Episode 7: Making tough decisions under pressure

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
25 MIN

Being a business owner means making tough decisions. When some businesses were forced to close their doors during New Zealand’s initial Level 4 COVID-19 lockdown, or faced losing millions of dollars of assets, the decisions made in those moments can have impacts forever. For Christchurch restaurant owner Anton Matthews from FUSH and Ryan McQuerry and Nick Lubeck interior plantscaping business Outside In, deciding where to make sacrifices to save their businesses was a daunting challenge. When people are your biggest asset, and your biggest expense, the decisions you make when the pressure is on can have long term impacts. Discover how they faced into these challenges with optimism and resilience, maintaining their strong company cultures and a commitment to their customers, staff, and communities. Hear their insights as we continue to work through the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences. As this podcast is for general information purposes only, content should not be relied upon as professional advice.  Always get your own independent advice that takes into account your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

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Transcript

Liam Dann:

This podcast brings together two innovative businesses to discuss how they’ve navigated change since lockdown, what they learned and how they are looking to the future. In this episode, we speak to Christchurch restaurant owner, Anton Matthews from Fush and Ryan McQuerry and Nick Lubeck from interior plant scaping business, Outside In. When your business is forced to close its doors to customers during a level four lockdown, or you face losing millions of dollars of assets from your business, the decisions you make in those moments will stay with you forever. Discover how two innovative SME businesses, faced these challenges with optimism and resilience, maintaining their strong company cultures and a commitment to their staff, customers, and communities. I’m Liam Dann, New Zealand Herald, Business Editor at Large. Welcome to BNZ Connect SME.

LD:

The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences. As this podcast is for general information purposes only, content should not be relied upon as professional advice. Always get your own independent advice, that considers your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcast.

LD:

Keen to get to the crunch of what you’ve had to go through in the last few months with COVID, but first, a little bit of background about your business, your business experience, and how you got started and what your mission is, I guess. Anton, can I start with you on what’s been your driver in getting these businesses going?

Anton Matthews:

Yeah, I was teaching for a while, teaching te reo Māori in a secondary school, loved the teaching aspect of it, but I really missed the hospitality game. That’s what I was doing all throughout university and felt this yearning to get back into it and get amongst the hustle. And so my wife and I, we purchased our first business out in Sumner which is a seaside suburb in Christchurch and three or four years, we just worked eight days a week trying to do our best to turn that business around and make it something that we could really be proud of. I don’t own that business anymore, but I am the proud owner of Joe’s Garage, in Wigram, which is over the other side of town. And then just next door to that, Fush, which is our whānau, family owned fish and chip shop, it’s our take on a fish and chip shop. Of course, it’s much more than that, but I’m sure we’ll get to that later on.

LD:

Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, jumping, jumping to you guys, Nick and Ryan, if you could just tell me a little bit about your business and how you got started and how you’ve been tracking up until this point of COVID-19.

Ryan McQuerry:

Yeah, Nick and I have been friends for a bunch of years and would always chat about business ideas that we’d have coming up. And Nick’s quite analytical and financially minded, and I stay far away from that and are more of the creative. So we loved the idea of doing something together, but didn’t know exactly what. I had a background in landscape and design outdoors and we were just looking at all the cities getting built up and the green spaces within cities, diminishing. And we thought, wow, how could you get people to interact with nature more? Because we think that’s a great thing.

RM:

And I look back to what I learned in landscape and design, and we realised that the end outcome is only ever as good as the design that you put in, in the first instance and really understanding what’s important to the client and the space, environment you’re working with. So, we decided to start a business that was basically a design focused interior plant scape business. And so what we do is we work with a commercial space, whether it’s an office or a hotel or retirement village, we do a bunch of shopping malls and we basically transform them into living, healthy, beautiful environments, using plants.

LD:

Cool. And I’m guessing, up until the big crunch this year, it had been going quite well.

RM:

It was crazy.

Nick Lubeck:

Gangbusters. Yeah, we’ve been going awesome. We’d been growing super-duper fast, doubling every six months. It was quite crazy, sort of, hang on and hold on. It’s just going awesome.

LD:

So all those good problems of growth.

