Companies And CEOs Had Key Roles In Covid’s First Year, But Challenges Remain: Harris Poll

By Edward Segal | Forbes | March 22, 2021

Companies played critical roles in the first year of the pandemic by filling a leadership void and helping the public, while CEOs influenced consumer buying decisions, according to The Great Awakening, a new report by The Harris Poll.

But as the coronavirus crisis enters its second year, business leaders should not rest on their laurels. Important challenges and opportunities remain, according to the report, for companies and their top executives to do the right things for workers and the public. Will Corporate America step up to the challenges ahead?

Winners And Losers

The report noted, “The pandemic is remaking many aspects of American life that we are only now beginning to understand. From values and beliefs to routines and relationships, change is underway across the nation. A year’s worth of data on our society reveals new priorities in how we choose to live our lives, where we want to live and work and how we choose to spend our time and money.

“Companies, in trying to recover, adapt and evolve must understand the evolution of Americans, who are digitally accelerated, hyper-resourceful and ever-mindful. There will be new new winners and losers in a transformed marketplace. But one thing is clear: conventional wisdom and assumptions no longer hold in a post-Covid America,” the report concluded.

Filling Leadership Void

In a Harris Poll Study with The Milken Institute, citizens in 22 countries said there is a void in leadership as Covid-19 ravaged their countries and turned to businesses to solve the challenges presented by the pandemic.


  • 61% said companies were more reliable than the government in keeping the country running during the pandemic


  • 55% trusted companies more than the government to find solutions to the pandemic

Vital To Future

  • A strong majority (78%) said large companies are even more vital to their country’s future than before Covid-19 given their resources

The report observed,”With the added admiration for business comes extra responsibility.”


  • 82% said “this is an opportunity for large companies to hit the ‘reset’ button and focus on doing right by their workers, customers, community and the environment.”
  • Yet the reverse also is true: 72% said said “I will remember the companies that took missteps in their response to the issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, economic security of their workforce, or racial injustice long after this is over.”

The report noted, “This unprecedented opportunity and double-edged sword also apply to CEOs. More than two-thirds (68%) of Americans say the U.S. needs business leaders now more than ever to help lead us out of the pandemic, racial [in]justice, and other inequities.”

CEO’s Impact On Corporate Reputation

Americans believed the CEO has the most impact on the reputation of the company (85%), its ethical standards (84%) and its diversity and inclusion (79%). Interestingly, people believe corporate leaders have more control over these outcomes than a company’s stock price (75%), according to The Great Awakening.

Growing Awareness

CEOs also have growing awareness among the public: 63% of those surveyed said they are more aware of business leaders. In fact, according to the Harris report, 42% of consumers said their decision to buy or use products/services is influenced by a company’s CEO.

But a CEO’s influence may only go so far. The reported noted that, “…a division is forming over whether CEOs should speak out on social and political issues, due to shifting generational and multi-cultural views.”

Looking To Business For Answers

As many grew frustrated with the initial slow rollout of the vaccine as covered in Axios, with 47% saying it was moving too slowly, Americans looked again to business for answers, according to The Great Awakening.

Best Prepared

  • Those who said that businesses are best prepared to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine increased from 13% to 24%, while state governments remained unchanged at 34%. The percentage who said the federal government should lead declined from 30% to 26%.

Doing A Better Job

  • Two-thirds (66%) of Americans said companies could do a better job coordinating the logistics of the vaccine rollout than the government.

Vaccine Advertising Encouraged

  • 65% wanted to see companies advertise to encourage consumers to take the vaccine.

Providing Reliable Information

  • 79% said companies should provide their customers with reliable information about the Covid-19 vaccine.

About The Survey

The survey was conducted in several waves by The Harris Poll between March 15, 2020 and March 15, 2021. More than 114,000 Americans were interviewed. Each survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll among a nationally representative sample of around 2,000 U.S. adults. Data was weighted to reflect the U.S. general public across age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, income and employment.

Read the full story at Forbes.