Panel speakers (L-R): Brian Chan, Deborah Mayes, Joshua Chang.

At the start of the pandemic, consumers’ inboxes were full of emails with phrases like “In these uncertain times” or “We’re all in this together.” Crisis has become the theme of 2020 and how businesses respond is crucial. Biola University’s Crowell School of Business recently hosted three leaders — Deborah Mayes, Joshua Chang and Brian Chan — to share how to lead a business during a crisis.

Mayes is the finance director of Tessie Cleveland Community Services in south-central Los Angeles, which serves both young and older people with mental health services, food and, as Mayes puts it, “anything anywhere at any time.” She is also a Crowell School of Business MBA mentor.

Chang, a Crowell MBA alumnus, is executive director of administration and finance for TCJJ Enterprises, the franchise operator of the Chick-fil-A locations in La Habra Marketplace and Whittwood Mall.

Chan is founder and chief software architect for Liferay, which provides portal software and services to some of the world’s largest companies including Toyota, Allianz and Cisco.

The three leaders shared key takeaways at the event about leading well through a crisis.

Maintain Integrity

For Mayes, two attributes stand out. During a crisis, leaders need to maintain integrity and be willing to have uncomfortable conversations.

“I thought in the beginning, ‘Oh sure, integrity … that will be easy,’” said Mayes. “But I had to stand up against some of my superiors, and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes that translated into me not moving up the ladder, but because of God’s plan for me, to give me a future and a hope, it has worked out.”

Mayes said leaders must be willing to have honest conversations, even (perhaps, especially) about topics that are hard to talk about. She borrowed an idea from Emmanuel Acho and made herself available for her colleagues to safely dialogue about race and other issues.

“[As a woman of color], I have made myself available for ‘uncomfortable conversations with a black woman,’” said Mayes. “This has given me license and freedom to talk about subjects that I normally wouldn’t, with friends and colleagues of different persuasions, and I think some breakthroughs have come because of it. I want to have a balanced biblical approach and a listening ear to how people are hurting, because it is lack of love in people’s hearts that has contributed to where we are today. But I am really hopeful, because of my hope in Christ.”

Glorify God and Be an Efficient Steward

Chang shared three principles he leans on when things are tough: glorify God in everything, lead like Jesus would, and be a wise and efficient steward.

“The core biblical foundation I hold is 1 Corinthians 10:31,” said Chang. “Glorifying God with all I do. He is the purpose for everything. Second, we need to lead like Jesus, and that means leading with a motivation of loving others. If love is not our motivation, then we end up serving ourselves.”

As Chang sees it, in crisis it might seem easier to let up on efficiency and watchfulness, but really, it is a time for more focus.

“God gave us so many resources; what do we do with them?” Chang asked. “Being a good steward means you are faithful with every penny. That means going after every expense that is not necessary. Now, during this time, Chick-fil-A has given out sandwiches to health care workers and made contributions back to the community. My boss Thomas gave out toilet paper and bread when everybody was in line at Costco trying to buy it. And if we are efficient and watchful with expenses and operations, we have more money available to give. So I see efficiency as good stewardship.”

Prepare for Crisis Before it Happens

For Chan, what you do during a crisis depends on what you’ve done before the crisis.

“You can’t prep for a crisis in the middle of a crisis,” said Chan. “You’ve got to prep beforehand. The crisis simply reveals what you’re made of.”

Chan said early in Liferay’s history, his biblical principles were challenged by cultural norms.

“We had an office in a different country and we got a message saying that someone in authority was treating the women there in a way that is not right,” said Chan. “We flew over and we ended up firing the guy. The hard part was, in that part of the world, what he did was not considered that bad. He expected a slap on the wrist, no big deal. But in our eyes, it was very wrong. In the gospel, women are treated with dignity and respect, and so for us, that applies wherever Liferay is in the world.”

Chan reiterated the importance of preparation. For him, preparation isn’t clever or complicated.

“This sounds silly and Sunday-schoolish, but spend as much time as you can reading the Bible. No literature is wiser, more important, more everlasting,” said Chan. “There are so many pertinent truths. Getting this right requires getting rooted in the gospel, because you have to prepare beforehand.”

The Crowell Distinguished Speaker Series brings a selection of accomplished business leaders to campus to share their varied professional and personal insights and provides the opportunity to network with fellow attendees including alumni, MBA mentors, faculty, and current and prospective MBA students. The event is always free and open to all. Future events can be found on the Crowell events calendar.

To learn more about Crowell’s business program, visit the website.