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When an airplane hits turbulence, it seeks a new altitude. One without turbulence. Even better, one with tailwinds.

Now, COVID has certainly injected turbulence rarely seen in history. But is this turbulence universal? Is every sector of the economy under threat?

A little-known investment fund is proving there are opportunities for those willing to seek new altitudes. The Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust PLC has year-to-date returns of 55%, versus 7.1% for its peers.

How has it thrived when so many investors and companies are struggling?

Though the fund still carries its historical name, it long ago diversified away from mortgages. More recently, it has focused investments in a few sectors poised to do well through, and thanks to, the COVID crisis. It is now one of the largest shareholders of Tesla, for example. It has similarly invested heavily into “stay-at-home” companies including Amazon, Alibaba, Netflix, and the food-delivery service Delivery Hero SE.

Investors vs. businesses

Now, investors have an easier time pivoting to a new altitude than businesses do. For example, while I was studying finance at Wharton two decades ago, a professor of an options class I attended showed that one can replicate the return of any industry by buying and selling a few options. If you want to get into the mining business, you could invest millions and years in starting a company. Or, you could sell a put option and buy a call option in mining company stocks, artificially replicating the returns of owning a mining company. You essentially can set up a mining company with two trades, in a few minutes.

Operating businesses have more moving parts to manage and will naturally take longer to adjust their altitudes. You may need to redesign your products, train your salesforce to sell to a new customer segment, spin off parts of your business, build new capabilities, and shift human resources. But as the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust proves, the payoff of the effort can be huge.

5 steps to find your new altitude

Here are five steps you can take to find a new altitude and position your business ahead of COVID tailwinds:

  1. Take an inventory of your unique assets: You have preferred access to tangible and intangible assets. Tangible assets might include special production machinery, talent, or physical spaces. Intangibles include unique capabilities, brand(s), and your culture.
  2. Create a list of potential tailwinds: Assume that the COVID will continue to impact our global industries through 2021 and into 2022. Consider which sectors are likely to thrive in an environment characterized by remote working, contactless delivery, and heightened sensitivity to risk.
  3. Identify target areas: Score each potential tailwind area by the degree to which your unique assets (from Step 1) could give you an advantage. You can do this by creating a matrix with your unique assets listed as columns and tailwind areas as rows. Score each box on a scale of 1-10, then add up the scores to identify the most attractive tailwind areas for you (see example below).
  4. Think through what it would take to begin reengineering your business to pursue the new opportunity area: You will find some relatively easy to pursue (in terms of time, effort, and cost) and others that will require more effort, of course.
  5. Finally, pick the opportunity areas you want to pursue and initiate your transformation: Soon you will feel the ease and speed of flying with tailwinds, while your competitors struggle with turbulence.

Here is a sanitized example for a food company I am on the advisory board of:


Tailwind Areas

Unique Assets Home delivery Verified virus-free food supply Cook at home
Trusted brand among food service companies 5 10 3
Capability to source high-quality food inputs 8 10 9
Understanding of the US Latin consumer market 5 5 10
Score 18 25 22
“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?