NL:

Massive growth problems, rushing ahead as fast as you can, don’t want to slow down, but then you’re backfilling as quickly as you can and building a team and our own capacity at the same time. So it was a real fun journey and we were having a great time. Was doing the Icehouse course at the time, just before COVID hit, to start building those capacities. So it was a really great time to be doing that.

LD:

Yeah. Anton, just to jump back to you, could you tell us a little bit more about Fush and the concept and how that was tracking, say up until that COVID moment this year?

AM:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, I mean, Fush was really an idea that that came about and around the dinner table, we really wanted to try and think of that iconic New Zealand, Kiwi, Aotearoa cuisine and the first immediate, obvious answer really, was fish and chips. And the idea was how can we take that iconic meal and/or ritual, I suppose, for some whānau and take it to the next level. And so that was really the mission, was to try and create the perfect plate of fish and chips, I suppose. So it’s been four years in the making and a lot’s changed, but it’s, as you’ve sort of hinted to, it’s tuned into something much bigger than probably what I ever anticipated. It’s gone beyond just becoming the new bar for fish and chips and it’s become a vehicle, I suppose, a waka, to deliver some of the outcomes that I really want to see happen in our community.

AM:

So in particular, around the normalisation of te reo Māori, it’s something that I’m very passionate about, it’s the only language that I speak with my two children. I’ve got a third one on the way and nothing will change. We’re very big on trying to normalise tikanga, customs and protocols and make them things. Break them down into concepts that our community can understand and digest and appreciate, things like manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, I could go on all day. But really Fush has become a vehicle to try and be the bridge, I suppose, between our community and some of these philosophies, some of these Maori focused tikanga and of course the language because culture and language go hand in hand and we’ve found a really neat way, by accident, if I’m being honest, the combination of those really heavy and quite serious topics combined with fish and chips, is quite a nice mixture.

LD:

It’s a great mission, but I will come back to you on that again as well, actually. And coming back to you guys, Nick and Ryan, do you remember where you were at when you realised that COVID was really going to turn the world upside down and make you have to confront some challenges in the business?

NL:

Yeah, I do. I was talking about Icehouse course before, it was the last block. We’d been talking about it a little bit, the four weeks before and the fourth, second to last block, and just been a conversation on this could be happening, this is starting to look a bit serious. But it was mid-March, around the 14th, 15th or March, just before the lockdown started kicking in and all of a sudden it was real and we’ve got 20 other business owners all just talking about, “Oh my gosh, how this is going to really affect our business.” And there’s a bit of fear in the room, there was a lot of concern and just a whole lot of what ifs. And from there we were quite quickly going, “Okay, we’ve got to have a clear action plan.” We’d been talking about it for about a month beforehand, but it all of a sudden came from a theoretical what if, to, nah, this is really happening and, “Oh, we’ve got to water plants, what happens if we can’t get in and water plants.” This is a big deal for us.

NL:

And we locked down and some of our clients were essential and needed support, but a lot of our clients weren’t and the buildings were closed, the people weren’t letting us in and rightly so, but then you’re going, “Well, how long is the plant going to last without any water?” And we were thinking six weeks, eight weeks, what’s happens if it was 12 weeks. We’re looking at all the plants being dead. And Ryan was really concerned about even being able to get replacements. Maybe the whole industry is wiped out, were some of the fears that we’re going through and the potential downsides.

RM:

To replace the plants, could cost millions. But the bigger problem is that there’s nobody in New Zealand that has enough plants to replace them all. So yeah, could have been really bad.

LD:

In terms of actually really just wiping out the industry for a period of time.

RM:

Yeah. And a tree could take five or 10 years to grow.

LD:

Wow. Yeah. Anton coming back to you, do you recall a moment, the hospitality industry, obviously, that lockdown was pretty brutal for a lot of businesses.

AM:

Yeah, look, it was, it was pretty brutal. I vividly remember sitting in the office on my laptop, watching the live update from the prime minister and hearing that, I think she actually said something like restaurants and cafes and bars need to close immediately. And that was at about four o’clock in the afternoon, if I remember correctly and we were closed within an hour and a half, two hours. We gave everything a really, really good clean. But the same sorts of concerns, what are we going to do with all this food that’s been prepped? And we basically gave it away to all of our staff and put a message up on my son and daughter’s school Facebook page. And I said, “Come on down and grab some food. It’s going to go to waste.”

