Focus on core expertise more important than ever

By Stefan Sander, Managing Director, Two Oceans Air Conditioning

COVID-19 has practically redefined ‘unforeseen’ challenges. With the world blind-sided by the arrival of the pandemic, global markets have been shaken and so has the already limping construction sector in South Africa.

The Afrimat Construction Index, a composite index of the level of activity within the building and construction sectors in South Africa, plunged to a record low in the first quarter of 2020, before the lockdown regulations caused dramatic declines in activity. The index fell 12% year on year, with employment the only sub indice to show an increase, of 0.3%. The biggest decline was in the value of new building plans passed, which fell 25.9%.

The index has fallen below 100 basis points for the first time and uses the first quarter of 2011 as a basis for comparison. It is widely expected that the numbers for the second quarter of the year will be worse than the alarming decline recorded in the first quarter. However, the SA governments focus on infrastructure development in strategy documents outlining plans to lift the local economy may in months ahead drive growth in activity for the sector.

This challenging environment not only required changes to business operations it also demanded that industry participants, including our company, Two Oceans Air Conditioning (TOAC), review strategies and adapt to the changed reality.

We now need to exploit alternative routes, and by setting off on new paths, new opportunities must be identified.

What is very clear is the challenges will not be overcome by going it alone. We need each other, as individuals but also as corporate entities. When we find the courage to admit that we are struggling, ask for help or accept help when it is offered, we become stronger. The courage to go first and then be there when others follow is what leadership is all about and this is exactly what our country desperately requires. Leaders are to step up and to pave the way forward, into what will naturally be the unknown.

While the majority strive to survive, a strategy for any organization should be to think about how seemingly unrelated developments may impact one other. Study the interconnections across industries and imagine how changes in one domain can disrupt operations in another one. The demand for commercial real estate may diminish, but the requirement for critical facilities like data centres and hospitals, or facilities supporting businesses that gave grown operations during lockdowns, for instance, warehousing for e-commerce enterprises, will increase.

The expected shift in where growth in construction can be expected means that specialized skills are now required more than ever.

Although we are not immune to the current state of the construction industry, we are more committed than ever to focus on our core competence, unique skills, and deep expertise. For us, the key to success was developing a specialization that allowed us to establish ourselves in a dynamic industry. The message is clear: Participants in the construction sector must focus on maintaining and constantly evolving their expertise while embracing a new approach, a new philosophy, and a new way of thinking. Beyond new thinking, we have also invested in the well-being of our teams and adapted our operations to the new realities and put several measures in place to protect their health.

The one certainty about the future is that it will be uncertain, it is how we embrace it and what solutions we find to overcome the adversity and hardship that will secure our future success.