By Peter Martin  |  Feb 02, 2021

The case for positive pragmatism

Bill Gates is worth listening to. You don’t have to agree with the Microsoft and Gates Foundation co-founder, but he is often right – whether its about business or politics.

After all, he did warn back in 2015 that the world would be unprepared for a major pandemic, and urged governments to take precautionary steps to improve such things as medical facilities, testing capabilities and research and development.

You’ll have your own views on how well our political leaders did on that one.

With multiple vaccines coming on stream Gates said in an interview at the start of December that he was now optimistic – positive, but pragmatic. But he admitted the next four to five months were looking pretty grim, with businesses very likely facing their most challenging period so far. He was right on that too; no false confidence there.

So what’s his advice for business owners and leaders? With so much of the current crisis beyond their influence, it is that old maxim to focus on what you can control.

To put yourself and your business in the best position possible, his priorities would be: protect your people; serve your customers; sustain your business. That means making decisions now to get through it.

Perhaps because he is an American, there’s not a lot about engaging with government, although he is critical of the federal government for ‘abdicating some of its responsibilities in the crisis’.

As we know in the UK, dealing with the government can be a hit or miss affair, but unlike in the US there has been tangible support for business this side of the Atlantic, if not always applied consistently.

So in our domestic circumstances, we should add that to the list as well. It does make sense to get behind UK Hospitality’s lobbying for a realistic financial support package during lockdown and beyond – and to make sure all MPs are written to and briefed thoroughly, and with data, on hospitality’s needs so they are armed for Parliamentary debates.

But day-to-day, leaders still have to look closer to home. In the first lockdown the sector did a good job engaging with furloughed teams and getting them ready for reopening. This time, with hopes of getting back to work dashed, it will be that much harder.

While some operators are able to serve their customers with takeaways, deliveries and meal-kits, many can’t. But they still need to stay in touch – because there will be a time when their customers will want to and be able to go out again, and be reassured it will be safe and a great time awaits them.

We all need a bit of encouragement, support and inspiration, whether it’s from the likes of Bill Gates or industry colleagues. Mental toughness is going to be almost as important as any vaccine, especially now as the market has seen its traditionally busiest Christmas and New Year trading period wiped out.

Trying to imagine what life, your customers and your business will be like in a post-vaccine world is not easy, but it needs to be done. There are many issues to ponder and plan for: the lure of diversification; the growth of the digital world; how will new in-home habits shape out-of-home preferences; the impact of hyper-localisation; where to close, where to open? The only certain thing is it won’t be the same as before.

So back to Bill Gates, and it is worth remembering that the billionaire philanthropist has contributed $450m to the global coronavirus response through he and his wife’s foundation. He says:

“The choices you make right now will determine what happens over the next few months, and even after. The people connected to your business are counting on it to survive beyond the pandemic.”

The next three, and probably six, months are going to be an extremely tough. But, as Gates predicts, it will get better.