In their words: Q and As

TAMLYN STEWART
Last updated 11:11 11/12/2012
Daniel Tobin

Tom Thomson, managing director of Elastomer Products, answers questions about doing business in post-quake Christchurch.

John Walley - NZMEA

Tom Hooper - CDC

Rick Hellings - Smiths City

Peter Townsend - Chamber of Commerce

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JOHN WALLEY

Chief executive of the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

The things we see are that some of the stress is working itself out now, but still for manufacturers, because most of their customers were outside Canterbury, not a lot has changed that much. We have moved into a new stage now when it is still difficult getting through the day to day stuff but customers now are less likely to make allowances for that two years on.

However companies are still working out of portacoms and damaged buildings and offices.

The strongest comment came to me was: ''earthquake or not, if we're not shipping in a week we won't have a business.''

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

They have taught us the necessity for disaster recovery plans. We thought what we had would do the job but they did not. It showed each business that its plan needed to include plans to communicate with its staff, and to have access to supplies and materials and machinery.

I think people have discovered a resilience they didn"t know they had. And of course the perennial lesson that looking after customers and looking after staff was vital to any business.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

It is dealing with the additional stuff that is my factory is broken, my office is broken but I still have to operate today and I still need to build opportunities and business for the future.

Businesses will have to deal with the extra work and time spent on repairing or even relocating their businesses but there is also a lot of opportunity ahead.

TOM THOMSON

Managing director Elastomer Products

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

It has changed dramatically and forever and we now really do need to see the construction start to take place. I think with the impoverished circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment with props and containers and portaloos it's made it hard to do business.

We have made a conscious decision to just get back out there and re-engage because being so inwardly focused after the quake meant we had stepped away from our customers.

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

The first lesson we all learned was we really had to focus on our people. Customers sure, but our people probably first because without your staff you don't have a business. We had people here who had only the clothes they stood up in and no access to money for a period of time.

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You have to be very aware of your infrastructure such as IT. We ran for many months on copper and I don't ever want to go back there again. So resiliency, looking after your staff and making sure your customers understand what's going on are critical.

And you need to really understand your insurance policies. I think everybody is now looking really hard at the legal aspects of their business. And you need to be very aware of what your backup plans are for infrastructure failure such as IT.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

For manufacturing I think it will be labour loss as people are attracted away to the rebuild. It is just about head down, getting back into business and staying engaged with your customers as much as you can and in our case getting out into the world market.

PETER TOWNSEND

Chief executive Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

We've seen some massive changes. About 30 per cent of our total business community was dislocated. Almost all of them have survived, a miracle. Businesses have reinvented themselves, relocated, and we've seen them change the way they do business. As we go into this massive rebuild you're going to see enormous opportunities for businesses, not just in construction, but in areas that support construction, recreation and redevelopment of parts of our city.

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

It's taught them a lot about the need to be resilient and to have a backup plan including IT you could access from outside your office, an alternative office location and also being able to connect with staff immediately post-earthquake and further on.

Work practices are changing andmore flexible and working from home is more normal, so quite big shifts.

A critical lesson was the need to understand your insurance cover and get a clear fix on the risks you are exposed to.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

The big one is how we're going to cope with the enormous scale of the rebuild. The opportunities are huge and businesses are going to have to learn how to grow. They're going to have to organise their business model so they don't run out of cash as they expand.

They also need to recognise we're going somewhere new. We're finding businesses who have adjusted are doing very well because they're operating as a new business in a new environment but those who have not are struggling. To create scale to really engage in repairing this community collaborative models will be very important and that is going to be a significant challenge.

RICK HELLINGS

Managing director of Smiths City Group

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

The first thing you notice is the change in where people live and where people are doing business. And certainly the fact that in the central city - there's nowhere near as many people working there now, that makes a big difference. So our Colombo St store, for example, is much stronger at weekends than it was, but during the week it doesn't have the same foot traffic going through as before. The regulatory environment is changing, building codes particularly are changing and the insurance issues associated with building and building codes have been well documented.

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

Never be complacent. Don't ever think that tomorrow is going to be the same as today because one day it won't be. And our day came in February. All you can do really is make sure that you've managed your risk so that if something does go wrong then you're ready for it. Get your insurance right. Keep people informed. Be open and honest and engage and tell them what the issue is, don't play it down but also be confident that you're going to get through it.

Be prepared. If you're prepared then you can react to whatever happens and you can react positively to geographic changes.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

For businesses in Christchurch that are solely based in Christchurch it's all about getting your timing right in terms of how you invest, relative to the redevelopment of the city.

At the same time as you're watching your customer, you have to watch your staff as well. There's a lot of stress associated with insurance issues, associated with people having to move.

FRANK OWEN

Chief executive of Tait Communications

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

The trauma of the earthquakes has brought people and businesses closer together. We've all lived through an unprecedented period and that's given us a new, shared perspective on what's really important: people, families and community.

This has also been reflected in the Christchurch blueprint plans, as well as our own plans for an expanded collaborative Tait campus in Christchurch.

We were lucky that our own business was largely unaffected by the earthquakes, and while the business environment remains challenging, we are continuing to grow and secure opportunities.

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

You can never be too prepared. A few weeks out from the quakes we took time out to review how we'd reacted as a business and what processes we needed to change or, in some cases, introduce. We now have self-contained sewerage facilities on-site and multiple options for power generation. We also have our own accelerometer so we can know immediately if any seismic activity has compromised the buildings. Across the organisation, a business continuity team regularly tests and reviews the plans we've put in place.

Prepare for the worst-case scenario and make sure everyone knows their role in your business continuity plan.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

Obviously, there's a huge rebuild to be done, particularly as far as confidence is concerned. Uncertainty about the region's viability as a place to do business is going to hamper recruitment and growth so we must take any and every opportunity to champion what's going on here and showcase the opportunities that exist. Despite the challenges, it's important companies such as ours continue to invest in innovation and research and development, which ultimately drives business success.

TOM HOOPER

Chief executive of the Canterbury Development Corporation

How is the business landscape changing as a result of the earthquakes?

The work force will change significantly as part of the rebuild. There's going to be a lot of people coming to Christchurch, especially young people to be part of the recovery opportunity and we have to be thinking about how do we get them to come and how do we keep them here long term.

What lessons have the earthquakes taught businesses?

Thinking outside the square and finding new ways to do things, for example businesses that lost their premises ... setting up online offerings.

The other key learning would be the benefit of collaboration. So you look at some of the initiatives that have happened really quickly around the city like Recover Canterbury which was a joint venture between CDC and the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce and part-funded by Government, and the Westpac Hub, and the Epic hub ... They're all really good examples of bits of the community getting together and doing something. Keeping that and taking it forward will be a good lesson. Have disaster recovery planning, have your staff prepared to know what to do... have the right insurance in place, have a plan B for your data and your data storage.

What challenges do Canterbury businesses face in the next five years?

We know we're going to have a significant boom, we know there's going to be $30 million come into the economy or thereabouts and a real opportunity. What we need to do is make sure we don't have a bust at the end of that. So that money needs to go into the key sectors of the economy that can drive the long-term economy, help keep the innovation going so that when the reconstruction finishes Christchurch is a great place to live.

- The Press

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