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Mon 23rd Mar 2020 - Propel Opinion: Marston’s Ralph Findlay on running a closed business

Ralph Findlay shares his thoughts on running a business that has temporarily closed

I am writing to share my thoughts on waking this morning as chief executive of a pub and brewing business that has, in the main, been closed down as part of the government’s response to the covid-19 crisis. The experience of running a business with minimal turnover is new to me, as I’m sure it’s new to you. It may be helpful for us to share perspectives on how this feels, what it means to our businesses, and how it will shape our behaviours and thinking. Here are some thoughts from me. Please add to this!

My feelings have been of great sadness. Our business has been brewing beer and running pubs since 1834 – and the lights have gone out in our pubs for the first time ever. The scale of what that means for communities, employees, tenants, customers, tourism and charities is enormous.

The reasons, though, are understood. From the start of this crisis this hasn’t been about profit, it has been about safety, livelihoods, people and communities. It is touching that everyone in this country and our industry is contributing to a massive effort to save lives. We can make that contribution.

In part, we can make it because the government has made it possible for businesses to survive and continue to employ people while dealing with something on a scale that, in other circumstances, would involve collapse on an unimagined scale. It will be hard enough but the commitments the government has given – “we will do whatever it takes” and “if you look after your people, we will look after you” – are commitments the government must not walk away from and they must be as simple to apply as they are to understand as words on a page. And the government will need to do more.

We don’t know how long this is going to last – but how do we approach it?

The here and now: People are concerned over what this means for their jobs and businesses. We must communicate what support is available, from where, and how to get it. We must understand how the government support package to maintain jobs works. For many right now, the route to survival must be made as clear as possible. Communication times ten.

The coming weeks: What pressures will people face in a country that is, for all the right reasons, promoting social isolation? How do we retain a sense of togetherness and belonging without face to face interactions? How will we respond to the mental health challenges that will undoubtedly arise? People who choose to work in pubs do it because they love engagement and interaction. What happens when we take that away?

Behaviour: We all have a “leadership style”. It has been developed through experience – but in a different world to this. How will my colleagues and I adapt our behaviour to work with the new reality around us?

The world around us: We may be shut but we have long promoted the role pubs play in their communities, charities and British culture. Can we still use our people and assets to do that if we are socially isolated?

The future: The natural inclination of leaders is to say “we will come out of this stronger” – but how do we use this time to make sure that happens? We have time and people but how do we use that time for online training and development? How do we use our people to make sure our businesses are ready to reopen when the time comes? How do we harness the creativity of our people when face to face communication is so limited? Can we use the time to rethink how we do things?

I’m fortunate to have a great team around me and to work for a business with an amazingly strong culture and identity. Many aren’t so lucky and many others work for themselves. They will find this even harder. We all hope jobs are protected but costs will be squeezed. The effect of this will ripple out to suppliers, advisers, commentators and many others. It will pass, though, and our pubs will still be here.
Ralph Findlay is chief executive of brewer and pub operator Marston’s


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