The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That couldn’t be more true now as we sit and look at our 2020 business plans and go “What to do now.”

I am no different. Starting 2020, what company would not be proud of a first quarter performance with five new locations opened? How to stay positive when business is falling in tatters all around you? It has not always been easy to stay upbeat. I spent a whole day pretty much frozen. But the thaw started when my wife scolded me for looking grumpy. She was right. How can you lead by example if you are not positive all the time? I am naturally positive and I look for light in darkness and the light is appearing for our 71 Coca and Mango Tree brands. In China and Hong Kong, we are reopening and will climb steadily once more, day by day, week by week. In Thailand our delivery is working.

A TIME FOR TRANSPARENCY 

What’s undeniable is that business leaders are getting to see the reality of where they are at and I’m no different. This is the first major crisis for me, as I am sure it is for many and it’s become a time of humbleness and transparency. Transparency in letting staff know the reality we are facing with 90 percent of our restaurants worldwide shut down. With virtually no revenue since January, we had to be honest and say we may lose our jobs if we run out of cashflow. But because of transparency, my offer of a salary reduction, and staff helping with their salaries, we were able to stretch our cashflow. Then the magic started to happen. There were smiles, relief and we bonded as a team. They are positive, not stressed and working from home even more productively than before.

This is the first major crisis for me, as I am sure it is for many and it’s become a time of humbleness and transparency. Transparency in letting staff know the reality we are facing with 90 percent of our restaurants worldwide shut down. With virtually no revenue since January, we had to be honest and say we may lose our jobs if we run out of cashflow.

PRACTICE FISCAL DISCIPLINE

We have always been fairly disciplined fiscally and I have prided myself on running a profitable overseas business for years. I got to see that we were not prepared for a six- to nine-month tenure and it exposed some of our weaknesses in receivables. If we had been more diligent with our receivables, we would not have had to go to our staff and ask for their help. It was also a great reflection that our business is one-dimensional. We collect royalties and franchise fees and we do not have other sources of income so how do we retool our business to find other ways of creating revenue? We now conduct 15-minute brainstorms every day on how we can transform our business and the results have been superb.

Mango Tree Grab and Go at Suvarnabhumi Airport
 GO DIGITAL

Talking digital is important. It’s been important for years but moving on it has been a challenge. Now we have fast tracked launching our new intranet platform called + Inspire with the goal of educating every single employee worldwide about our brands and the heart and soul of who we are along with other vital trainings. It’s also crucial because of delivery. To be honest I am not a delivery fan. I am the cook-fresh-and-eat type. But with COVID-19, everything has moved to digital because restaurants are closed. As delivery has such high charges, it inspired us to start our own Coca Man and Mango Man to deliver with the fee going direct to the drivers. Digitally we are still in touch with our customers, even though we are closed. What’s my wakeup call in this—make my digital team even bigger, better and faster.

Mango Tree Elements in Hong Kong
INSPIRE HUMANS

I was inspired by a speech by New York governor Andrew Cuomo. He said “It’s time for leaders to stand up and lead, a time to inspire, a time to be empathetic and pick people up who maybe can’t get passed the anxiety.” It was music to my ears just a straight-from-the-heart call on people to help one another. The next day I came in fired up and said “Guys we have to help inspire our franchisees in a way like we have never done before.” We started by sending out a newsflash twice a week that gives franchisees ideas on how to survive this crisis and a dose of real humanity as well. The outpouring of humanity has led to a fast track launching of “Touching Your Community,” a program we have that connects our restaurants with farmers, fishermen, and local suppliers.

Digitally we are still in touch with our customers, even though we are closed. What’s my wakeup call in this—make my digital team even bigger, better and faster.

I have to admit that this crisis has done wonders for our company and shows that we as a team will emerge stronger and better. It’s given us time to clean up and reconnect, plus the impetus for digital and fiscal transformations. It’s given us insight that we need to slow down and take time to think, to let new ideas be heard versus trampled by the urgencies of day-to-day operations.

It’s taught us that at the end of the day we are human. We are social and we cannot change that. While digitization has its place we still need to have the experience of our human senses. We need to come together to feel safe and inspired. We need to add value every day to others’ lives as kindness and giving are surely keys to the meaning of life. Just reflect for three minutes on what are you doing to help uplift people and think how can you spread this to three other people’s lives today. Now there is a new positive virus that can spread.

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