The value of mentors in times of crisis


Leigh Rust, co-founder and director of Australian manufacturing business Safetyline Jalousie Louvre Windows, on the value of mentors in crisis

Leigh Rust, co-founder and director of Australian manufacturing business Safetyline Jalousie Louvre Windows

Expert

By Leigh Rust

Leigh Rust talks us through why mentors are of such value in times of crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic that we’re facing. 


The word unprecedented is used far too liberally these days but, right now, the economy is facing unprecedented times.

There is no guidebook to navigate the current global crisis that is shapeshifting daily with no clear end in sight.

Quite apart from the public health emergency, many businesses are in a coronavirus freefall that none of us could have foreseen, let alone prepared for.

While it’s impossible for anyone to have all the answers, now is the time to seek the wise counsel of a mentor, someone who’s ridden the peaks and troughs of economic cycles and can offer some sage advice.

It’s understandable that after a 27 year run of continuous economic growth some of us may have been complacent in thinking it was the new normal, that grey heads talking about the old days didn’t have a lot to offer.

As it turns out, there is whole field of study dedicated to the benefits of business mentoring.

The academics widely agree mentors provide, among other things, valuable perspective, a trusted sounding board, encouragement and the development of key skills.

As the founding director of a successful company that’s just passed the 10 year mark, I understand how overwhelming the current outlook is for newer players.

I have been fortunate to reach out to my father and uncle who’ve been in business all their working lives and although they’ve never experienced anything quite like a global pandemic, they have seen off other economic challenges.

Invariably, their advice has been not to panic, to lead from the front and to hang in there.

Governments and banks are rewriting the rules as we speak. There will be concessions made, support packages available and stimulus measures to prod both production and demand when the time is right.

Our job in the short term is, firstly, to look after our staff and their families and do what we can to keep the wheels turning within the confines of government regulations and public safety.

For those who weathered the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8, it seems that will be a mere blip compared to economic fallout of Covid-19, already being equated with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

According to the experts, the difference this time is that governments will be more nimble in delivering stimulus packages and concessions.

Certainly, we have already seen some evidence of that, both on a federal and state level, although their success is yet to be measured.

Still, it’s interesting to see what lessons can be learned from the Great Depression and I’m encouraged to see some businesses already taking their opportunities.

Among the market sectors to stick it out during the Depression in the US was the brewing industry, which was already crippled by the double whammy of alcohol Prohibition.

While many brewers simply shut their doors, those who stayed used their plants to brew beer replacements, root beers and other adult soft drinks, believing that one day the alcohol ban would be lifted.

It kept them afloat until the tide invariably turned and, today, eight of the ten largest US brewers are pre-Prohibition companies who chose to hang in there.

Already many clever Australian distillers have been quick to switch production from boutique spirits to much-needed hand sanitiser, jumping into a high demand market and providing a community benefit at the same time.

Such agility is key to surviving the uncharted waters we find ourselves in.

Another company to do well during the Depression was soap manufacturer Proctor & Gamble who recognised that no matter how destitute people were, they would still need soap.

Rather than cutting their advertising and marketing budgets as most companies do during tough times, they ramped up their public profile by sponsoring then making daily radio serials which, to this day, are still called soap operas.

The lesson there is to be bold when others around you are retreating. It pays to be seen and heard.

Here’s another one for you. Martin Guitars was hardly producing an essential product at the time the Great Depression hit but it held firm in refusing high-volume discounts for big retailers, preferring to stick with smaller dealers.

It also came up with a quality, price-friendly guitar for the times that recorded solid sales throughout the Depression, a time when people valued the comfort music could bring.

In the current climate, agility will be key. Don’t be shy in putting yourself out there even if it all seems futile in the short-term.

Now is the time to find yourself a mentor to help you navigate your path.

Most importantly, choose a person whose values align with your own, whose record you respect and humbly ask them whether they would be interested in offering you advice.

Most often, they will be flattered. Academics have overwhelmingly found mentoring relationships are a two-way street, benefiting both parties and can lead to long-lasting friendships.

In times like these, isolation shouldn’t mean being alone.


Leigh Rust is the co-founder and director of Australian manufacturing business Safetyline Jalousie Louvre Windows.

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