Posted: 10 Dec. 2020 5 min.

2020 – the year of the powerful and the powerless

Topic: Leadership

On Dec. 1, 1856, a letter arrived at 4 Lothbury in the city of London, informing William Welch Deloitte that he had been named accountant to the Great Northern Railway. Deloitte, who was 38 at the time, was charged with investigating the infamous frauds made by one of the company’s registrars – one of the biggest financial crises of 19th-century England.

As a young accountant, Deloitte had already set up his own shop across Basinghall Street in 1845. It was a promising time for a young accountant. During his first year in business, he had nearly 100 clients, most of them facing financial difficulties. Later, he went on to serve as accountant to several large cable companies, and he also became president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. The rest, as they say, is history.

As we are getting ready to leave 2020 behind, we are also leaving our 175th anniversary year here at Deloitte since our founder set up his small shop in London. How strange to think back on all these years: from the glorious days of industrialization to the Great Depression, world wars, waves of globalisation – and the modern age of technology. Our firm has been through it all.

And now 2020 – a year which was so different than anyone could have predicted.

Aside from the pandemic itself, it’s difficult to look back at the last 10 months without thinking about the concept of power.

Political power has been one of the most debated issues of the year. So has the power between the sexes, the power between superiors and subordinates – and the power through which the world’s resources are used and misused.

What is different about these discussions compared to before is how global they have become in nature. Whether we are talking about the pandemic, the climate crisis or the MeToo movement, we are talking about global forces of change and disruption. Together, they have created a whole new awareness among people.

Powerful or powerless

As we approach 2021, many people claim that the world has become more divided over the last year: divided between men and women, divided between rich and poor, divided between left and right, and divided between those that are “climate-woke” and those that are stuck in the old world.

But I think there may be another division, which is more important: the division between the powerful and the powerless.

For me, it has been incredibly sad to see those companies that were left powerless to fight the crisis. Even experienced executives with solid organisations behind them had to succumb to the relentless market conditions as the whole world was closing down. As we have moved through the pandemic, so many companies have gradually had their hopes of a quick recovery crushed. I’m sure we all know people who have had their careers and lives turned upside down, because of the crisis, and as we look back at this difficult year, our thoughts and sympathies are with them.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people were also empowered by the crisis, finding new ways of working, exploring new sources of revenue, adapting the organisation and accelerating widespread transformations to win in the digital economy.

Being powerful, in this sense, does not necessarily mean that you were not struck by the crisis, but that you had the opportunity to get back on your feet and adjust to new conditions through diligence, dedication, innovation and hard work. The same goes for all the women who stood up against sexism – and all the millions of people around the world who are standing up against over-consumption and environmental degradation, and demand that politicians and companies come up with new solutions.

This is the good story of 2020: the power to mobilise voices, to change malpractices, to battle injustice, unleash ideas, and build on true community spirit and diversity of talent to transform into a better future.

One day, we will defeat the virus, but the awareness, courage and willpower it came with will live much, much longer.

More about the author

Martin Søegaard

Martin Søegaard

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Martin er leder af Deloitte danske og nordiske konsulentforretning og har mere end 25 års erfaring med at rådgive danske og internationale virksomheder. Martin står i spidsen for at udvikle en konsulentpraksis på tværs af norden, der kan assistere danske og internationale virksomheder på deres mest komplekse transformationsrejser. Dette omfatter et fokus på ledelse, etablering af økosystemer samt på diversitet i faglighed og kompetence.