Credit: Lindsay Siu

As the digital revolution gathers speed, the Lululemon founder urges businesses to find flexible leases and employees

We asked prominent members of the B.C. business community what they’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic—and how this crisis will change everything from work to leadership. Chip Wilson is founder of Lululemon Athletica and Low Tide Properties.

For B.C. businesses that have survived COVID-19, what’s the most important thing they can do right now to make themselves more resilient to future disruptions?

As the digital revolution continues to change the world with exponential speed, businesses have to think about leases and employment in the most flexible way. Those companies that can source gig employment outside the laws of B.C. will be in the best position. Leases that can expand and contract, although more expensive in the short term, may be more profitable in the long run. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the pandemic?

Companies cannot move to quick, easy-to-use technology fast enough. Customers subconsciously value time more than companies think they do. The future is coming faster than you think. 

Is there one aspect of your business, or business in general, that you think has changed for good or that you won't be going back to doing the old way?

A retail model where a consumer can eat in, work out, and buy groceries and apparel all in one place is the future. In essence, retail without a reason to shop—that cannot be bought online. A good example is Turf, run by a group of ex-Lululemon employees. It has a popular workout studio, organic veggie food and apparel retail—all in one place. People spend the whole day there.  

Over the next few years, how do you expect work to change as a result of COVID?

If companies can reduce office costs with smaller footprints and still keep the culture, as well as mentor younger employees and integrate new ones, they probably will.  

Looking ahead, what leadership qualities will be most in demand?

If more employees work from home, strong leaders will outline projects with concise conditions of satisfaction and exact by-when dates for completion. Employees will be accessed more often by leadership but also by peers in a 360-degree, holistic approach. Employees who cannot pull their weight will be discovered quickly and exited. This will be the job of the leadership team, as every company is now competing on a global scale and countries with employment laws that allow for easy pivots have a massive competitive advantage.