Picture: 123RF/DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV
Picture: 123RF/DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV

In the Business Beyond Covid series, CEOs and other business leaders and experts in their sectors look to the future after Covid-19. What effect has the pandemic and resulting lockdown had on their industries and the SA economy as a whole? Which parts will bounce back first and which will never be the same again? Most importantly, they try to answer the question: where to from here?

Against the backdrop of a struggling economy, Covid-19 has presented even greater challenges to businesses big and small, public and private sectors alike. We are still in a state of shock, but what will perhaps matter most is how we emerge from this, even as we see the real negative effect of the pandemic unfolding.

At the moment it is said we risk losing 7-million jobs in SA, with small, medium and micro enterprises particularly hard hit. According to a report released by Sasfin and sme.Africa, the pandemic and lockdown have exposed about 75% of SA enterprises to high risk, which means they will struggle to survive the lockdown if the status quo continues.

As customers continue to assess the need for particular services and the relevance of certain non-essential services, businesses will have to show relevance and impact to retain contracts and minimise contract terminations as far as possible. They will need to renegotiate some contracts and ensure they can still generate an income, even if not at full value.

Companies that have been rendering non-essential services have taken the biggest knock during this time. Ultimately, such businesses need to ensure they can generate some income rather than no income at all. It will be a tough journey, but times like these call for agile and resilient leadership. This is when true leaders come out and save businesses, not cower and give up without a fight.

We are being forced to rethink and relook our strategies; we cannot keep doing the same old things and hoping our old ways will work post-Covid-19. The non-essential service businesses that have seriously struggled during this time should implement agile strategies to reinforce the way in which they will work and remain relevant going forward.

We must not let panic set in among us; perhaps of importance to highlight is that we must look at ways to cut costs and expenditure. This is a time for leaders to think beyond just the business, look at the effect of the business on the SA economy and work towards ensuring that as many companies as possible can regroup and continue contributing to growing the economy post-Covid. This will not be an easy task, especially given the economic challenges that lie ahead.

Servest has been significantly affected by Covid-19. We have lost some clients along the way, some contracts have been put on hold, and we have had clients requesting 24-hour notice to terminate. We have colleagues who are at home, not working, because the sites they work on have been designated non-essential. In such instances, because the sites are not being used or colleagues are not working, payments stop, but the bottom line is that this affects families.

These are some of the gruelling challenges that even big businesses are facing, and so it is up to us to look at where we can shoulder the burden of these challenges. We have had to look at how we work, and have restructured in certain areas to ensure all our colleagues are able to generate an income. We have tapped into the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s relief funding and other funding available, and worked with colleagues to access these resources and ensure they and their families can shoulder the financial burden of Covid-19 during this time.

It is critical to approach this challenge with a resilient spirit and a long-term and positive view, because if one gives up without a fight, you may miss the bigger picture. The reality is that some services may not be required post-Covid-19, but other services will, and so we must focus on the positive. There are also opportunities for reinvention, re-engineering and the expansion of services currently offered; and a need to review business strategies with a view to realigning them.

The grass is getting taller everywhere. With the gradual lifting of the lockdown, people will want to get out, children will want to play in the parks, use the soccer grounds and play hockey, golfers will want to get back into the swing of things. A broader view of our current reality is necessary.

Bearing in mind a number of considerations, we have had to map out a strategy focused on a long-term view of where we want to take the business. In some areas, we have had to move swiftly to introduce new solutions and product ranges to our conventional offering. In times like these leaders must be agile and deliver with speed, while managing risk.

The trick is to identify areas where one can offset some of the challenges across the business and establish areas where a company can contribute within the ambit of essential services and outside its expertise, to be able to sustain itself during this time and beyond. While there have been a number of functional considerations around how we proceed during this time, there must also be strategic thinking in the process and approach.

If there is a lesson to learn from China, it is that it is going to be a global player in the production and manufacturing of the bulk of goods and services used across the world not by chance but because it has been planning and implementing this goal. Now they are at a phase where the strategy is hatching. These are strategies that were developed more than 50 years ago.

While we’ve experienced a lot of the downside of Covid-19, we must look at the opportunities it presents for the country’s local economy, review our strategies and take a much longer-term view, where we implement, monitor and evaluate our progress. We must go back to what the National Development Plan sought to achieve and review whether we are on track or have diverted, so that we genuinely strengthen and grow our economy.

Let us not let this crisis go to waste; something must come out of it. Let us resuscitate our manufacturing sectors and grow our agricultural economy, strengthen industries to enable job creation, so that if something like this happens again in our lifetimes we will not be caught unprepared, as we were with Covid-19.

• Sizani is Group CEO of Servest.