October 2, 2023

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Business is my step

Leadership During Covid-19: How 12 Business Chiefs Navigated the Crisis

4 min read

A furniture maker sent top managers on the hunt for thermometers. An airline CEO added flights as rivals kept schedules thin. A pharmaceuticals CEO led his team to create a vaccine. Two veteran executives launched a new streaming service, and closed it.

Here are 12 articles The Wall Street Journal published in 2020 about leaders of businesses big and small in the midst of crisis.

Century Furniture President Alex Shuford III


Mike Belleme for The Wall Street Journal

A Furniture Maker’s Five-Month Struggle With Covid. ‘You Can’t Really Have a Plan.’

To reopen after the spring lockdowns, the family that owns North Carolina’s Century Furniture had to manage frightened workers, volatile orders and more coronavirus outbreaks in its plants and markets.

CEO Colleen Wegman, left, Chairman Danny Wegman and Senior Vice President Nicole Wegman


Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

Wegmans Pampered Its Shoppers. Now It Has to Protect Them.

Companies that used to indulge their customers are adjusting to an era when shoppers also pose dangers. Wegmans, a grocery-store chain that inspired a cult following, discovered how challenging that transformation could be.

Clorox CEO Linda Rendle


Jessica Chou for The Wall Street Journal

Clorox’s New CEO Is Racing to Keep Wipes on Store Shelves

Linda Rendle

took the top job at


in September, becoming one of the youngest leaders of a Fortune 500 company. Her challenge: meeting coronavirus-fueled demand.

NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell in 2016


Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Has No Time for Hollywood Egos

The entertainment giant’s new chief wanted to shake up the company as quickly as possible, throwing out old conventions. The pandemic gave him license to do it.

Quibi Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman on stage at CES 2020 in January.


David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

Quibi Was Supposed to Revolutionize Hollywood. Here’s Why It Failed.

Investors poured $1.75 billion into the short-form video startup largely because they trusted the gut instincts and vision of its founder, movie mogul

Jeffrey Katzenberg,

and its CEO,

Meg Whitman.

But the duo’s famed instincts proved wrong.

GAP CEO Sonia Syngal


Jessica Chou for The Wall Street Journal

Can Gap Escape the Whirlwind? New CEO Confronts Years of Decline

The pandemic washed out many retailers that were already on shaky ground. To avoid that at


and revive the company’s namesake brand,

Sonia Syngal

is plotting a future of fewer stores and more fashion risks.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker


Cooper Neill for The Wall Street Journal

‘Let’s Go Fly, for God’s Sake.’ Behind American Airlines Chief’s All-In Strategy


Doug Parker

added flights back quickly this summer, despite a gathering coronavirus storm.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra


Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The Incredible Shrinking GM: Mary Barra Bets That Smaller Is Better

The CEO streamlined a company that for decades reigned as the world’s largest auto maker. Then, she readied for the next big bet: electric cars. The pandemic didn’t change that.

Emerson Electric CEO David Farr


Whitney Curtis for The Wall Street Journal

The Covid Crisis Taught David Farr the Power and Limits of Leadership

The CEO of Emerson Electric reveled in his firm control and belief in constant action. The pandemic rendered much of that experience irrelevant. And yet he never stopped moving. Pushing through a crisis was better in his mind than waiting to act.

Grocer Frank Timberlake


Veasey Conway for The Wall Street Journal

Coronavirus Versus the Last Grocer in Town

Frank Timberlake,

owner of the only grocery store in Rich Square, N.C., had no corporate backstop when the pandemic hit. The local health department had little advice. He made decisions based on TV news, occasional emails from a grocers’ group and “what my heart tells me.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla


Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

How Pfizer Delivered a Covid Vaccine in Record Time: Crazy Deadlines, a Pushy CEO

The drugmaker and its partner cut the typical time to develop a vaccine from more than 10 years to less than one. That partly stems from their bet on new gene-based technology. It was also the product of demanding leadership, which bordered on the unreasonable.

Restaurant owner Allie Lyons


Dustin Chambers for The Wall Street Journal

Reopening the Restaurant Wasn’t the Quick Fix Its Owners Needed

Reopening after the spring lockdowns turned out to be more challenging for a Georgia restaurant owner than closing down in the first place.

Share Your Thoughts

What lessons in navigating the pandemic do you think will resonate beyond 2020? Join the conversation below.

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