An inspirational story of a real New Zealand business facing catastrophic challenges

In 2012 I watched my parents-in-law and brothers-in-laws’ business, Southern Cross Horticulture, grapple with PSA. They went from having five orchards and a very sensible level of debt to suddenly finding that 90% of their vines had become unproductive in just three months and they had virtually no income.

I watched as my wife’s family responded proactively to that situation. Realising that the disease was spread by the wind, they made use of built structures and shade cloth where orchards were exposed. Then, also realising that the juvenile plants were most vulnerable, they started building nurseries to grow the plants indoors to the point that the plants were large and healthy before they would let them into the ‘dangerous outdoors.’

They quickly repopulated their own orchards with thriving, well-protected plants - then came a myriad of requests from other growers to do the same for them.

Out of adversity came new life for the business. It went from having six full-time staff to 115 today.

By being adaptable you too can turn this current challenging time to your long-term advantage!

The challenge of Coronavirus for business

Wow! What a shock the last couple of weeks have been. COVID-19 or the Coronavirus has really blindsided the New Zealand and Australian business community. Like a Richie McCaw tackle that you didn’t see coming, many business people have been left totally dazed and confused.

Business leaders are asking questions like:

  • Should I lay off my whole team or part of my team?
  • Should I trim costs?
  • And if so, by how much?
  • Do I even have a viable business now?
  • What does my team need from me at a time like this?

A bit like the stages of emotional shock experienced with the sudden loss of a loved one, there is a sense of numbed disbelief from many leaders. However, in the middle of dealing with the shock themselves, leaders are looked to by their teams for reassurance and direction.

We are working with several businesses grappling with exactly these situations right now.

Here are a few pointers:

Take a moment to breathe

Don’t act too drastically while in your state of shock. Take a pause of at least a couple of days to assess the situation. Don’t mess up your long-term business with hasty moves now. I would suggest reading also Alex Penk’s new article on Developing And Deploying The Inner Strength Of Resilience.

Be positive, be resilient and keep a long-term perspective

Remember we have been in situations like this before e.g. airlines after September 11, 2001, when air flights stopped and people were terrified to fly. Many people can’t see past the situation that currently faces them, but we encourage having longer vision than just the next week.

An inspirational example of the importance of taking this attitude in the last few days has been Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, whose business I have chosen partly because it is an easy for everyone to relate to but more importantly because it has been grappling with COVID-19 in China for the last couple of months. As an organisation, Starbucks has already gained considerable experience in China, where it continues to see encouraging signs of recovery with over 90% of stores reopened. The Wall Street Journal wrote in the last few days.

"While for many U.S. restaurants it seems the sky is crashing down, Starbucks Corp. has a unique perspective after having gone through the same thing in China. Their chief executive officer’s message is this: If the strategy to contain coronavirus worked in China, it will work in North America too.”

He carried on to call the pandemic “a temporary business setback.”

He said, “Although there are near-term financial implications, our long-term, optimistic outlook for the growth potential of Starbucks is undiminished. In fact, recent events strengthen our conviction in the long-term opportunity and reinforce the trust in and resilience of the Starbucks brand”.

If that isn’t a clarion call to be calm and positive right now, I don’t know what is.

Be adaptable/ Innovate

I think we can take lessons from the Starbucks situation. They have adapted in many ways, including:

  • Increased cleaning and sanitising procedures for stores
  • Pick up via Starbucks App
  • Delivery via UberEats
  • More extensive use of drive-throughs

...So there are workarounds through this. We just need to be adaptable and dynamic. Note Starbucks’ extensive use of technology.

Be ready to seize opportunities that present themselves

King Solomon, famed for his incredible wisdom, said, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” Or in a different translation, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”

What are you doing right now? Are you watching the sky right above your head right now or looking out a few months or years ahead and thinking about the harvest you wish to reap in the future?

Warren Buffet’s quote for this type of situation is, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

Note that both quotes imply the need for action and investment.

Now is the time to invest in clever long-term thinking so you can bounce back and get a jump on your competitors.

Get some quality advice

We are conscious that the strain on leaders at a time like this is immense and that it can seem a very lonely time. At Resonance, part of our mission is to help grow New Zealand businesses and see them thrive on the world stage. We don’t want to see them falling over. We are here to help.

You don’t have to do this on your own. Also, have a look at this new article from Alex Penk which talks about Resilience Strategies For Leaders Facing The Pandemic.


I’ll end with a quote from Charlie Mackesy, the British author and artist of the fabulous illustrated book, the ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’.

“Those are dark clouds,” said the boy.

“But they will move on,” said the horse, “the blue sky above never leaves”.

Remember that. Stay positive and if we can be of assistance with anything described we are happy to chat.

Some of the things we are helping our clients with right now include:

  • Working on new business models that work in this environment
  • Researching new ways of working to quickly flesh out those models
  • Strategising - developing the best paths forward  
  • Acting as a sounding board for ideas - a listening ear when there is more than one possible option
  • Leadership coaching/mentoring - helping leaders to maintain the right mindset
  • Developing communications to help drive continued demand and revenue (we have been drafting scripts for clients for customer videos and emails to help maintain client demand in this new landscape)
  • Assisting our clients with their internal communications to staff and helping the team at large to keep the right attitude
Scott Pilkington

Scott Pilkington

Founder and Managing Director

Years of driving large-scale revenue growth and increasing margins in many different companies and industries has seen Scott become one of the most respected strategists and marketers in Australasia.

The effectiveness of his work is also backed by multiple awards both in New Zealand and internationally. With a love for research, strategy, innovation and marketing, he is uniquely placed to help you successfully transform your organisation.

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