For any new CEO, the first 100 days is a major challenge, but for Steve Hasker, who took over as head of Thomson Reuters, a leading business information services company on 15 March 2020, you might imagine that COVID-19 created a leadership introduction like no other. However, he is more sanguine about what happened, seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on the essentials – his people.

“The first decision I made as new CEO was to ask 25,000 people to work from home,” he observes. “It reminded me of the saying you have in sports – ‘the bigger the game, the simpler the game plan’. This global health crisis is by no means a game, but what it means is that when you’re faced with an overwhelming set of issues, you have to focus on one or two priorities. As a business driven by intellectual- and human-capital, the only thing that really mattered was the health and safety of our people.”

In fact, this focus on people has delivered hard results – with Thomson Reuters, which provides highly specialized information-enabled software and tools for legal, tax, accounting and compliance professionals combined with one of the world’s most global news service – Reuters, seeing customer satisfaction actually increase, despite the move to a virtual model.

“An enormous amount of work went into making it happen, but we didn’t miss a beat,” he says. “Actually, we were able to really send a message to our customer-facing associates to redouble their efforts – undertaking more outreach to customers and providing more support. We’ve seen an improvement in both customer satisfaction metrics and productivity.”

This success is also a result of the company’s significant commitment to digital transformation, which drives its growth strategy and operating model. Steve Hasker believes that the pandemic has actually accelerated its digital business model strategy, with customer attitudes and behaviors undergoing a major shift. “With our customers, we’ve seen a major change in the acceptance of cloud-based, real-time, digitally delivered business information services,” he says. “Any resistance in our clients’ mindsets to moving to the cloud or the next generation of digital solutions has largely, if not entirely, evaporated. I think we’ve seen 3 to 4 years of progress in just 3 to 4 months, in terms of acceptance of what the new world needs to look like.”

While Thomson Reuters has defied the pandemic and lockdown to drive its digital strategy and delight its customers, the leadership challenges have not lessened. Many of the company’s staff work in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd were therefore close to home. Thomson Reuters immediately announced a series of measures to help rebuild local neighborhoods, support those affected by events, double volunteer hours globally and increase representation of ethnically diverse and black employees in leadership by 2022. For Steve Hasker, who flew to Minneapolis to volunteer on the ground, it is also another time to focus on people and have a new and candid conversation about diversity and inclusion. “We’ve started conversations with our Black associates that have been very frank and honest,” he says. “They have been very brave in stepping forward and saying ‘this is my experience throughout my career and at Thomson Reuters, and here’s what you need to do’. This is certainly not a case of a senior management team saying ‘we’ll hear you out; give us a few suggestions’. We’re actually solving the problem together, which I’m very proud of.”