What effect will Covid-19 have on our individual businesses?

17th April 2020.

So, where to start with a ‘few words on business in these troubled times’.

That was the brief from The Club Chair.

Unusually for me, I have found the compilation of these ‘few words’ quite vexing and on analysing that, I think it’s because my entire working life has been built around problem solving, the actual’ doing it’ – rather than telling others how to… or as someone humorously once said: ‘those that do – do, those that don’t… teach’ (with absolutely no malice against teachers, by the way, – that’s a job I could never do).

I can’t even tell you a story of how we built a business up to be world leading with a multimillion-pound turnover. We did once try by the way, but all that happened was that the clients got a slower and poorer service, we had to become managers  (a role for which we had no training or much aptitude as it happens and frankly didn’t enjoy), and we took home less money.

So, 25 years ago, our little partnership, Kenney Moore, was two men and a secretary. Today it’s the same two men and different secretary, but hey – it works. So, I suppose ‘survival’ would be one reason that I’m qualified to put keyboard to email. And as I do this, I remember that 25 years ago, business was done by phone calls, faxes, dictation, and lots and lots of stamps and letters. It was slow by modern standards, yet I have a feeling it was a noticeably more honourable place to do business.

Back then an agreement was exactly that: your clients gave their word, and that word meant something. To me it still does, and I wouldn’t have that any other way. But with technical ‘progress’ we have certainly seen a seismic shift in some clients moral compass direction, and disappointingly we see deals falling by the wayside with 11th hour ‘chips’, smart arse lawyers making capital out of title warts so irrelevant that deals are lost due to a total intransigence to see the other point of view. Property business is rarely just black or white Sometimes you have to ‘take a view’ a seemingly incomprehensible approach in an increasingly binary digital world.

But if we think on, one thing hasn’t changed – business is still just about people. And in a transaction world, those ‘people’ on the other side of the deal are as important as those directly paying our bills.

I have dozens of testimonials from tenants and purchasers who weren’t even my clients but who have taken the time to thank me for the help and guidance as they traversed the uncharted transaction waters to get to a completed deal. Or, as a former boss of mine once said to me, ‘be nice to people on the way up- you’ll meet them again on the way down!

You can’t be in business without racking up stories and anecdotes, and as we read about the parlous state of business across every sector bar food/ transport/and key workers, I’m reminded of one particular client. Let’s just say he had a well-deserved reputation for being ‘difficult’, and he’d run out of agents who would act for him. Not a typical job for me, however what made this instruction very different was that he knew he was dying, and wanted to set his affairs in order with a capable pair of hands to look after his widow’s investment affairs. The jobs were tricky, but we got there, eventually.

But what I particularly remember was his cynical take on ‘appearances’. Part of his estate was a modern Hall, he and his wife had built, and which was for sale with a well-known residential agent. He recounted the number of times that very expensive cars had arrived with a series of high-profile drivers who ‘hadn’t got a pot to piss in’. What he meant by that of course was that the cars weren’t owned, but leased, and these individuals had lifestyles so highly geared that they simply didn’t have the ready funds to buy a large property outright, and certainly not within the clients ever shortening timescales.

What makes this little story still relevant today is that the clearing banks have shut off funding for property across most sectors. Understandably so, because right now the physical aspects of transacting property involve inspections and viewings and surveys, and with social distancing, these are all prohibited, so the wheels of our business have slowed to almost a complete stop.

Yet what happens to those with more highly geared lifestyles/all of those expensive leased and financed cars/those with high borrowings? For sure, these contracts are all being renegotiated, but ultimately this lost money will have to be paid back.

So, in looking to the future we will all be thinking:

  • What effect will Covid19 have on our individual businesses?
  • How long will it take us all to recover?
  • WILL we ever recover?
  • What part will the banks play in this?
  • Where will property values be?
  • What will our High Streets look like?
  • What does this do to the plans for Regenerating an already battered Chester City Centre?
  • How do we retain the sense of Community that lock-down is reminded we are capable of?
  • How do we work together to rebuild Chester as a world-famous attraction?
  • Topically: What role do Business clubs and societies and organisations have in this?

What is clear to me, is that we will need to pull together as a team, to start putting others ahead of ourselves, listening to those with interesting and challenging views and opinions, and acting in a more collaborative manner – putting people rather than appearances first.

And we will need to DO, not just talk about it.

Leaders are going to be called upon to lead.

Business is going to be very tough, and probably changed forever, and I think that we will all take a lot less for granted.

Easter is of course a time for reflection, regardless of your individual faith, and as I conclude this rambling, there are no church bells to summon the faithful to worship, so a time for planning, and introspection, but wouldn’t it be great if those moral compasses got re-set to True North again?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could go back to a world where a handshake on a deal really meant something?

Thanks for reading, stay safe.

Tim Kenney
[email protected]

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