Rob Fyfe, who has been catapulted into the national coronavirus command centre, wants business to prepare for living in a "Covid-19 world" for the foreseeable future.
As New Zealand prepares to come out of alert level 4, Fyfe is sounding a caution.
The 58-year-old former chief executive of Air New Zealand was shoulder-tapped by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to be a liaison between her Government and the private sector.
He's been in the Wellington bunker for nearly four weeks now and says New Zealand businesses need to prepare for a long haul.
Fyfe broke for an hour this week to talk to the Weekend Herald.
As he sees it, assuming Covid-19 will not involve a permanent change to the way business has to operate, is at best a "strategy of hope".
"We hope we can find a vaccine. We hope it'll come along in 12 to 18 months. We can hope that it will be effective and the virus doesn't mutate and get itself around the vaccine and so on," he says.
"We don't know if any of those things will happen. So to me, from the perspective of a businessman, I'm always planning for the worst-case scenario. Anything from there is upside, right?"
Fyfe has plenty of notches on his belt from dealing with crises in his own business career.
He was blooded by Sir Ralph Norris at Air New Zealand as the pair dealt with the crucial need to rebuild the national airline after the 2001 bailout. Fyfe went on to succeed his boss.
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As the lockdown has progressed, he's found more of his time and energy is being spent engaging with business. Starting to turn minds to asking what the future looks like in a Covid-19 world and critical questions such as "how do I adapt my business, my thinking, to have a sustainable business in that world?"
"Some businesses look at it and say, 'I don't have a sustainable future'. Some will think, 'Okay, I need to adapt and adjust. My productivity may go down but I can see a pathway forward'.
"Then there are businesses that are already seeing opportunities and will potentially thrive and grow as a function of what the Covid-19 world looks like.
Fyfe suggests New Zealand should look at the big global trends.
"Is there a way that our credentials that we've built of being clean and green, if that was reinforced with being a country that has eliminated Covid-19 for all intents and purposes, what does that do to the value of our agricultural and horticultural products?
"What does that do to our ability to leverage clean, green technologies, clean industries and so on?
"Does that drive you to say maybe we should accept a level of horticultural and agricultural intensification because our products are going to be in such demand?"
He says New Zealand's ultra-fast broadband network may also enable business to mobilise our economy more as a "distributed economy". "You know, we have all learned and become quite adept at working remotely."
He recommends industry clusters come together and develop solutions rather than have policy people trying to define business policies.
"We'll never at a government level understand the nuances of the clusters because they won't all sit in a nice mutually-exclusive jigsaw puzzle."
But the most pressing issue is for businesses to be prepared to keep their staff and customers safe as they return to work.
"I'm talking to businesses all the time who are, in some ways, almost ahead of government in terms of thinking how can they can operate their businesses and maintain social distancing, make sure they have early detection systems for anyone that may be exhibiting the most mild of symptoms."
"I personally think whenever we get out of lockdown, it will be far faster than it would have been if we'd waited another week or two to go in. I think we're seeing evidence of that in other countries in Europe and so on. So full marks to the Government for being bold."
Fyfe has been energised by the willingness of New Zealand businesses to step up and help the national effort.
"I've press-ganged a whole lot of people to assist," he says. "I've been amazed at the level of goodwill.
"When we started off, there were a bunch of people that found that they had a similar view about needing to move fast, be bold and get in front of this."
They included some of the big entrepreneurial names of Kiwi business: Trade Me founder Sam Morgan, Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall, Zuru Toys' Nick and Anna Mowbray, Craig Heatley and Graeme Hart.
After urgent public warnings that the Government needed to move fast, they were invited to talk with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
The telephone call focused on the entrepreneurs' willingness to step up and source much-needed vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.
But it also highlighted the fact there was no easy way for them to interface with the Government, and to enable the Government to leverage their capacity, financial resources and international connections.
Fyfe's colleagues nominated him to co-ordinate the call. "I think because I'd done the most talking, one of the questions was, 'Who's going to play this role?'. My name was the one that first popped on to people's lips.
"I was actually in Greymouth at Pike River at the time. So I jumped on the plane early next morning, got up to Auckland, packed a bag and then came down here [Wellington], and I've working every day since for the last, whatever it is now — 24, 25 days."
Fyfe has since expanded the network.
"We've progressively press-ganged people to help," he says.
Former Fonterra executive Alex Turnbull is helping co-ordinate the private sector to source ventilators, breathing support devices and thermal cameras to support the government effort. Movac founder Mark Stuart is working to source the swabs and reagents vital to virus testing.
"We're just looking to tap into supply lines that wouldn't necessarily be in the line of sight of the Government and Ministry of Health," Fyfe says.
There is also a big contingent working in testing, including Morgan and Ali Grigg, formerly chief operating office at Xero, and ClearPoint's Bain Hollister in the tech space.
He's also regularly talking to scientists Sir David Skegg and Sir Peter Gluckman.
