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 Katya Zavialova, South East Asia Country Manager of Bentley Motors in Singapore.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.
Edward Mandla is the General Manager of Mandlason Search, which for over 20 years, has partnered with CEOs, Vice Presidents and Boards to identify and secure critical talent needed to grow, scale and outplay competitors in today’s high tech world. Edward is passionate about delivering the expertise and talent that delivers growth, transforms companies, disrupts markets, and creates maximum value for all. A former Councillor for the City of Sydney, he also serves on over 10 tech boards and advise many others.
Affluent Society (AS) spoke to him about his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.
AS: What is the lockdown like in Australia?
I live in an amazing part of Sydney called the Hills District. It has an extraordinary abundance of parks, recreation, schools, sporting and leisure facilities. Workers tend to be local business owners and executives that travel to the city every day for work.
The sentiment when COVID-19 lockdowns started was disbelief. Local cafe owners, travel agents, removalists, gym owners went from a happy life to, in many cases, zero revenue. Office workers no longer had an office to go to and fear of unemployment set in.
I will never forget walking through our local shopping mall which is very large. I was shocked to find 80% plus of businesses shut. I felt the pain of human suffering and still feel it now. It was devastating and so many people lost their jobs and I knew that many businesses would never return. It is so sad, that so many wonderful people lost their livelihood.
Even today, my wife bumped into a family from school. The husband lost his business of 20 years. All the children lost their retail and hospitality jobs. The bills continue. We must never forget the suffering this Pandemic has caused to small business and the private sector. We must work tirelessly to ensure it never happens again.
AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?
Our greatest challenge was logistics. Our house, mainly empty during the day, now became a hive of activity and confusion. All of a sudden, I had three children at home and it became apparent very quickly that we needed more computers. Where would everyone work? With remote learning, our children were on Video Conferences. Often, there were three different Video Conference calls going and the telecommunications companies were struggling with the extra loads.
The transition to homeschooling was a nightmare for me. Reluctantly, I started learning about pronouns, idioms, creative writing and mathematical problem solving. Before I knew it, 2 to 3 hours of my workday was gone. Yet on the other hand the work day was longer with the demands of early morning and evening video calls.
Again, in the area I live in there are many large families with over 6 children, some have 10. So there is a bit of full time homeschooling going on in the community. My wife had long admired the homeschoolers and fancied she could do it.
My wife has a bad habit of always leaving something in the bottom of her glass and leaving it on the bench. I have an equally bad habit of drinking the remainder of her glass/cup - i.e. juice, water, tea, coffee. It was Day 7 of homeschooling and already two boys (normally very good at school) were in trouble with my wife for fighting. I was in trouble for yelling downstairs for quiet. At 10:45am I walked downstairs to see what was all the commotion. I spied a coffee cup with a bit of coffee left in it, so I picked it up and drank it quickly.
I will never forget the shock and somehow the contents of the cup ended up in my nose with me coughing and spluttering. My boys still laugh at how that morning I fired their teacher/mother/homeschooler for drinking on the job, for the coffee also had Vodka and Kaluha in it! Let's say that my wife's homeschooling ambitions are in tatters and we have a new found respect for teachers.
AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?
From a business point of view, I went into shock and was scared. Business, the stock market and confidence was collapsing all around me. I think the best action I took was taking a step back and realising that maybe my customers had similar feelings.
So I called them. No agenda. I wanted to know how they were and whether there was anything I could do. What I found was that my customers were also scared. They were worried about their own security. Inbound leads had collapsed. Many had a feeling that people wouldn't be interested if they called. Most had a hesitation in contacting clients as they didn't want to be insensitive by making that call. I built very strong and personal relationships through this period with clients that I already had a relationship with. However, the relationship became more personal. I learnt a lot about many of my clients, how they were feeling and their family lives. I would like to think that I encouraged a number of my clients to motivate themselves and their teams to start calling again.
Later on I pushed my clients very hard to review every proposal that they had in the field. I suggested that they align themselves to Boardroom discussions by reviewing their proposals and saying to executives "With everything going on at the moment there is an opportunity to lower costs, lower risk and to increase cash flow". I then encouraged my clients to make new business calls. Prospects are sitting at home on endless internal Video Conference calls and that a new business call is a novelty and they will take it. Many executives who would take weeks or months to get into their diaries were all of a sudden "available this week".
I said you need to do your homework on the company and executive. The conversation has to be about the opportunity to improve i.e. to cut costs and/or improve cash flow. You need to open the mind of the executive with the outcomes that can be achieved and why they should champion this now. It has been humbling to have a number of my clients call me and say they tried this approach and it worked multiple times.
AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?
From a home point of view, we fell into the pattern of a timetable. We either went for a daily walk or bike ride together. We bought a dog. There was time to work and time to play. We all got very close. Now with lockdowns easing we are still very much into the pattern of a timetable and we are scheduling almost daily family time together. We're all the better for it and I think my children will tell their children about the months of wonderful family time we had in 2020.
A number of us started virtual drinks with our clients. I think there is now a greater client intimacy and we talk more, less about business and more about what we are seeing and feeling. It has been a great outcome and a lesson to now and then to talk to clients about nothing, about them and life long bonds will form.
AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?
I jumped 6 feet in the air when one of my clients suggested lunch! I won't forget my first client coffee last week, my first family breakfast at a cafe and my first lunch.
There is a long way to go and there may never be a return to what it was. We have State borders shut, grandchildren can't go to their grandparents funeral as the limit is still 10. However, slowly we are coming out of this. Community transmissions of the virus are zero or near zero. No-one knows anymore what the government regulations are as they are moving so fast and every state and local government has different, and often conflicting, rules.
What makes us patient and unites us all is we don't ever want to go through something like this again. So we are happy to wait and to ensure there is no risk of a second wave. What we have learnt is that next time around we have to have better screening at airports and protect ourselves from importing a pandemic. Our memories will be long and any spending on preventative measures for a future pandemic is money well spent.
Next up: We speak with Charles Brewer about his COVID-19 lockdown experience in Canada.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including The Sprout Facility, a personal development and event company helping the migrant community achieve a successful relocation through talks by various industry leaders and experts, touching on nearly all aspects of life in Melbourne.