The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has been declared a global crisis and is one of the biggest challenges facing countries in modern times.
In South Africa, while the initial Covid-19 lockdown regulations were targeted at mitigating health risks, these measures have impacted heavily on the country’s economy. Each business sector has had diverse challenges to face and consequently the responses have differed in each industry. According to Stats SA findings (September 2020), “South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 51,0% in the second quarter of 2020 owing to the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions since the end of March 2020.”
Following conversations with several chief executive officers and other leading business leaders, both formally and informally, several themes became evident in both how the pandemic has impacted business models and in how businesses have responded.
One of the key business issues has been a focus on sustainability. While some companies have not been impacted and have continued to thrive and to grow, others have not. Many business leaders have questioned, “How will the business survive and remain relevant going forward, especially in an environment of uncertainty?”
In an attempt to answer this question, Roshan Morar, Managing Director of Morar Incorporated; David White, CEO of DRG Outsourcing; and Grant Adlam, CEO of KZN Top Business have been hosting a webinar series entitled, “Business leadership shaping the future”, with the core theme being, “How can business leaders create and sustain long term business success?”.
The panellists on the first webinar were:
• Rowan De Klerk, CEO, The FD Centre
• Mahomed Zubeir Moosa, CEO, Willowton Group
• Merrill King, CEO, Capitol Caterers
• Ashok Sewnarain, CEO, IBV International Vaults
• Elias Masilela, Non-executive Chairman, DNA Economics
• Pearl Bengu, CEO, Ithala Development Finance Corporation
• Trevor Mvundura, Chief Financial Officer at THINK: TB and HIV Investigative Network
• Dr Cassius Lubisi, former Director-General in the South African Presidency
The panellists on the second webinar were:
• Jonathan Naidoo, CEO, SmartXchange
• Frikkie Brooks, CEO, Brooks Facilitation Services
• Nomfundo Mcoyi, CEO, Icebolethu Group
• Andre Wessels, CEO, Asone Limited
• Clinton Govender, CEO, Brand Partners
• Rajen Reddy, Executive Chairman, RR Group of Companies
All panellists gave much insight into the importance of effective leadership in adapting to current challenges in the business environment. Each panellist agreed that changes, both in business operations and business culture, have occurred, which are likely to remain evident in the foreseeable future.
Many businesses have had to cope with many challenges including the extended periods of lockdown and the need to shut down operations as well as manage employees working remotely. They have had to find new ways of working, and in some cases have had to work at re-establishing their businesses on reopening. The responsibility for navigating the ‘new normal’ depends on each business leader’s timeous and appropriate actions to keep moving forward.
While Covid-19 has highlighted strengths in businesses, the impact of the pandemic has showed up flaws as well as weaknesses in existing enterprises. One of the key outcomes of Covid-19 is that business leaders have had the opportunity to evaluate their business models, including their products or services, and to question whether their models are sustainable. The importance of making use of this opportunity to stay relevant was shared by many of the webinar panel members. To be sustainable, many businesses are reviewing their environment, social and governance (ESG) objectives using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a guide.
However, in paying attention in how to remain relevant and sustainable, business must be agile and adaptable. But in restructuring a business to make it more effective and to increase one’s bottom line, proper planning, being cost effective and managing finances diligently is imperative. This includes full compliance with all business governance and reporting requirements.
As Covid-19 allowed a chance to pause and reflect, the importance of assessing the needs of all the people that the business impacted on was stressed by many of the panellists. In this regard, the need to continue upskill and retrain employees as we go into the future must be considered.
Significantly, the importance of collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders including family, employees, clients, service providers and the wider community that the busines operates in was mentioned as key to sustainability in many of the businesses represented.
Business collaboration, with an increased focused on doing business locally, is also highly relevant in growing the economy of KwaZulu-Natal and improving the overall quality of life of the people of the province through job creation and social responsibility projects.
Another key message was the importance of digitalisation to promote connectivity and to ensure effective communication among all stakeholders. Along with digitalisation the need to embrace technologies that ensure the effective use of operating systems within the business must be realised where appropriate. We need to translate much of the innovation that is taking place in the technology space into action.
In conclusion, the panellists highlighted that it is people that make a difference and with the right leader and approach to one’s business, anything is possible. Each leader needs to take responsibility for creating a collective vision for their business and motivate their team to achieve this goal. One must get out there and do it!
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