Casualty and redemption in the COVID war

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2020 - 12:00am

A heavy weight has been lifted from the shoulders of my good friend, Pierre. Just three months ago, the father of six was at a low point in his life. His business was failing and he had spiraled into depression.

See, Pierre is a Filipino of French decent who has two passions in life – cars and coffee. He has been an auto enthusiast for as long as I can remember. Back in the eighties, he was an expert in auto modification and dabbled in auto racing. At home, he would roast his own coffee beans which he imported from all over the world.

He is a doting father and a devoted husband. He is a hard worker too. Sometime in the nineties, he acquired the dealership for a Japanese brand of cars. He was successful from the beginning and in fact, had the distinction of being among the top dealers of the brand. He also had one of the biggest showrooms in the country, built on leased property.

Although Pierre loved his work, he never enjoyed the daily grind of running a business. Dealing with nitty gritty issues relating to accounting, audit and government compliances caused him anxiety. He was the type who could spend the whole day discussing business strategies with his board of directors or chatting with customers about the different car models. But he could not bear spending more than two hours dealing with office work. Paperwork went against his nature and it caused him stress. Still, the necessities of life forced him to make it work.

Pierre’s balancing act was thrown in turmoil last March. With the ECQ raised, the steady flow of clients dried up as people put non-essential spending on hold. Meanwhile, rental payments for his showroom compounded, as did payroll and other overhead expenses. The business only had enough funds to last several months. This put him in a conundrum. He could either tap his savings to inject more money into the business or call it quits. It was a loosing choice either way. With capital infusion, he puts at risks the nest egg he had saved for his retirement. With closure, he looses his life’s work and source of income.

With COVID cases still rising and no light at the end of the tunnel, Pierre made the hard decision to close his dealership last May. He sold his remaining inventory of cars at huge losses. It didn’t matter… His business was closing for good. It was another casualty of this COVID war.

Pierre’s case is just one of thousands of business casualties. Entrepreneurs all over the country are going through the same experience. Each must deal with the pain of business loss and the anguish that goes with it.

But there is a silver lining to the story. Since early 2019, Pierre had been toying with the idea of distributing premium Italian coffee in the Philippines. Although the demands of his auto dealership didn’t allow him to do so, he would still import small amounts of coffee for his own consumption. And because he was always eager to share his passion, he would share his stash with friends and anyone who would ask.

Last June, he decided to pursue his coffee business as an alternative source of income. He began selling pre-ground beans through a simple Viber group. To his surprise, the friends who had tried the product before ordered by the crate-full. Friends of friends ordered too. As more people tried the product, more orders came flooding in. The coffee is that good. To meet demand, he had to order a second shipment of stocks from Italy which now fills his home basement. The business has taken off in a big way and his products are now available online through www.danesiph.com.

Pierre’s finances have stabilized. But more importantly, he is happier today than he ever was before. Working in a passion-driven business with no anxiety has made all the difference in his life.

There are lessons to be learned in Pierre’s story. First, we must accept that the pandemic is here to stay and will drive even more businesses to bankruptcy, not to mention cause millions (literally) to lose their jobs.  Second, that beneath the pain of lost livelihoods lies the opportunity to reinvent, to change, to pivot and to evolve into something better. The pandemic can be the tipping point we need to force us to make the great leap towards positive change.

Now out of the woods, I asked Pierre what advise he could give to people displaced by the pandemic. This is what he said:

“The pandemic has wrought havoc on businesses all around the world. We can blame the virus or our government but it will not change the situation. It is what it is and we must deal with it. As business owners, it’s up to us to figure out how to survive. But we should also accept that some businesses are beyond saving. For them, the next logical move is to pivot. Change is hard, but change is necessary for a better life.

“When reinventing yourself, do not make the mistake of getting into a business solely for the money. Money distracts you from the pursuit of happiness. Rather, get involved in a business that feeds your passion. If you do this, the money always follows. Once you have identified your passion, figure out how to bring value to the buying public. There are always ways to monetize it. “Leverage on your experience, your skills and assets to deliver good value and to serve your customers better.

All businesses are different but those who can reimagine their value proposition, their business processes and are fleetfooted (agile) will have the best chance of developing a business that is enjoyable, fulfilling and profitable.”

Pierre is right. This pandemic is far from over and there will be thousands more who will lose their livelihoods. But let us keep in mind that along with tragedy comes opportunity.

Although business owners will incur massive financial losses, the pandemic can never take away their entrepreneurial spirit. An entrepreneur’s creativity, resourcefulness, resolve and work ethic are where his real wealth lie. These are the traits that will allow him to seize new opportunities in the post-COVID world.

We are responsible for the choices we make. We can either be paralyzed by the situation or keep moving forward. Let us make this curse of COVID be the blessing that causes us to pivot to a better life.

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