AM:

The week or two that followed that were really concerning, didn’t know what the future was going to be. Yeah, a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. But I certainly remember sitting in the office, hearing the prime minister, and going, “Oh man. Is it all over?” I really didn’t know at that point, I don’t think anyone did.

LD:

Did you feel you had good support around you? You’ve got the whānau, but in terms of the business side of things, did you feel like you had people you could bounce ideas of?

AM:

Absolutely. I’ve got a really awesome, tight knit group of people that I can really trust to tell me when I’m wrong, to call me out, to hold me accountable. And there was a lot of long, serious conversations going on, I can tell you. Yeah, I’m really grateful for that. I won’t forget that.

LD:

Yeah. Coming back to you guys, Nick and Ryan. So you’ve got this challenge, you’ve got the building shut up, you’re worried about the plants. I mean, did you gather the people around you to make a plan? I mean, tell us how you got through that basically.

RM:

At the same time, actually, my mother in law passed away two days before lockdown, so our family, we were trying to put together a ceremony for her.

LD:

Wow, that’s tough.

RM:

Yeah. And so I actually handed the reigns over to Nick for the few days going into lockdown. But yeah, we’ve got an amazing team and we formed this little group just to lead the team and make some good decisions and we’d catch up every day and weigh up the news and try and get some good outside advice as well.

NL:

A lot of communication really on with the team as well. So even on the Sunday after the prime minister’s announcement, there was a video we were sharing with the team about, “Hey, this is probably one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced.” But really pointing to the hope of the future, that we’ve got over hundreds and hundreds of challenges in the past and we’re going to get over this one, it’s just going to make us stronger. So there’s a lot of conversations around, again, just belief because there was a lot of fear. I think that’s really important to communicate, actually, you still have a hope for the future and we can achieve that together. And then a lot of really daily tactical meetings around, this is the challenge today, how are we going on those challenges?

LD:

So you were able to get in and salvage the plants and things?

RM:

Luckily we’ve got a great relationship with our clients as well. So a lot of them would have a security guard onsite, for these larger sites and so we’d be on the phone with a security guard saying, “Okay, this is how your water a plant and not too much.” And a lot of our clients were amazing, even though they were going through a lot of trouble and stuff, they would come and make sure that they do what they could to help keep the plants alive. So I think that salvaged a lot of plants for us and it showed us the value of having a really close relationship with your customers in a time like that.

LD:

Absolutely. And I guess for a lot of New Zealand business, there was a sense of surviving that hard phase of lockdown, and then working out what you could do through the next phases. Was that the case for you, Anton and the businesses, how did you go through the next phases as they open things up, reorganising the business to make the most of that?

AM:

After we’d come to terms with the fact that we were closed through lockdown, we had this gut feeling that the key to getting back up on our feet afterwards, is making sure that we keep our staff engaged and we keep them up to date with all the news. At the time, there was a lot of different information going around, a lot of confusion around things like, for example, the wage subsidy and all that sort of stuff. So I made a really massive effort to put up daily videos, we’ve got a staff Facebook page, regular videos, updating information, making it relevant, and keeping everyone really engaged and trying to be positive about, “Hey, look, this is going to be finished at some point. I don’t know when, but when it is, we all need to be ready to rock and roll.”

AM:

And so that was really helpful because it meant as soon as we got the word that in 48 hours, we’re going to be moving from level four to level three. All of our staff were chomping at the bit, everyone was really keen and excited to jump back in and pitch in. And so we moved out of level four to level three and I think when you’ve got something that’s brand new, it’s quite exciting, quite fun, quite daunting at the same time, we were doing deliveries for instance, which is something that we’d never done before. We had to make sure that we were insured to do that. We had to figure out how we’re going to pay people for their mileage and their wear and tear and all that sort of stuff. So it was all very new and it was a bit of a whirlwind looking back on it, but it was a lot of fun and all our staff pitched in, and it was quite a cool time really, looking back on it.

AM:

It was scary, but our community really jumped in behind us. They looked after us, they supported us. And to be honest, we came through that, feeling really positive about the future and really proud that we held on to all of our stuff, not one person was made redundant.

LD:

Yeah. I mean, it’s one of the themes that’s come through the businesses I’ve talked too, is that the challenges are pretty big, but rising to them has a reward or is quite inspiring and in and of itself.

