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Adapting to COVID-19: the Jacobs story

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Published: 17 Jul 2020

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Neil Cutting from Jacobs explains how his organisation’s business model responded to the challenge of COVID-19.

Change is part of the day job for Neil Cutting, Finance Transformation Executive for US engineering group Jacobs, and a member of ICAEW’s Business Committee. With $13bn in revenue and a workforce of more than 55,000 globally, Jacobs has had to be acutely conscious of its obligations to its employees, clients, partners, communities and investors.

Cutting says taking a long-term perspective is key to building resilience. “Throughout the crisis, Jacobs has worked closely with clients, actively supporting efforts to solve incremental challenges that have arisen.” The company supported the delivery of the NHS Nightingale Hospitals project, which provided critical care for UK patients suffering from the virus.

It also helped create mobile units in US hot zones, designed concepts for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facilities and provided engineering support to increase the production of ventilators, as well as cyber security support. “We have also established project-specific plans for critical programmes to ensure the safety of our people and the integrity of the operation,” says Cutting.

In the early days of the crisis, the company moved swiftly to restrict travel and established protocols for employees. It also allowed remote working to ensure the business kept running and clients were served. “The company was already progressive when it came to smart working,” says Cutting. “But one thing that has definitely changed is an increase in the use of the video capabilities that were there.” He expects that people will continue to draw on these, now they feel more confident with the technology.

The challenge for Jacobs and other businesses, Cutting believes, is in the near term. “Long term, investors, employees and clients know that most organisations are doing the right thing,” he says. “The challenge is getting the right balance in the short term when organisations are trying to save money and secure returns for investors while protecting jobs and serving clients in challenging circumstances.”

Jacobs has spent three years transforming its business. Now the new strategic approach is even more relevant. “COVID-19 has proved the importance of finance co-piloting the business,” Cutting says. “It is more critical than ever that, as a team, we help both our business and our clients be more successful."