Sowing confidence through the crisis
One of the things we learned at ANZ through the early parts of the crisis was the importance of staying flexible, because many things were changing quickly and we needed the capacity to act with speed.
Preparation was critical. Not trying to predict the future but rather always being in a state of readiness and flexibility. Like many of our customers, we understood the environment was going to get quite challenging, but we knew the companies which came through the ordeal would be the ones which could adapt, with an eye on the long term.
That was the attitude adopted by Robert and Justin Ruwoldt, ANZ customers and growers at Glenvale Farms in Victoria’s Wimmera region. I spoke to the Ruwoldt’s recently ahead of ANZ’s virtual grains event, which you can listen to on the podcast below.
What struck me during the conversation was while we run very different businesses, there are some key similarities between Glenvale and ANZ, particularly around what was required in the early parts of the pandemic.
One was the importance of preparation – or as Ruwoldt senior put it, being “proactive, rather than reactive”.
Robert Ruwoldt said Glenvale recognised early the importance of being “ahead of the game” on the pandemic. The COVID crisis unfurled at a critical time for the business, with annual sowing activity in the formative stages, forcing Glenvale to lock itself down for the duration of the process – even before official lockdown discussions began.
“We just had to have discussions with the staff and say, ‘we don't know where this is going to go’,” Robert Ruwoldt said. “None of us want it but we all need to stop going to the pubs and clubs.”
“And we need to isolate ourselves here at the farm for the seeding process. If we do that, then we don't have to worry about the hygiene so much in all of the equipment and stuff.”
Justin Ruwoldt said one of the biggest challenges at this time was the logistics, forcing the group to plan its regular seasonal processes months ahead due to the lockdown.
“End users and grain deliveries, chemical supply, all things [normally] implemented in April, were probably done back in February when things started to get a bit of momentum,” he said.
Robert Ruwoldt said ultimately the seeding process went off without any issues.
“Everyone just worked, got on fine,” he said. “Minimising the risk exposure was one of the big things to get everyone to understand.”
“It was a bit hard for staff. Some of them thought we were being a bit harsh. But then reality set in.”
The grains sector plays a critical role in the Australian economy and what is good for the economy is good for ANZ. Demand is currently strong in the industry and we think that is going to continue.
As said before, the game is essentially the same as banking – that search for constant improvement and, as Robert Ruwoldt says, maintaining confidence during hard times.
“You’ve got to run with the positives,” he said. “And if there's a negative, you’ve got to work a way around it."
“It's been a long journey, but we've just had to overcome little hurdles along the way. And you just do it. You don't go backwards. You work a way around the issue and you move on.”
For business, in times of crisis, all you can do is continue to adapt and innovate - to use Robert Ruwoldt’s words - around problems. Make the best of the situation you're given.
Those teams and businesses that have the ability in the long term to adapt are the ones that will survive and ultimately do well.
Shayne Elliott is chief executive officer at ANZ
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