How to put pandemic-scale disruption to good use
While we hope that the challenges of 2020 will be over when the clock strikes midnight on 31 December, experts warn that this is just the beginning, but it’s possible to survive, even thrive during the economic downturn in the months ahead. They were speaking at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards Business Breakfast on 27 November.
“To be forewarned is forearmed,” said Jeff Gable, chief economist for Absa. He predicts that South Africa’s economy will take half a decade to recover to the level it was at in 2019, which in itself wasn’t a rosy picture. He emphasised just how different this downturn is likely to be from previous downturns. After the 2008 recession, it took South Africa about five quarters to return to where it was beforehand, but now the recovery will take five years.
He noted that it was barely a year ago that the first case of what was then known as “Wuhan flu” was confirmed, and everything that has evolved since has happened at “an immense speed and in a super-dense way”. And because our access to a vaccine is a long way off, “the chance that we will return to a ‘normal’ is very much something for the future”.
This will have huge implications for employment, household incomes, financial systems, debt repayment, and social grants. “Scenario planning is critical as we are in a highly uncertain and volatile period. Until we have a vaccine, it will be a ‘stop-start’ environment. The government and National Treasury have made it clear that there simply isn’t enough money to protect the South African economy. The focus will be on the private sector to lead recovery.”
In that bleak picture, how can businesses navigate, let alone excel in the impasse? Professor Nick Binedell, the former dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, said, “I’ve learned that every year has its own story and rhythm. This year has had a particular message for us. Life presents these unexpected challenges. Occasionally there are off-ramps or deviations, and suddenly we find ourselves in very different territory.”
He said he had witnessed a changing world and, “The truth of life, strategy, and running a business is that we’ve got to do the best with what we understand a situation to be.” This year, most people have had to focus on keeping businesses afloat, but “the irony is that in periods of massive change like this, whole new opportunities open up. And unless you’re keeping your eyes on the bigger prize, you might miss them.”
He often thinks of the analogy of keys and locks, and how these have evolved from simple Yale locks to retina scanning in the digital age. “The ultimate question is: do you understand your lock and does your key fit the lock? Can you open up new markets? That’s really the heart of good strategy.”
He offers four lenses to help us “think systemically about what to do next”. The first is to consider how the environment around us is changing. He emphasises “stepping out” of the day-to-day routine to network, learn, and adapt. “You don’t want to be ‘sleepwalking’ through it. Habit kills a business. You’re living in the fastest change in human history – some of it negative, a lot positive, and very complex.”
The second lens is strategy. “Develop an idea in action not just in concept. What will your business do that the market wants, or will want it to do, that your rivals can’t do? Answer that coherently on paper, and you may have a strategy. The problem we all have is the fight between memory and vision. So how we got in the room and what we’re doing in the room isn’t necessarily how we’re going to get out of the room,” he says.
The third lens is how you organise a business. “Every start-up goes through many periods of reorganising. And this is absolutely appropriate, because the system drives operations. The way decisions are made must suit the changing world around you, but sometimes we lose track of the engine we are trying to build.” He said excellent South Africa companies “designed their engine room carefully, and are constantly reviewing it”.
Finally, he emphasises the importance of leadership and the people in the business, ensuring that you have the right combination and the right employees to make things happen.
“In some ways, it’s been one of the most fantastic years, because the rhythm of normal has been disrupted, and I love that. South Africa is on a frontier opening up to possibilities and opportunities,” said Binedell.
In conclusion, he advised packing “a map and a mirror” for the journey ahead. “The map lays out what you’re going to do next. Write it down. Make some assumptions. Test those assumptions. But put together the package of choices that you believe are inherent to what you will do differently, that will give your business an advantage. All leaders need a map. It’s how we get from where we are to where we want to go.”
Then, “Have a look in the mirror, and ask yourself why you’re doing this, and why others should want to do this. You have to have the self-belief to answer why you want to be in this battle. That core belief is the culture of the business. The thing I love about business is that we touch and change people’s lives. That’s ultimately our mission. Yes, we keep score financially. But the real goal of business is to add value to people’s lives in a way that gives them a better life and more opportunities.”
Nominate achievers who bring us hope
Remember when you were raving about the incredible work someone in the community had done? Well, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. You don’t have much time…
Last year, the focus was on what winners did over and beyond COVID-19 and through the toughest part of the pandemic.
This year, it’s all about hope, as we see the end of the pandemic in sight, death rates are dropping, people are vaccinated, and we are looking towards a brighter future. Who is enabling this? Who are the people who have brought us hope? Who’s bringing us hope right now, and will continue to inspire us in the future? Who are our winners?
“We are looking for those people who brought us hope in professional excellence and business leadership during these tough times,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and the board of the SA Jewish Report.
“Nominate those who showed true leadership and went way beyond the call of duty when there was looting and rioting in the country as well as a spike in the pandemic numbers.”