AM:

Absolutely. Yeah, nah, you’re spot on.

LD:

Yeah. I mean, Nick and Ryan, how about you guys? How did you adjust what you were doing as a business to get going again during that time?

RM:

Yeah. I mean, our big primary issue was we’ve got to get out onto a lot of sites and some of them are open and some of them are not. So what we did is we pulled together all the hire plant companies in our industry and got everyone to come together on a health and safety protocol for the whole industry, to make sure we’re all doing it safely. And then we just worked case by case with our clients saying, “Hey, what works for you guys? Do you want us to come in after hours, full PPE, clean down all the surfaces before we leave, what’s going to make your team feel safe about the way we’re doing this?” Anything to make sure we could come in and keep the plants alive. But one of the unexpected things that came out of it, was we were trying to forecast plant replacement numbers. So we thought, we know a lot of plants are going to die, how many?

RM:

And so we planned for worst case scenario and pre-ordered a whole lot of plants. And so they all started coming in and as our team rushed around to get around all the sites and see what were still alive, they got around so quickly and were able to resurrect a lot of plants, that we ended up with this big backlog at our nursery and we didn’t know what to do with all these extra plants. And it just happened to coincide with a time when a lot of people were sitting around their houses going like, “Oh, my house looks pretty lame and I could do with a few plants.” And I think some people were struggling to find hope and get back out there and so it was just perfect timing. We made a little announcement that we’re going to give away a thousand plants and people just went crazy for them.

RM:

So we were able to use something that was surplus to us, to spread a bit of joy to a bunch of people that are having a hard time. So it was really fun. I think it was probably the number one thing to get the energy back into our team. They got to go out and see the smiles on the faces of the people that are coming to collect these plants.

LD:

Yeah. It’s interesting, I think both businesses today, there’s an aspect of giving something back to the community, but also being quite involved in engaging the community. Anton, you talked about getting food out in that first part of lockdown, has that paid off? Did people come back to see you quickly?

AM:

It’s hard to measure, I feel like it has. I mean, just before we came out of lockdown, we were looking at how are we’re going to get our food out to the people. Because a lot of people were really worried and rightfully so and reluctant to leave their homes and so delivery became a big game for hospitality businesses. And at that stage, the only way we could do delivery was through a third party, such as Uber, Uber Eats. And I made a video and I threw it up on our Facebook page and just let everyone know how expensive it was for the restaurant to operate through Uber Eats. And we said, “Look, we’re going to try and do our own delivery. We’re going to get our front of house staff in their cars doing delivery.” And the support was just phenomenal. It blew me away. I can’t help but think that it was years and years and years of giving back to the community and never saying no to a kindy or a sports team when they come and ask for a voucher for a raffle.

AM:

And I mean, we do things like we put on free classes for anyone who wants to learn how to do te reo Māori, we’ve done lots of things over the years and I think people recognise that, they saw that we were asking for some help, that we were in need of their support and they rallied around us and it was a call to action and our community, well and truly answered the call. It was quite a good feeling to know that actually the community had our back when we needed it most and that means a lot to me, it means a lot to my whānau, and to our staff as well.

LD:

That’s great. That’s great. Look, I want to get both businesses just to tell us a little bit about where you’re at now. We’ve still got this big uncertainty around borders and the economy and well the future’s always uncertain, but how are things operating now and then we’ll talk a little bit about where they might go.

NL:

Compared to those terrible scenarios you were playing out back in May and April, we are far, far, far better off, feeling really fortunate, really supported by our team and our community and our customer base. We’ve been blown away. The team stuck together, which has been really good. A few sacrifices made throughout the team to make that happen, but overall, we really, really couldn’t be happier compared to the alternative and compared to where things could’ve been.

LD:

So you’re back out, the offices are operational, was the concern that everyone was going to suddenly work from home forever?

NL:

A little bit. But I think when we came back from lockdown, it actually confirmed to me how important is to be connected face to face. I know there was a lot of doomsday, so everyone’s going to be Zooming and you’re never going to be in an office ever again. And just the energy that you get from being face to face with other people, is just so important. And there might be some changes on the margin, but we actually see that that is going to continue and it’s actually almost reinforced face to face connection, being in beautiful spaces that inspire you, is really, really important.

