Rethinking strategy is the single most important priority for any leader. Malcolm Gladwell once said, “Transformation isn’t about improving, it’s about rethinking.” I couldn’t agree more. I wrote a book called “Rethink: An Inside Look at Smart Organizational Strategy” here.

COVID-19 has been particularly unkind to businesses following patterns of operations and strategy that they put in place decades ago. The landscape is littered with so-called major brands that failed to plan ahead, rethink ahead, and put in place contingency planning. By now, we all realize that it would have been impossible to predict the horrific and dynamic impact COVID-19 would yield. However, it was not impossible to conceive of a global pandemic or shift in economic buying needs. 

Those forward-thinking leaders who did rethink their strategies before the crisis have grown enormously. Examples include,,, and many other online retailers who took note of the changing business patterns. 

Those major brands that ignored the signs or weren’t aware of them found themselves in bankruptcy. In the Retail Market, many legacy retail brands ceased operations, such as the following:

  • Lane Bryant, Ann Taylor. Founded in 1962 as DressBarn. Filed for bankruptcy on July 23, 2020.
  • Belk. Founded in 1888. Filed for bankruptcy on February 23, 2021.
  • Brooks Brothers. Founded 1818. Filed for bankruptcy on July 8, 2020.
  • Century 21 Stores. Founded 1961. Filed for bankruptcy on September 10, 2020.
  • GNC. Founded 1935. Filed for bankruptcy on June 23, 2020.
  • Guitar Center. Founded in 1959 as the Organ Center. Filed for bankruptcy on November 21, 2020.
  • J.C. Penney. Founded 1902. Filed for bankruptcy on May 15, 2020.
  • Lord & Taylor. Founded 1826. Filed for bankruptcy on August 2, 2020.
  • Neiman Marcus. Founded 1907. Filed for bankruptcy on May 7, 2020.
  • Pier 1.  Founded 1962. Filed for bankruptcy on February 17, 2020.
  • Stein Mart. Founded 1908. Filed for bankruptcy on August 12, 2020. 

 Many of the retailers on this shortlist are some of the best-known brand names. All had substantial marketing budgets and many planning executives working full-time on their behalf. Of course, filing for bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean going out of business for good. Still, it does mean that these businesses will necessarily reduce in size to accommodate their customers’ preferential buying habits.

Could all of this be avoided? Probably not. Could this have been better planned for and anticipated through strategy rethinking? Absolutely. The main thing we can take away from this is no business is immune to market shifts, and strong strategic planning is not a one-time annual event. To stay ahead you have to continually plan ahead by rethinking your strategies.