Sackstein admits that the judges’ decisions will be tough this year as many heroes have risen to the challenges of community and country. “It’s essential to create a record of these times, and those who have stood out when life was at its most challenging,” he says.
Professor Barry Schoub last year won the Kia Community Service Award for his awesome contribution to the Jewish community through COVID-19. The emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases came out of retirement to help the community, going on to become chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. Since his award, he has led South Africa through the process of acquiring vaccines and getting vaccinated.
Dr Mervyn Mer, who won the award for professional excellence in the time of COVID, has gone on to save many more lives from this dreaded coronavirus. He also almost singlehandedly reopened the COVID-19 ward at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital after the medical facility was closed following a fire. As the numbers of people getting desperately ill due to COVID-19 rose during the third wave, he did what he believed he needed to do to save lives.
Our other winners, Johnny Broomberg, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Liran Assness, Michael Katz, Wendy Fisher, Jody Scheckter, and Sir Sydney Kentridge have gone from strength to strength since then.
You have until the close of business on 3 September to make your nominations. Don’t wait, do it now. Go to https://www.sajr.co.za/absa-jewish-achiever-awards-2021/
Nominations are now open for Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021
ABSA BUSINESS ICON AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved iconic status within the business community.
ABSA BUSINESS LEADERSHIP AWARD – FROM COVID TO HOPE
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has played a critical leadership role in business during this period.
ABSA PROFESSIONAL EXCELLENCE – FROM COVID TO HOPE
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved national recognition and acclaim in their profession during this period.
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has a proven track record in entrepreneurial ventures.
COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has served the Jewish community with remarkable distinction.
EUROPCAR WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP AWARD
- Honouring the leadership, success and overall contributions of distinctive Jewish women in business or in the broader South African community.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
in honour of Helen Suzman
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has contributed in an extraordinary manner over a long period of time.
ARTS, SPORTS, SCIENCE AND CULTURE AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has excelled in any of these spheres.
In honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris
- Awarded to a Jewish or non-Jewish person who has contributed substantially to the betterment of the lives of the people of South Africa.
Nominations close at 17:00 on 3 September 2021
Build hope by reaching out and nominating
As the sun rises through the darkness of the pandemic and looting in South Africa, we begin to renew our hope for the future, and with that, we start our search to celebrate our Absa Jewish Achievers in 2021. Nominations are now open.
This year, we will celebrate on 7 November with great ‘hope’, the theme of this year’s event that so perfectly fits our growing sentiments.
The past 18 months have been so incredibly tough on our community, our country, and our world. What with more than 200 Jewish people dying from the COVID-19 pandemic in Johannesburg alone, we have really felt the coronavirus to our core.
We haven’t been able to be at loved one’s funerals, and have sat shiva alone. We have isolated from our loved ones to protect them. We have put much of our lives on hold because of this illness. Many have lost businesses and livelihoods.
But the end of this pandemic is in sight. We have “hope” again. As we vaccinate en masse, we move towards a new tomorrow.
We survived the wholesale looting and violence of the past month, and people have gone to great lengths to help each other make it through.
As a community, we work best together. We support each other, making us stronger and more resilient.
The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is all about our community putting heads together and coming up with those unique individuals who stand head and shoulders above others.
We will pull out all the stops to celebrate our 2021 achievers on 7 November. Once again, we’ll keep it online to avoid any potential COVID-19 risks. But in so doing, we’ll bring your international fantasies to life with our annual revelry. And in so doing, we will enable far more people to participate than can fit in a large hall. Last year, we took our numbers from 1 000 to 60 000 viewers.
It’s time to look around and find those unique individuals, those gems within our community who have performed in their own areas like no other. You know who they are, and they will be given the kavod only if you nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. It’s up to you.
“The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is so important as it allows us as a community to take stock and celebrate our disproportionate contribution to the people of South Africa,” says Howard Sackstein, Absa Jewish Achiever chairperson.
“It allows us to create role models for everyone to emulate as we celebrate the extraordinary. In so doing, we encourage others to find greatness in their own fields.”
Though we will once again be looking for lifetime achievers this year, a humanitarian champion, and those who have gone way beyond the call of duty for the community, we are also focusing on those who have excelled in the past year.
We want to find those outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves over this past year with its unique challenges.
We are looking for nominees in the following: women in leadership; business award; entrepreneurship; business icon; professional excellence community award winner; a lifetime achiever; a winner in sport, science and culture; and a humanitarian award winner (who doesn’t have to be Jewish).
It’s up to you to nominate these people. Without your nominations, they won’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. Although there are judges involved, we need your nominations and online participation in the public vote.
This is a communal event, focusing on our magnificent community, to find the individuals that will become icons for the rest of us. “As you all know, we work best as a community, and in this, we encourage each other to take pride in the achievements of others,” says Sackstein.
Nominations are open from today, until 17:00 on 3 September.