Unlocking Lockdown

25th June 2020

As the Government reduces our risk level and takes further steps to ease the lockdown, Richard Rankin, CEO finds himself writing this, the last of his weekly columns.

The quietness and pause in activity that felt so strange when I first began writing this diary, is now slowly receding and our busy lives are returning. It has been disorientating to say the least! After this long time in isolation, so much has happened and I continue to be amazed at how the H&H family, our farmers, customers and friends have carried on.

It just shows you how positives and opportunities can arise from operating through a pandemic. We resolutely did not want to give up, and the only option was to carry on and adapt to the new rules of engagement. In terms of the long-term future of the company, steering us through this crisis has been both a challenge and an inspiration, and it has driven us all to think outside of the box. I feel great positivity about our employees getting back to doing what they love – whether out on the marts, working and meeting with clients on their farms, or facilitating face to face meetings.

Everyone has worked extremely hard and I truly believe that we have come through this stronger and more positive about the future. I am over the moon with what our teams have achieved, managing to show resilience, innovation, and adaptability. We proved that even before the pandemic we were an agile organisation, with the right foundations to adjust to extraordinary times. Yet, as Covid-19 hit, we entered survival mode, transforming our operations to be able to keep trading and support the livelihoods of our farming communities. These essential businesses kept the country fed – and although it seems like a distant memory now, I’m sure you can remember the stockpiling and empty shelves?

As I said in my very first diary, people had to keep calm and carry on. I am indebted to the teams, who showed strength working under very challenging conditions. To manage the enterprises effectively we had to share the load, and each of the businesses relinquished power and responsibilities down through their teams. This has worked well at every level and has demonstrated trust and just how fantastic and committed our people are.

It’s been said many times by many people, the furlough scheme was a lifesaver for businesses. However, for the customers and the people, it has taken its toll. I know many of our H&H staff have felt isolated, cut off, and feeling less valued. We had no option but to take this measure to protect the longevity of the business, but I am fully aware how very very hard it has been. So, in this my final column, I would like to thank them personally for their understanding and their patience. Now it feels like we’re coming out of it, we can feel proud of how we all came together to make it through.

As a business we also had to come to terms with taking away a lifeline for the farmers – their local auction marts. We were forced to close our spaces of social interaction, stopping them reaching out to their comrades and friends. People couldn’t just pop into the marts, or even see their animals sold, which was absolutely gutting, as I know how important the mart is to the community.  I fear for the long term impact this might have on mental health and wellbeing and look forward to feeling the buzz and hearing the crack around the rings and in the café again soon.

Coronavirus ushered in a new era and the lockdown accelerated our adoption of 21st Century marketing solutions with live streaming and virtual bidding. This is the future and will continue to revolutionise livestock trading. As lockdown eases, we will provide the platforms for vital face-to-face interactions and social exchange at the marts but continue to enhance and develop our digital solutions.

Of course no one knows what the future will look like, but our experiences show that uncertainty is not always something to fear, but something we must embrace. I think concentrating on what good came out of these difficult times will help us move forward as a stronger and more resilient economy. This has been a learning process for everyone, so let us heed the lessons and take them with us. We can integrate them into our business toolkits to make us fit for the future and become better enterprises than ever before.

It has been a great pleasure to write these weekly columns and share thoughts of positivity throughout this crisis, those who know me know that’s just the way I am – I hope it helped. Implementing changes to H&H to suit the needs of the times allowed us to not only survive and maintain business, but even enhance our performance in some areas, and all without jeopardising peoples’ livelihoods. These innovations have only been possible with the 100% effort of all our teams. Let’s remain determined to protect ourselves and each other while we emerge from the first peak.

Stay alert and stay vigilant, and don’t forget to breathe!

Richard Rankin
Chief Executive