LD:

Would you say back to normal almost, or is it still in the shadow of things a bit?

NL:

I think there’s a degree of uncertainty that’s hanging over, but overall I would definitely say that we are probably 80% of the way there, which is really good from a revenue perspective, really high client retention, which is great. And because we’ve been growing so fast, we were really gearing up for another fantastic year of growth. And so that, I think, has probably been our biggest challenge, really geared up for growth and then you have this curve ball come at you and you have to adjust. And the culture was so important to us, we were really struggling to make sure we keep the team together. We were getting all these forecasts coming through and going, “Oh, this is actually really bad.” And pressure at the board level going, “Actually, you guys should probably make some cuts. You should make those hard calls and do it now.”

RM:

They were saying, “Make it a lot of cuts.”

NL:

Yeah, a lot of cuts. And we’ve always had this culture, one of our core values is, people matter, caring for people is at the heart of what we do. And then you’re getting these calls to make the cut. And I’m like, “Actually this feels really, really bad.’ So talking with Ryan, “I just don’t feel right with this. This doesn’t sit with who we are, how can we make this work?’ So we’re brainstorming. And so we’re getting up in front of the team, I’m shedding a few tears saying, “Look, I really don’t want to do this, I’m going to need you guys to take a little bit of a pay cut.”

RM:

I thought that was the air conditioning.

NL:

Yeah. And the team rallied around us and they know we want to stick together, we want to do this together. And so now going forward, having that culture together has really opened up some amazing opportunities, I’m actually super excited about the future.

LD:

Sure. Anton coming back to you, how is business looking and how has it changed? Have you kept up some of the things like the delivery that you picked up during lockdown?

AM:

Yeah, look, absolutely. And so much of what Nick and Ryan are talking about, I resonate with. We had this theme that it was always going to be a case of if we’re going to have to make some sacrifice, it’s better that everyone makes a small sacrifice, then any one particular individual has to sacrifice everything. And we made that really well known to the staff, that we are going to have to all take a small hit and so we did, all of us take a hit, but no one actually had to lose their job. No one asked any questions. Everyone said, “Absolutely, tell us what we have to do. Let’s do that.”

AM:

And so that was a really good message to send. And the way I think about it, I’ve got the rest of my life to make all the millions, but the decisions that you make when the pressure’s on, they stick with you forever. And I was not prepared, my wife and I and my sister, we’re all in business together and we were more than happy to lose a little bit of money now, knowing full well that we’ve got the next 50 years to make it back, then to be unfair and find a loophole to let someone go or do something that would be perceived or come across as being nasty or anything like that. And yeah, like the boys said, it actually did give us pause, it did give us an opportunity to sit down, take a breath because when you’re working in your own business, you do work eight days a week, it’s hard to find time to actually work on your business and look at things from a distance.

AM:

And so it gave us an opportunity to look at our systems, to look at our processes, we did make some changes. But to answer your question, deliveries, yeah, we are still doing them and it’s actually worked out all right. It’s not a burden on the business, some of the staff enjoy getting in their cars and getting out and it means that we can control that delivery process anyway, from beginning to end. Whereas when you’re doing 80% of it and then giving it to a stranger, you’re hoping that they go and they deliver the food and that they’re nice and they’re respectful when they deliver the food, but you’re never quite sure and so this has enabled us to control the whole process from whoa to go. So nah, all in all, it’s been good and business is ticking along, but we’re up for it and we’re ready for it.

LD:

And how about the te reo side of it, because obviously a lot of people during the lockdown, set personal goals and things, I wondered if there was plenty of interests coming out of lockdown in that part of it?

AM:

Yeah. Look, there was, I didn’t do a hell of a lot during lockdown around the te reo side of things, mainly because it doesn’t really generate any money for us and we really needed to focus on keeping the lights on and keeping the doors open at that stage. However, lots of my friends saw an opportunity during lockdown to go, “You know what, I’m going to start something.” So there were some really, really awesome initiatives that I’ve been quietly keeping an eye on from a distance and I’ve been really impressed with, and that came out of lockdown. So one for instance is, ‘A Maori Phrase A Day’, it’s a friend of mine, Hemi Kelly, who actually wrote a book and he thought, “I’ve got the next four or five weeks ahead of me, where I’m stuck at home. Why don’t I read a page of this book every day.” And it blew up overnight. I think he’s got, last time I checked, it was over 16 or 17,000 people on his page, which is just awesome.

