Matt Cowley was a man on a mission.
He and his team fielded hundreds of calls from distressed business owners.
There were tears. There was stress. And there was fear for the future.
When Cowley stepped into the role of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce's chief executive just over a year ago, he vowed to help small businesses thrive and survive.
But neither he, nor anyone else, could have foreseen the economic gut punch Covid-19 would bring.
Covid was a big surprise
"Covid was a big surprise. So we had to be prepared," he said.
The chamber became what Cowley called the first responder for the business community.
A small business itself, the chamber was also impacted by lockdown - events were cancelled, training stopped and memberships dropped.
"But we knew our focus was on supporting those businesses that were most impacted," he told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.
"We had a job to do and that clarity of mission was critical for the staff. All of our work needed to be put on hold and we needed to focus on the mission at task.
"That's what got us through the tough period. While everyone was resetting during Covid, we were in delivery mode."
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During level 4 lockdown, Cowley remembers checking in on some businesses owners he had passed while walking along the beach.
"They were just sitting in the sand dunes gazing into the distance. I think it was the shock."
Back in the office, Cowley and his team picked up the phones to stressed business owners almost non-stop.
"They were in tears," he said.
"The team had this incredible workload while having to deal with these emotions. Having to keep morale up for the staff so they could keep going, that was a challenge."
But he said his team's performance during Covid was one of the year's successes.
"There were people on the phone in tears and everyone downed tools essentially and just did what they needed to do.
Post lockdown, Cowley heard of success stories of some businesses in the city's CBD trading back to normal, as well as tourism businesses adapting to a new norm.
But in an ever-changing Covid-19 landscape, as exemplified by the region's recent return to alert level 2, Cowley said the reality was businesses needed to prepare for ongoing flare-ups of the virus in the next few years.
"Both business owners and consumers will have apprehensions about the threat of going into lockdown again, but putting clear plans and strategies in place will help mitigate the anxiety, surprise and financial impact of future restrictions under the alert levels."
Prepared for unprepared
Much like the local businesses the chamber has been helping, Cowley said it was time for the organisation to look at its own strategy: What does life after Covid look like? How will sponsors be impacted? What events should it host? How will its services change?
"We are essentially a small business ourselves, so we live the life a lot of our people who we are there to help," Cowley said.
"I suppose that's one of the challenges with this role. I live the life of a small business owner - trying to, with limited resources, be across everything, manage the business but also being across the business externally so we can champion for the business community."
Be prepared for unprepared - that was how Cowley summed up the year.
"I came into this role knowing that I needed to be prepared because we try to plan as much as we can but we are also heavily reactionary.
"So if things happen in the market and businesses need support, we need to rally the troops."
Stepping into the role, Cowley said the chamber was seen to be the "be-all and end-all" by the business community.
"I have had to really get to the core of what the chamber is really good at."
Now, with new marketing expertise, people are engaging with the chamber more than ever before.
"We have had a massive increase in engagement across all our marketing channels. That is reassuring we are hitting the mark and are providing the right leadership when we need to.
"It purely comes down to the connections. Whether it's through different events or really creative marketing we are able to bring people together. Now we have got that marketing expertise. That is where our core is."
The life of Matt Cowley
Cowley's alarm goes off at 5.30am.
Depending on his mood, he will try to squeeze in a workout before work about 7am.
Once at the office, he will catch up on the news before his team arrives.
His day is juggled between looking after the chamber's members - the membership is about 700 businesspeople - invitations to external events, answering media inquiries, and working on the business itself.
"Every day is so different. You do need to check your calendar to see what you're doing this week."
Home time is about 7pm, give or take, and then its time to switch off.
"I struggle to switch off to be honest. Because even in my downtime there are lots of really cool interesting docos on YouTube and just trying to stay ahead."
But one thing he has learned is to listen to his body.
"You can't push it too hard and sometimes you do need a break otherwise you start making mistakes."
During the day he tries to get outside as much as he can to reset and clear his head so he is fresh for the next task.
"In between meetings it is quite important to go through and process in your head to keep the last meeting at the last meeting."
But Cowley loves his job.
"You have got to love what you do and for many small businesses, I think that's what keeps them going.
"Aligning with what your purpose and your values are versus getting paid to do it. That is the crossover that you need. I am lucky the job uses my skill sets and aligns with my values."
When he is not at the office, Cowley is usually on the golf course.
"Most weekends involve golf, at least one round. They say it is the most relaxing sport especially when you are as good as I am not, so not very good," he jokes.
Quick fire questions with Cowley
If you were to learn a language what would it be?
If the borders opened tomorrow, where would be the first place you would go?
Probably Southeast Asia. There are still lots of places I haven't done there.
Where is your favourite local eatery?
On weekends we go to the Dry Dock or The General.
What are you ordering?
Bacon and eggs.
How many suit jackets do you have in your wardrobe?
What is your favourite piece of clothing?
I have a sharp eye for random detail. I grew up with four sisters and I've learned to notice the small things like if someone is wearing new shoes or if they have got a new haircut.
Would you ever return to being a city councillor?
No. As long as the system is set up the way it is. There needs to be government reform. There are people with aspirations but the tools just aren't there. Local government has all this pressure to get stuff done but the tools they have got available are pretty basic.