During lockdown and beyond, we have been hosting Zoom calls for our Business Changing clients with many great business leaders. We’ve treated these much like a podcast, with a chat between myself and the guest speaker, and then room for our clients to ask questions at the end.
I have been blown away by the high profile and successful leaders and entrepreneurs who have given up their time for us. That they’re willing to talk openly and candidly, sharing their experiences and advice with us, just goes to show that they’re truly passionate and supportive of NZ business – and for that we are grateful.
So many incredible gems have come out of these chats. Business-changing ideas. Incredible motivation. Mind-blowing insights. Chatham House Rules mean we can’t share full transcripts but here are my favourite learnings from each of our guests to date.
— Vic Crone (CEO of Callaghan Innovation) shared the importance of looking after yourself as a leader. She pointed out that you have a lot on your plate leading your business or team… and doubly so during these current times. Your own personal health is going to determine the health of your business or team. How can you build in a bit of downtime so you can exercise, chill, learn? Humans need to rest so make sure it is the first thing you build into your calendar. Otherwise you and your business will not be as successful as you could be. Being the leader of NZ’s leading R&D business, she had some insightful thoughts around pivoting also (such a buzzword but pertinent right now). Pick the right pivot…
— David Downs (terminal cancer survivor against the odds, SOS Cafe founder, and all-round ridiculously great human being) talked about resilience in challenging times. David didn’t get overwhelmed by his terminal prognosis. He said the way to deal with incredible challenges is just to break it all down and to identify the things that you can control vs the things that you can’t control. This is very relevant for today’s Covid times. Identify all the things you can control and those things that you cannot control. Then make sure that you are making progress on the most important things you can control. Try not to worry about what you can’t control as there’s no point in losing sleep over things you can’t effectively change!
— Dame Rosanne Meo (Chairwoman of Briscoes and a who’s-who in NZ business since 1980s) shared some great stuff on how to lead through a crisis. Rosanne shared how the Briscoes executive team and the Board are meeting daily = ultimate accountability. For them, they’ve decided there are no excuses for not adapting ie. adapt or die. Where have you not properly adapted in your business that you know will hold you back in these Covid (now and post) times? Remember you will need to keep communicating both internally (with your team) and externally (to customers and suppliers) a lot more than the previous normal for a very long time. Are you communicating enough with everyone? And how good are your feedback loops, to ensure you are truly receiving feedback with what is on people’s minds (ie. their worries, concerns and what is exciting them)? A side note: like most of us, Rosanne had never thought she would be living her business life on Zoom!
— Karl Dwight (head of Mergers and Acquisitions for PwC) shared with us his views including what the impact will be on business valuations (which affects all business owners). He shared how PwC are getting their clients to approach Covid in a 3-stage ‘attack’… Repair (keep the lights on), re-think (plan for recovery and how business will look going forward), then ‘reconfigure’… Reconfiguring your business is critical. How you will do business from now will likely need to change given the world has seriously changed. What you’ll be doing in 5 years’ time will probably be greatly different to what you might have envisaged at the start of 2020. Try to identify the tangents your business will now take vs what you would have previously expected. You should also pre-identify what your triggers for various decisions will be in your potential future so you can make decisions based on numbers rather than emotion.
— Tony Marks (ex CEO of Zespri and Virgin Airlines and 10 years on the executive of Air New Zealand running sales and marketing) shared some great stories and analogies. We loved the one where Tony said that in challenging times, you need to think about how a medieval castle was kept safe under attack. A castle had several defensive assets from a moat, to a wall, to a set of battlements to the keep. It ensured it was very hard to lose 100% control of the castle as you could always move back to the next defensive asset to control your position and to deal to the enemy. Tony shared how this old model could be used for the likes of, say, Air New Zealand. For Air NZ, the ‘keep’ is domestic, the battlements are South Pacific and Australia, the wall might be, say, Asia and the moat might be long haul, like Europe and North and South America. Air NZ will cherry-pick what is inside their wall (eg. domestic, Trans-Tasman and South Pacific) and what is outside their wall which are things you just do not touch in today’s world (like long haul). In troubled times, focus is the key and you want to focus on what is in your ‘keep’ and within your ‘walls’…
— Claudia Batten (NZ’s most successful female tech entrepreneur) had some fascinating views. We have actually written a whole blog on what Claudia shared (was definitely enlightening) which you can read HERE. Having launched very successful startups, Claudia is no doubt very good at managing cashflow and what she invested in R&D. Great advice from her was that you should be ‘zero revenue modelling’ – think like a startup and having to operate without income. It makes you very disciplined about your cash in the bank, cash burn, expenses, and days to zero (cash is a new KPI that most of us have not been reporting previously). How can you stretch your cash out as far as possible? She also shared great thoughts about what marketing should be like and it was not just all ‘digital’. Old school marketing (not advertising) has huge merit going forward – Claudia thinks we have become over-reliant on digital but that good marketing is what will drive loyalty.
— Sir John Key (probably needs no introduction) shared both his thoughts on where the world was going as well as his leadership learnings. John did think that our habits (like going to cafes and restaurants) would return sooner than later when we were allowed to (I agree with that!). He shared that success (as a lot of us no doubt had up until recent times) actually masks real problems and not to “waste a crisis”. This is an opportunity to make decisions in your business that you wouldn’t have imagined previously. Have a think about what sucks up management time and takes up too many resources vs the ROI and impact that it has. Anything you don’t need to do in the next 6 months (eg. discretionary investment), you’ll likely be better off deferring it (unless the ROI is so glorious that you’d be silly to not do it now). Click HERE to read 3 amazing leadership learnings and tips that John shared which were very powerful.
Overall all our guests shared one common view which was that you need to carefully observe your surroundings (ie. what is going on), orient yourself, react and repeat. The medium-term is not going to be linear. It’s not something you can long-term plan for — you are going to be doing a lot of shorter than normal sprints for the next couple of years. Instead, live your business life like a jet fighter pilot does – have a long-term goal/destination and continually realign your actions that will get you closer to those long-term goals.
We look forward to our upcoming heavy-hitter guests we have lined up (Peter Chrisp, NZTE CEO, and Don Braid, CEO of NZ’s 4th largest company, Mainfreight) and all the knowledge that they will share with our Business Changing clients.
Thank you so much to all of the amazing speakers who have given up their time to share their insights and knowledge — we are grateful and inspired. Here’s to a great NZ 2.0!