We are living through dark times with people feeling fearful for their health, for their families and for their livelihoods and businesses. Mick Ventola, the founder and managing director of Ventola Projects, the Leicestershire-based electrical installations and LED lighting specialist, has announced the suspension of his projects in the UK, to be reviewed in three to four weeks’ time.
Mick, who works with clients in the US leisure and entertainment sector and with partners in Europe and the Middle East, is one of HM Department of International Trade’s Export Champions under the auspices of the Midlands Engine.
In this piece, he shares his experiences of the crisis and its impact on business operations – and how best we might prepare for when life gets back to some semblance of normality.
“I’ve been running this business for over 30 years and, like everyone else, I have never seen anything that comes close to this in terms of its impact on the economy as a whole and, more importantly, us as people and as a global society. It is a deeply unsettling time.
As an exporter, the prospect of Brexit was a sizeable feature of our thinking for some time, causing us to look closely at the way we operate in search of new efficiencies and even opportunities.
Strangely enough, much of that preparation work seems as if it was part of a dress rehearsal for something far more disruptive all along. In large parts, it involved us actively engaging with our partners here and overseas to better identify their needs and to gain even small scraps of local business intelligence that might give us an edge around impending changes to the regulatory framework in which we will have to operate.
That very process meant that we strengthened and deepened relationships with partners in Germany, Italy, USA and the Middle East that then led to us getting some vital early warnings about the impact of the coronavirus.
Some of our partners and suppliers are tightly enmeshed with the Far East market and had access to several first-hand accounts of what was going on in Wuhan and Hubei Province, as the outbreak gathered steam at the turn of the year. As a consequence, it was as early as January 14 that we convened our initial strategy meeting to start looking at different eventualities.
Even at that stage, the information some of our partners gave us made it clear that we had to consider the serious possibility of significant disruption here in the UK. We had to consider the potential impact on the supply of equipment vital to our operation.
We had to look at how we might mitigate or ride out a real interruption to our assembly capability in Leicestershire and we had to work out how best we could help our American and Middle Eastern partners cope with possible supply delays and a halt to their installation work. All at some unknown future point in time and of an unpredictable duration.
All of this underlined the huge importance of doing even more of what we’d already been doing - over years as an exporter and in our more recent preparations for Brexit – and that was to collaborate, to plan and to act.
That’s our biggest learning from this whole experience and, I believe, it’s what all lighting businesses and their suppliers and partners should double down on now.
As an industry, as businesses and as a society, we have to understand that we share the same interests. From the most basic of drivers like survival – bodily and financially – to the most complex of supply chain interdependencies, we are all exactly that. Interdependent. United we stand and divided we fall - there are good reasons why there are so many clichés saying that kind of thing.
So, we got on the phone, we shared insights and we listened a lot. We plotted and schemed, we worked out different possibilities and probabilities and we ran scenarios. And ourselves and our partners became closer, gaining at every step a deeper appreciation of what we held in common.
As I sit and write this, I put the fact that we now feel pretty well equipped for this difficult period completely down to collaboration and planning. Please don’t take this as any kind of bluster or complacency, as there is a lot of water to go under the bridge and so much more hard work to be done.
But my simple message is one of hope and of preparation. Speak with your suppliers and partners, find out about the problems they face and help them overcome them. Listen to their warnings, share your concerns and understand each other’s interdependencies. And work out how you can collaborate right now to make the best of the situation we all find ourselves in.
And start planning ahead because, at some point in the medium-term future, there will be a time when the lights go back on, so to speak, and new opportunities appear. We need to be ready as an industry to make up for lost time, ground and revenues.
Take advantage of remote working. While some might be unfamiliar with different technologies, many others are resourceful and highly capable, so grasp this very real opportunity to learn and embrace new ways of doing things that streamline your business.
Think of all the travel you can cut out in the long-term. Think of the time and money you’ll save, the hotels you won’t book, the journeys you won’t need to undertake. There are huge savings to be had and you can reinvest it all in improving your operation, delivery and service. And you’ll be doing the environment a big favour.
This isn’t a time for pessimism or defeat. It is a time to reach out to your peers and get to know them even better than you already do. It is a golden opportunity to strengthen our industry’s bonds, both here and with our overseas partners.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the privilege and honour that is representing the UK as a champion of our innovative and forward-thinking exporters, it is that we prosper when we work in harmony. We share similar goals and we face the same threats. And we can overcome them together.”