"Sam has basically press-ganged David Kirk to do a lot of work around food supply," he adds. The Mowbrays have developed a "digital food bag initiative" to allow the public to contribute money to fund community food parcels.
Others in Fyfe's inner network include ASB chief executive Vittoria Shortt and Dr Peter Bramley, chief executive of Nelson Marlborough Health.
Fyfe is also interfacing with a similar team in Australia to "share learnings across the ditch".
Then there are the literally thousands of emails, text messages and also offers of help through LinkedIn.
"I'm miles behind trying to keep up with everyone and there are some really valuable offers that have come in."
He cites an Auckland business that can potentially produce 2 million N95 masks a month, which may be able to be scaled up.
"It's a massive amount of goodwill. The challenge is to make sure we're harnessing the things that can make a real difference and we're not cluttering the system up with those things that are good ideas but take a lot of work to be able to leverage them into a form where they will make a contribution at scale."
Fyfe is working alongside former Police Commissioner Mike Bush at the operation command centre.
"I've got a top team working directly with me. Brendan Boyle who's ex-CEO of [the Ministry of Social Development] and Leon Grice helping me navigate government, which isn't my skill set.
"People are getting used to the fact that I don't play by the rules. Having said that, and I say this very genuinely, you know, there's some people within government that have mobilised in a way that is quite foreign to government," he says.
"They're doing a really good job and we're learning how to marry together the best of the private sector and the best of the government and there's genuine goodwill from both sides respecting the strengths and weakness of both dimensions."
There is now a significant logistics capability built alongside Fyfe to support not just the drive to source PPE, but also to facilitate some knotty outbound trade issues to get product into markets.
"Despite all of that, it's still 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
"I'm doing it for free. I'm not being paid. I've never worked so hard for nothing.''
It took him seven to 10 days to learn the lie of the land and find his way around the Wellington bureaucracy. The big wins came in the second week when $70 million of PPE was successfully ordered. Making sure people in need were being fed properly was another plus.
"I kind of move at speed and I'm comfortable taking risk. I'm comfortable with kind of 60 per cent of the information I need and using my intuition on the 40 per cent I don't understand. It's not how government works, nor should it be how government works.
"I've had to temper some of my youthful exuberance at times. So that's not necessarily been a down buzz, but you know, you have to learn how to adapt your style to be effective in the environment that you're in and that took a bit of self-awareness, I guess."
Adversity often draws people together and adds to the unity of purpose, he observes. He doesn't want this to sound like a cliche, he says, "but this actually makes me feel bloody good about being a New Zealander".
"It feels like we've got behind this as a country with very few exceptions. There's some that think we've kind of over-reacted, but even though that might be their personal view, they're still playing the role that they need to play as one of the team. And so I find that super encouraging.
"I was on the phone to Don Braid from Mainfreight on day two because we needed a hand to figure out some of the logistical issues. The same with Air New Zealand.
"Maybe it's like that everywhere else, but anyway, I've been kind of pretty proud to be in a country and amongst a bunch of businesspeople that wouldn't have given a second question — 'just tell me what you need of me and I'll do it'."
Since leaving resigning as CEO of Air New Zealand in December 2012, Fyfe has built a governance career, albeit with an entrepreneurial skew. He was executive chair of Icebreaker and is a director of Air Canada, Michael Hill International and Antarctica New Zealand.
In addition, he is a strategic adviser to the Minister responsible for the Pike River Mine re-entry.
Fyfe says Air Canada has 16,500 of its 35,000-strong workforce stood down from work.
"It's pretty severe. Michael Hill, which I'm on the board of, we've got our whole network of stores shut, which obviously is a severe impact on that business and I'm involved on the board of a whole load of small businesses.
"Most of those businesses, actually, are coping surprisingly well. The Government support packages have been really, really helpful. They're burning a bit of cash. But I would say they're in really, really good spirits and they're all kind of young, dynamic people — their brains are going a hundred miles an hour."
Fyfe cites being isolated from his family as the low point.
"It was my wife's birthday a couple of days ago and one of my daughters had a birthday. But I'm conscious I'm not the only person that's in that situation.
"Sara at home with the girls, trying to stave off cabin fever, is probably a bigger challenge in the lockdown."
Fyfe is sleeping in a friend's Wellington apartment ("I am truly zero cost to the Government"). He gets up at 6am and is normally at his desk by 7am-7.30am.
"It's about a 25-minute walk, which is my daily exercise. I get there and I'm just like non-stop on meetings on the phone, and so on, and trying to deal with all the communication traffic throughout the day. The role is open-ended.
"I get fed at my desk with lunch and dinner. I normally walk home around 8pm. I use the walk to ring my wife, and that's our kind of daily chat. I get home and I'm normally trying to clear the backlog of email and correspondence to get to bed by midnight. I guess my average is closer to 1am.
"Then it is push repeat, and that's pretty much it."