COVID-19 Lockdown: Charles Brewer, Canada Post Corporation, Canada
All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.
As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I'm serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Edward Mandla, General Manager of Mandlason Search in Australia.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.
Charles Brewer leads all operational aspects of Canada Post’s business, including Plants, Delivery, Engineering, Network and Real Estate as its Chief Operating Officer. He is tasked with taking Canada Post’s Operations forward and ensuring Canada Post maintains a highly efficient network and a safe operation that provides reliable, market-leading service to customers and Canadians. Charles has over 35 years of experience in the areas of post, parcel, international shipping and e-commerce and has held senior leadership roles in Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and the United States.
Affluent Society (AS) spoke to him about his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.
AS: What is the lockdown like in Canada?
I moved to Ottawa, Canada from Singapore at the end of January this year and just before COVID-19 really had taken off. The first few weeks of ‘lockdown’ was chaotic to say the least, not knowing what was around the corner, not knowing how long it last, not knowing how you could be infected, not knowing whether to join the endless charge for toilet rolls(!), and all of this whilst coping with a new role, a new company and a new environment.
That said, chaos turned to adjustment and for the most part it hasn’t been so difficult and certainly, Ottawa and Canada seem to have managed the situation incredibly well and we haven’t experienced the dramatic and what must have been incredibly difficult situations I have seen in other countries. Winter has come and gone, Canada is slowly reopening and life here appears to be on the way back to ‘normal’. Canadians are back outside; talking, shopping, eating and having their haircut.
AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?
We had taken a conscious decision when I relocated for the rest of the family to remain in Singapore to the end of the school year. As the situation with COVID-19 developed and specifically as the travel restrictions increased, we took the decision to move them as soon as we could get them on a flight. That resulted in multiple booked and cancelled flights, increasing fear and uncertainty, incredible personal stress and a few tears. That said, finally my family (and George the dog!) managed to get a flight to Canada and we are now altogether – never thought it would make sure a significant difference, but it did!
On the work front, I have never been so busy. Online orders are through the roof and parcel volumes have reached Christmas like levels. I am a leader who enjoys being on the front line in normal time, let alone when there is a challenge, and as a result of either a lack of travel options or the need to maintain physical distancing have had to manage a very large team of more than 20,000 from a long way away. That said, I have been overly impressed with the Canada Post team; their passion, their commitment, their willingness and desire to keep delivering, and always with a smile, has been something I didn’t expect and will remember for a very long time – an amazing team, doing amazing things!
AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?
I have been surprised how much I have missed in-person contact, and like all I have become adept at virtual meetings and video calls, and whilst I will definitely use those tools more going forward, I can’t wait to get out and about again and engage personally.
AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?
I tend to mix my week with a few days in the office and a couple from home, depending on what the diary looks like, and when working from home, I really enjoy taking a few more breaks a day to ‘renew’ which for me has included taking a short walk along the Ottawa River with my family and our dog George. Post COVID-19, I will try to maintain that balance – it is important to take time to breathe, important to find time and activities to renew and really important to focus on what matters.
AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?
We are at Stage 2 in Ontario and that includes retail reopening, bars and restaurants reopening, the return of the drive-in cinema(!), opening of parks, beaches, etc, and it is amazing how I see those activities very differently than I did before. As example, the other day I was in my office on yet another video conference call and gazing out of my office towards the Ottawa International Airport. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and I noticed an Air Canada plane taking off and heading to wherever. I watched it for what seemed like an eternity, smiling contently to myself – in this very unusual time we all find ourselves, it is amazing how little things matter. Stay safe everyone!
Next up: We speak with Ronak Shah about his COVID-19 lockdown experience in Singapore.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including Cornerstone Venture Partners Fund, an early growth stage technology venture capital fund headquartered in Mumbai, India.