AM:

So yeah, look, there are opportunities, you just have to be looking for them. There’s that old saying, where attention goes, energy flows. Well, if your attention is in the right area, then you’re going to see those opportunities, you’ve just got to have your eyes open.

LD:

Yeah, absolutely. Just coming back to you guys, Nick and Ryan, what have you learned and what would you say, maybe advice for other businesses, if they were facing something like this again?

NL:

For me, one of the first things was to create what I call optionality. So for us, was really quickly securing the cash we needed, to make sure we had options and choices. I saw people make rush decisions, sometimes because they had to, sometimes it was just poor decisions. And when you’re rushing in a crisis, you often make a poor decision because you’re making decisions with really limited information. And for me and Ryan, having options and buying time so we could see how this goes because you were getting forecasts at all ends of the spectrum, that ultimately came down to what assumptions they used for those forecasts they were coming out with.

NL:

So firstly for me, it was optionality. The second one was, and it’s been touched on a lot today about values, this is where the rubber meets the road with values and culture. When things are hard, the decisions you make now, as Anton said, will be with you for the next 30 or 40 years. And if they’re really values to you and values to a company, now’s the time to show them and you use it as an opportunity for that. Ryan, did you have anything else?

RM:

Yeah, I think the other thing was, just looking at what everybody in the company is doing and focus on that what creates value. And so it gave us really an opportunity to look and say, “Look, if you’re spending a lot of your time doing things that aren’t creating direct value for the customer or for the business, let’s reposition you to get closer to that value stream.” So we worked with a bunch of our team to get them closer to value creating and in the process, helped a lot of people slot into roles that they enjoyed more as well and were feeling a lot more satisfaction at the end of the day. And that’s made a big difference coming out, is getting everybody really highly aligned to that, creating value for the customer and then creating value for the company.

LD:

Yeah, sure. Anton, yourself, anything that stands out as something that you’ll take with you and that you would offer as advice to people facing challenges in their business?

AM:

Business is such a multifaceted beast, it’s almost impossible for one person to do it all and do it well. I think what lockdown forced us to do was to really look at the things that I do really, really well, but then also it forced me to identify the areas where I needed help. I’m really good at some things, I’m really awful at other things, in order to succeed, I think, in business, you have to realise what your shortcomings are and find people that you trust to fill those voids. And lockdown, it was like a pressure cooker, it put the business under pressure and so you quickly find the things that are going well and the things that need improving. And over here, we do a fantastic job, so let’s just keep doing what we’re doing over here, but this area over here needs a lot of help.

AM:

And so yeah, lockdown has forced our hand in many respects, to go out and get that help and our business is looking better than it probably ever has, moving forward into the future because I now know that we’ve got those systems, we’ve got those processes and we’ve got that support in place. And if we had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t like to, but I’d feel much more confident having gone through it now, that we’d get through the other side. So yeah, look, just don’t be afraid to look at your business and find out what you can do better and then go and get that help, is the best thing you could ever do, I reckon.

LD:

Sure. And you just touched on it there and I was going to ask the others as well, but how are you feeling about the next few months and the year ahead?

AM:

How am I feeling?

LD:

Yeah.

AM:

Yeah, look, I’m feeling really positive. I don’t think it helps to bury your head and be all doomsday, I think you have to be realistic and look, we’re still having conversations around playing out scenarios, but you also can’t live and make decisions every day based on the worst case scenario either. So trying to be as optimistic as possible, while proceeding with caution, and trying to keep our options open and not be naive.

LD:

Sure. And Nick and Ryan, how are you guys feeling about the path ahead for the next few months, give or take, the economic uncertainty that we’re all facing?

RM:

Yeah, we were very optimistic. I think that when you have constraints and limitations, that’s when people get creative. And so we’re already looking for new opportunities and new ways of doing things to stay relevant and the team’s highly aligned and motivated at the moment. So it’s actually quite fun. There is a level of uncertainty and so we are also trying to be prudent and make sure that we’re creating a bit of a war chest in case anything goes wrong and make sure that we’re being secure for the future for our staff as well. But look, we’re having fun. I mean, a lot of people that we’re talking to and they say, “We’ve never been so busy, we’re run off our feet. There’s so much going on.” So that’s been really encouraging and I talk to friends overseas and it’s not the same case, so quite fortunate here.

