Johnny Palmer runs an activist private equity company, Autonomous Investments which has holdings in companies including SXS Events (live events), SolCell (renewable energy), Intelligo (education technology), several new startups as well as numerous commercial property investments. Johnny is also the founder of the Warleigh Weir Project and hands-on environmental activist.
Here he talks to BLM about how the Covid-19 pandemic may change the way we do business in the long-term, for the better.
The negative impact of coronavirus has been devastating and it’s impact has also been ricocheting through our economies. However, what has this pandemic taught us about ourselves and what will be the lasting changes for the better in the way we conduct business and ourselves in the future?
In this article I will share some reasons that the Coronavirus Crisis has been a positive catalyst for change in business and life. To give perspective I will outline some personal stories of how the Coronavirus Crisis has affected my life and businesses
It has shown a businesses true colours
It has shown the true colours of businesses of all sizes – so that we know what and who we are REALLY dealing with.
We have all seen some pretty disgraceful behaviour in this crisis such as insurance companies (such as Hiscox) trying to reframe the “intention” of an insurance policy when a claim is made.
Another example is an airline (Virgin Atlantic) laying all their staff off with no pay and little notice before the shareholders are prepared to put anything into the company to support staff; at the same time as expecting a government bailout.
Conversely we have seen incredible generosity of companies donating their products and services. Leon and Pret a Manger have been providing food for 50% off to NHS workers.
Unilever is donating £47m of stock to support the crisis. NCP is providing free parking to NHS workers.
The days of vacuous CSR lip service will be over as people will be better at seeing through disingenuous token-gestures. Companies must truly care, be generous and be authentic in their non-profit activities.
Since the lockdown there have been a lot less cars on the road, a lot less global production, more focus on locally-sourced food and practically zero air travel. People are appreciating the nature they have access to locally instead of expecting to travel for relaxation.
After the crisis I believe that people will reflect on how the world is compared to how it was before. I believe that for many this will impact the way they run their businesses moving forward; creating a more conscious and sustainable way of doing business and earning a living. Businesses supplying locally produced food are already seeing the benefits of this shift and many will probably continue to thrive after the crisis passes.
Many businesses trade without any major consideration for what deals they have signed up to with suppliers and clients alike. Instead they rely on convention, tradition and an often-misplaced sense of trust that all is well.
In normal times this may be fine. But since the Coronavirus Crisis the finer details on contracts have become critically important to the survival of businesses. What are your cancellation terms? Is there flexibility in changing contract terms, dates and specifications? What happens if a party in a deal is unable to deliver on their aspect of a deal? I have witnessed many situations outside my company where a lack of consideration for these factors have had catastrophic consequences. Indeed I would say that most business disputes are due to lack of clarity of scope and expectation.
Just this week I paid a large pile of invoices to suppliers for cancellation fees we defined – we didn’t have to do this but it was the right thing to do and we followed through.
Review organisational structures
For many businesses there has been a need to reduce operations or even mothball their businesses altogether. This has triggered many to think about how they run their businesses and what needs to change. What is the best role for each individual? Do roles need to be split or merged? Are the remuneration and bonus schemes appropriate? Where should their companies be headed in the future? This reflection can be hugely positive and create some incredible change for the better.
We have reviewed our lifestyles
The first three weeks of lockdown has been like nothing else the world has seen before. Many people have been on 80% of their salaries and not allowed to work. Not having to work long, hard hours has created an enormous time, energy and creativity vacuum.
I have witnessed an incredible increase in how much people are connecting with each other, supporting each other and investing in both mental and physical health. This has been awesome and is nothing short of a cycling/running/walking revolution. Equally as important is what is happening with family life; a lot of people are spending time with their kids like they never have before – this creates long-term value for those relationships which will endure for decades to come.
Magnifying successful companies
We all know of both good and bad companies. Many companies have amazing ideas, excellent service and admirable values yet find it hard to fulfill their potential as some sectors can be dominated by older companies who hold market share.
The coronavirus crisis will test all companies and sort the strongest and weakest. Companies who do not deliver the right service, lack values, are not on a strong financial footing, or cannot adapt fast will fail. While this is unfortunate for them this will allow the smaller, better, more innovative companies to flourish and create a better world.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” has in the past been a pergorative phrase targetted at people and companies that do a range of different things. Those who use this phrase of others may fail to realise that doing new things usually strengthens a core proposition and does not preclude having expert specialists within a team.
Thinking about supply chains
I have always found it fascinating how little people look at where their supplies and materials come from. We all rely on such incredibly complex supply chains from all over the world which could easily fail. Most business people don’t consider what happens when supply chains collapse and how they will keep trading.
Now that supply chains have essentially disappeared a lot of businesses cannot get the stock of materials they need. This could be catastrophic for many.
After the Coronavirus Crisis people will be questioning where everything comes from, the stability of supply and risk assessing what happens when supply chains collapse.