“Let’s all suffer a little, so no one has to suffer a great deal.” What a profound quote. These few simple words give such perspective to our current situation – on various levels.
During a Webinar compiled by Wine Thinker(s) Robert Joseph, Tim Atkin and Jono le Feuvre, we discussed the Covid-19 fate of the SA wine industry. Together with a few other SA wine people, we used the platform to debate the challenges, opportunities and possibilities of the immediate future of SA wine trying to overcome a lockdown of exports (one that has thankfully be lifted under the new level 4 regulations!), secondary production and all kinds of local selling. Despite the valuable insights and perspectives of the talk, one idea that stuck with me was the recurring theme of support.
The philosophical opening line belongs to Bernhard Bredell. He was quoted by Jono le Feuvre and throughout the discussion, I saw everything against the backdrop of this idea. Yes, we are all suffering in some way, but perhaps, if we are willing to sacrifice some now, we are preventing a bigger crisis. Of course, this is the whole rational for the early and quite severe lockdown situation in South Africa for which Ramaphosa and government have received international praise.
“We support lockdown, just not breakdown” says Mike Ratcliffe. For business, financial survival is priority. Future perspective and strategy are important, but as Mike says, strategy will not help if you don’t have a business to come back to. To survive, we’ll have to support each other. To survive, we’ll have to support each other – socially and in business.
Ramaphosa announced an impressive support system for businesses ranging from financial contributions to more lenient payment terms. Individuals and companies have contributed billions, but even when it is not on that scale, each of us can consider how to make a difference and who and where we can support. Ken Forrester says it is going to be a long dry summer and not all of us are going to survive. Small businesses and exclusive tourism and hospitality enterprises – how will they make it through? Perhaps there is a lifeline in the support of those around them. Government loans and lenient landlords or postponed payment terms are of course essential, but perhaps there is something practical and on grass roots level that will also offer support. Ken suggested wineries contribute a few bottles of promotional wine to support a local restaurant when they reopen. It’s a small gesture, but it makes a difference. Perhaps we all need to reconsider how we do things, where we do things, what we buy, where we buy. Business might be a tough environment, but hearing about the support of customers and retailers trying to find ways to accommodate suppliers and shops in dire circumstances, is really heart-warming. Sometimes it really takes a crisis to remind us of our humanity.
Support also has a very important social element. I feel responsible for my employees. While ensuring financial survival in challenging times is one concern, I am also concerned about how to motivate my team. Wine is a social product and tourism is a people-orientated industry. Our chefs cook for families who come to our restaurants, our winemakers want friends to enjoy a glass of wine together, the daily job of most of my team is to make people happy. For now, Corona has taken that from most of them. While motivating management from a strategic point is one challenge, encouraging a team who will be socially distant from a work perspective, longer than anyone else, is also a battle. In the fight for health and business, we shouldn’t neglect social support, even if we have to use a digital platforms.
Focusing on survival means supporting each other in whatever way we can think of. Grand gestures are necessary and they have a big impact, but small changes and considerations can make a significant difference to those around us. We need each other to survive – for business and for society.
I know being philosophical can be regarded as a luxury in times like these, but I believe thoughtfulness, even (and especially) in the fight for survival, is what determines success.