Coronavirus Comment From Editorial Director Rupert Bates

Posted 22 April 2020 by Rupert Bates

A mention for a handful of industry leaders who have stood up to be counted in this time of crisis...

Let’s not talk of housebuilding heroes. The heroes are behind the logo on the front cover of this magazine. But a dip into stories that have crossed my desk compels me to mention a handful of industry leaders who, in very different ways, have stood up to be counted in this time of crisis.

First up Steve Morgan. Yes we knew he was an industry legend at the helm of the great business he created from scratch, Redrow. We knew he was a philanthropist too, using his personal wealth to help others. But what the Steve Morgan Foundation has done since coronavirus struck is quite extraordinary.

Steve MorganSteve Morgan

I am wary of lambasting individuals for appearing not to contribute to a cause when they have the means to, for we don’t know what they do privately. But as Virgin boss Richard Branson called for an airline bailout and Tim Martin gave me another good reason not to ever drink at a Wetherspoon pub, the Steve Morgan Foundation announced an emergency hardship fund of £1m a week for an initial 12 weeks “open to charities across our regions to help with the costs of additional emergency services to help people affected by the virus and charities experiencing a loss of fundraising revenue to stay in business”.

Morgan said: “I don’t like the limelight, but now is not the time to hide in the shadows.”

One of the charities supported by Morgan was The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, set up after the deaths of 12-year-old Tim and three-year-old Johnathan in the IRA bombing in Warrington in 1993.

It helps more than 10,000 children a year, many of whom have been affected by terrorism, including the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. A cash crisis made more acute by COVID-19 meant the Peace Foundation was on the brink of closure until the Steve Morgan Foundation stepped in.

While many companies – as our rather different news pages this month testify – have mobilised to help wherever they can, at a business level we have seen leaders step up to the plate, and goodness do we need leaders to lead right now.

Spencer McCarthySpencer McCarthy

When the average age of your apartment owners is 79, you have to act decisively and swiftly, which is exactly what Spencer McCarthy, chairman of Churchill Retirement Living, did.

The specialist developer immediately had to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of the elderly residents in its retirement developments the length and breadth of the country. That meant closing down visits to its lodges, apart from access for key care workers and bringing in strict hygiene practices across all sites.

Churchill set up a taskforce to respond to the crisis – its own COBRA committee – communicating daily with key representatives from all departments such as HR, sales and marketing, finance, IT, operations and its management services company, Millstream.

Andrew BrooksAndrew Brooks

Andrew Brooks, managing director of Bewley Homes, had been planning a strategy away day in March to prepare for the company’s 30th anniversary next year.

“Instead I was rolling out part of the company’s disaster recovery plan to keep the company’s wheels turning as the construction industry faced lockdown.”

He made a priority of keeping up-to-date with payments to suppliers, with “cash the lifeblood at a time when they will be coming up against huge financial issues”.

Bewley set up remote working operations, including daily video conference calls, remaining very much open for business, despite having to place three-quarters of its workforce on furlough, but making up the difference so staff remained on full pay.

“There’s enough uncertainty for people out there at the moment, so we didn’t want our valuable staff to be worrying about their financials. We know from the increased traffic to our site that people are still looking for new homes and they now have a lot more time to do it,” said Brooks.

“Being managing director can be a lonely place at times, especially now. The continued communication between my teams around the country gives you reassurance you are making the right decisions.”

Simon KidneySimon Kidney

Robinson Manufacturing Limited, a 2020 WhatHouse? Awards sponsor, specialises in high quality timber engineered roof trusses and floor joists for housebuilders. CEO Simon Kidney has turned himself into a vlogger. Positive engagement with isolated colleagues, but another example of exemplary leadership. Every day he updates staff

via video messages. There is the urgent business to attend to, but Kidney is also acutely aware of looking after his team. Survey forms are circulated for feedback, exercise tips to stay fit and even inviting colleagues’ kids to submit drawings for fun family interaction.

“The wellbeing of our staff remains paramount and takes precedence over manufacturing and delivering product,” said Kidney.

Tough short-term business decisions may be needed to survive the crisis, but poor treatment of employees leads to long-term reputational damage.

As a leader from another industry, Daksh Gupta, chief executive of Marshall Motor Holdings, said: “If you do the right thing, right things will happen.”


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You can read the April 2020 editon of Show House magazine online from Friday 20 April.

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