Never in their worst dreams could New Zealand business leaders have imagined the havoc Covid-19 would wreak. As they try to wrestle chaos into some order, Anne Gibson today talks to Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor.
Briefly describe recent weeks for you, and your business?
It's been very disconcerting because what you've got to do is balance the tension between suddenly stopping with no income and as strongly positioned as Fletcher Building is, once you have no income you've got to get your costs under control and two-thirds of those [costs] are people and trying to find a way to deal with it - how you can keep that relationship, keep enough money in their pockets to meet their obligations. It's quite a difficult balancing act which I think we've managed to get pretty right and the Government subsidy was very important in allowing us to do it.
What time have you been getting up and getting to bed during recent weeks?
Depends on the day but I'm an early starter so I tend to be up about 5am to 5.30am and I run out of puff about 6pm. But in the middle of these crises, you tend to do longer hours. That goes with the territory with these big jobs. I don't look for sympathy.
Are you working from home?
Yes. Home is Parnell in New Zealand.
What has been your worst/most fearful moment/realisation in this crisis so far?
I don't think I can pick one in particularly - the dynamic nature of this means it moves very quickly. If you go back three or four weeks ago, we were having a very strong month in the business and it's moved so quickly. Every week, it's moving quickly. Just staying ahead of it, that dynamic nature has made it very intense.
Your biggest personal challenge so far?
The important thing here, critical for leadership, is you've got to work with a tempo but create an environment that allows you to think and make good decisions. That is really, really important and that's what you see us doing, the way we bought time. We've tried to lay out a 12-week period, so everyone has certainty to get us aligned and give us time to work through. What will soon happen, in some shape or form, is lockdown will end and we'll have to reboot the business and then think about what's the background economic activity? So continuing to keep the business in an environment where the leadership and key teams can think about all that and get it as right as we possibly can.
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Your most valuable lesson so far?
No one can avoid this, it's not unique to Fletcher. We were getting into a pretty good place. I think coming out of Covid-19, we'll be in a pretty good place. I'm glad this didn't occur two years ago. We had so many other issues to deal with. At least we're in a strong position to deal with this.
Have you bought shares in the past fortnight? If so, in what industry/sector?
No, I haven't had time to scratch myself.
Have you bought gold or any other perceived "safe" asset?
No. Honestly, I haven't had time.
Have you made time for exercise?
I do. I have equipment in the house and I start my day with that most days.
What score between 1 and 10 do you give the Government's general performance in handling this crisis so far?
I think they're going pretty well in what they're doing, so I'm not going to put them on a number.
Your prediction for the lockdown duration?
No. The only prediction is that most of the predictions I've made aren't right.