NL:

I’m expecting some disruption as well. I think times like this, as you talked about, creativity breeds disruption, so I think having to be agile and be willing to move quickly and pitch as needed, is definitely in the future, but overall, very optimistic for us as an economy to move forward. I think New Zealand is pretty uniquely positioned compared to the rest of the world and I think there’s some great opportunities ahead of us, if we dream it and can make it happen.

LD:

That is inspiring. And we like to finish up these podcasts on an inspiring note and so ask our guests to tell us a business or business person that’s inspired you through this process. And so Nick, Ryan, could you kick us off with that.

NL:

Yeah, sure. I’m also an accountant by trade, so the business I’ve chosen-

RM:

We won’t hold that against you.

NL:

For my sins anyway. Xero is just really inspiring me, probably two or three reasons. One is they dream big, think of New Zealand and we just think about our borders and we’re isolated from the rest of the world, but they go, “No, we’re going to build a global business that transforms the world.” And so I think that is really, really inspiring, that businesses actually dream and think of big … and being in New Zealand can actually be a massive advantage if we think about it that way. So I found Rod Drury and the way he went about it and their success so far, has just been really inspirational to me.

LD:

Sure. And Ryan, a business or business person that’s inspired you.

RM:

Yeah. I remember reading a book about Toms, the shoe company and that was my first introduction to entrepreneurship and a business that could do something good for others, while running a good business. And so that was probably my big inspiration is thinking, how can we run a great business that also cares for people around us and does something, adds value to other people’s lives?

LD:

So what was the shoe story?

RM:

Oh, so Toms, they started out and every time you would buy a pair of shoes, they would give a pair of shoes to somebody in need in a third world country. So it was right on the early days of buy one, give one and that was my introduction to social entrepreneurship, going, “Wow.” I went through university thinking that a business is just there to make a profit and it’s all about returning shareholder wealth and then seeing, “Wow, you could actually run an awesome business and do something that impacts other people’s lives for the better. That’s inspiring.” And so we’ve always looked at doing things that way, whether it’s caring for our staff and creating really great opportunities for them to grow or looking at how we offer things that make the world a better, greener and more beautiful spaces for people to live and work in.

LD:

Anton, the business that inspires you or has inspired you through this process?

AM:

Oh yeah, absolutely. Look, I mean, I find inspiration, I try to find it everywhere, but if I have to name a business that inspires me, I probably have to shout out to My Father’s Barber, which is about five minutes down the road from us, it’s where I go to get my haircut. And they’re just a really awesome community grassroots business. Their mission, I suppose, is to give great cuts and inspire great meaning. So it’s a really cool place to go and be, and just have good honest conversation. You walk out feeling better than when you walked in because you’ve got a fresh cut and anyone who knows My Father’s Barber will know what I mean when I say that they get out in the community and they do a lot for the community. And so I’m always inspired when I walk in there, and the bonus of course, is that I walk out feeling good, looking better, and I always walk out feeling rejuvenated and ready to take the world on. So I have to shout out to Matiu and Sarah Brown at My Father’s Barber.

LD:

That’s great. It sounds like another example of a business underpinned by strong values, which we’ve talked a bit about today. Look, thanks guys, it’s been a really fascinating and really rewarding conversation to hear all that stuff about the way that you’ve handled your businesses through this. So thanks a lot.

NL:

Thanks Liam.

RM:

Thank you.

AM:

Cheers guys, kia ora.

LD:

Kia ora.

LD:

This Connect SME podcast was brought to you by BNZ, in association with the Business Herald. Subscribe to the series to hear more stories of SME businesses who have navigated sudden change as a result of COVID-19, hear about the decisions they made and the lessons they learned along the way. The resources, links and transcripts of this podcast can be found at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
Liam Dann is one of the country’s most respected business journalists and has been a business editor for the New Zealand Herald for more than 10 years. He writes opinion and commentary covering markets, economics and politics and is host of the weekly Economy Hub video show.