COVID-19 Equals Opportunities

By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.
By mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic became very real, shares of the Penske Corporation stock dropped 40%. Its founder, Roger Penske, saw his net worth drop by $400 million! In late March as the public health crisis worsened, Penske decided to drop in on his newest acquisition, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to have a discussion with Speedway president Doug Boles on how best to proceed.  The  Indianapolis Star related the subsequent conversation:
Penske: ”Hey Doug, how are ya?”
Boles: “How am I? How are you?”
Penske: “Doug, the one thing I learned in life is everything’s an opportunity. No matter how bad it seems, everything is an opportunity, and if you look at it like that, everything’s going to be fine.”
In the face of a global pandemic, historically high unemployment rates, and a tough job market, it can become easy to sink into negativity and despair.  But let’s stop and examine the advice that Roger Penske offers.  Can the COVID-19 pandemic spell O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y for students and recent graduates?  A Professor Emeritus from the UofL College of Business says yes to that, enthusiastically. 
Lyle Sussman has been teaching for 40-plus years and he echoes the idea of turning the public health crisis into a positive for your career. “Strategists in both the private and public sector rightly observe that a crisis is a horrible thing to waste.  Crises always have, and always will, provide opportunity for those who seize them.  Some students will see this pandemic as an opportunity and thrive. Others will see it as doom and gloom and will inevitably suffer.  The difference is perspective and choice.”
Sussman accordingly suggests students consider two entrepreneurial options; creating a “niche” venture within a current company or possibly creating a new venture on their own.  “For example, a student could approach Company X with a business plan to develop a new market for their product or service.  This student is going beyond trying to sell a resume.  She is not applying for a job, but rather is creating a job. This strategy involves less personal risk than the second option, creating a new venture entirely without the support of corporate resources.   Essentially deciding on option 1 vs option 2 is based on the student’s tolerance for risk and need for dependence versus independence.”
For students and recent grads considering these routes, Sussman advises that they employ a personal S-O-S signal: “Solutions, Opportunities, Support. First, they must see their skill set as solutions-focused, not skill-focused. What specific problem can you solve that has market value? Secondly, they must seek opportunities. What new problems are you seeing that require a solution?  I recommend two websites in this regard: and  These sites will provide creative entrepreneurial prompts, and examples of startups solving problems and seeking opportunities.   Third, entrepreneurial students must seek social and technical support.  They must network with others who are also sending out their personal S-O-S.  Connecting with favorite faculty, UofL resources, and local government business development offices will enable this support. is a valuable website  to access support.  Entrepreneurs may fail alone, but they can only succeed with support from others.”
Sussman suggests the opportunities that become possible in the midst of the pandemic make it a good time for students and recent grads to consider redefining their career.  “I’ll refer to the metaphor of a ‘career ladder.’  A ladder only works when it is positioned against a fixed, stable structure.  However, the marketplace today and tomorrow will be increasingly characterized by rapid disruptions in technology, consumer demographics, government regulations, and corporate restructurings.  For example, consider the concept of ‘career ladder’ pre-coronavirus, versus the concept of ‘career ladder’ post-coronavirus. The former ladder was positioned against a fixed structure.  The latter must necessarily be adaptable to a malleable and changing structure.” 
But the road to success for those choosing these entrepreneurial paths is not easy to travel. “Above all else a student needs courage and resilience.  Whether you choose a niche venture within a current company or creating your own venture, you must be prepared for disappointment, heartaches, naysayers, and a work load defined by completing projects and meeting goals, not defined by a 40-hour week. They will need the courage to overcome the barriers facing all entrepreneurs, and the resilience to maintain that courage.” 
Those who decide to be entrepreneurs during the pandemic and its aftermath will have to be daring and persistent to succeed. But Lyle Sussman has no doubt that in the future, we will see some great success stories among those who choose to travel this path. “You can be assured that five years from now we will be reading about entrepreneurs who made their fortune because of opportunities they saw and leveraged, opportunities created by the pandemic of 2020. I hope and trust that we will be reading about UofL grads who saw opportunity and redefined their concepts of ‘job,’ ‘employment,’ and ‘career.’ I also believe those students would have sent out their personal S-O-S early and often.”
Find out more about this topic and one specific entrepreneurship story that is near and dear to the heart of Sussman. “Breaking the Glaze Ceiling” utilizes his daughter’s business as an exemplar for tips on how to succeed.