Sink or Swim – Why Corporates Should Reconsider Outdated Conventions

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  • Covid rapidly laid bare economic stress points even in perceived well-run businesses.
  • Credit providers and auditors have alleviated a pressure point that afford a lot of good companies breathing room to trade their way out of the situation.
  • As a result of covid, the opportunities that can be unlocked in Africa is huge. 


By Bronwyn Knight

Almost a year ago to the day, I penned some thoughts on the impact of Covid. I wrote how operating on the African continent requires constant revolution and reinvention and how the whole notion of getting used to a “new normal” doesn’t hold water in the fluidity of emerging and frontier markets.

For me, one of the most significant impacts of Covid is how rapidly it laid bare economic stress points even in perceived well-run businesses. For many, it was like getting away with skiing off-piste for years without incident, before the Covid-avalanche wreaked havoc on even the most robust of strategies and structures.

Issues such as cash flow, liquidity, staff, customer, and supplier welfare as well as the ability to work through cycles with disrupted cashflows in certain areas of the business had to be managed immediately, without the benefit of a partial solution to buy time. 

Management teams, providers of capital and regulators alike were forced to come up with workable long-term solutions, especially around cash flow management. Listed property was no exception. Historically, debt terms were matched to lease terms, with renewals taking place every three or five years. This is changing, however, as auditors and debt providers are now increasingly attaching value to the probability of a tenant renewing their lease, in addition to the traditional valuation matrices.

By allowing for much longer-dated facilities, credit providers and auditors have alleviated a pressure point that afford a lot of good companies breathing room to trade their way out of the situation.

To see the challenges in your business and decide on the strategies to address it takes a certain amount of self-honesty. It is imperative to see the business for what it is – warts and all.

Coming off a growth mindset, my team and I had some very candid discussions in this regard. It was hard as we generally have a “glass-half-full” mindset, but it was important to balance optimism with reality and real solutions.

As difficult as this has been, looking back at the past year, I can emphatically say that our thinking has changed. Yes, significant personal and professional stress remain at times. But there is also a maturity around how we approach these challenges.

In some instances, the second lockdown has been worse on staff morale than the first. The importance of access to a support network cannot be overemphasised. With a number of our expat staff travelling and separated from loved ones as a result of lockdown related travel restrictions, there has been a lot of strain on families. This is especially more so in instances of crisis, where there has been death in the family.

Traditionally, it was not within the ambit of employer/employee relations for the business to get involved in these matters. During this pandemic, I believe it is an absolute imperative – not only to ensure the sustainability of the business but because it’s the right thing to do.

As a corporate, there is not only the business side, but an equally important social side as well, where people are valued as human beings and not just for their business performance. This means that as a management team, resources have to be managed until there is line of sight on when borders will be re-opened for travel again. In exceptional cases we have temporarily relocated families to staff members who have made the Middle East their base as there are no flights into or from Mauritius. In other instances, we medevacked a seriously ill staff member to South Africa for specialist medical care not available on the island.

As a result of Covid, the opportunities that can be unlocked in Africa is huge. Capital flows to emerging markets usually accelerate following global recessions and there is a considerable amount of money sitting on the side lines, waiting to be deployed in Africa.

Herein lies the potential of creating a bridge for new pools of developed market money to invest in the continent. Without the global economic crisis, we would not have had this same sense of urgency to replace outdated conventions.

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