to life in an increasingly volatile, unpredictable industry.

This Studio roundtable was created in partnership with Verizon.

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