I don’t know about you, but my post-apocalypse vision was that of emerging from the smouldering ruins of Snedden Campbell Towers with my tribe and the now feral Ziggy the Office Wonder Dog. Clad in squirrel skins accessorised with a slightly battered hat at a jaunty angle, I would fearlessly re-establish civilisation in this mountain fastness that I call home.
Well, my vision of the future turned out to be as wrong as my expenses claims. Since the start of the present unpleasantness, the family still see me primarily as the fat bloke who pays all the bills. Ziggy may well have the mind of a wolf, but it is wrapped in the body of a Care Bear. My clothing remains unsullied by the patina of disaster.
In the village, the butcher still sells various bits of dead animals, the baker flogs over-priced artisanal buns to passing tourists and, although we don’t have a candlestick maker as such, we do have several shops where you can purchase candlesticks and other soft furnishings.
To business then. I’ve faced triumph and disaster quite a few times now. Although I haven’t treated either with Kiplingesque sang froid, I have, so far at least, survived the experience.
With the benefit of my retrospectroscope, I can see that over the last 20 years Snedden Campbell Ltd has had some “difficult” periods. Post Y2K/9/11/Iraq, Lehman Brothers and the fall out in 2008/9 the 2011 Euro crisis, are all chiselled into my business life story.
2008/9 was the one that caused us, and pretty much everyone else, the most pain. Big companies overnight put hiring on hold as they worked out how much cash they had and which of their customers could pay them. Early-stage businesses with secure funding saw investors quite literally disappear and went from scheduled IPO to considering mere survival an achievement.
From October 2008 to June 2009, we billed nothing at all. Even once the immediate threat of the end of the world passed, companies sat on their cash. Nobody gets fired for not hiring people, right?
The events of over a decade ago still cast a long shadow. Candidates have never fully recovered their risk appetite. People tend to stay in dull but reliable roles. As a result, it’s still harder in the third decade of the 21st Century, to attract people who know what they’re doing to early-stage and riskier companies where the rewards can far outweigh the risks than it was thirteen years ago.
Being Scottish and therefore prone to Presbyterian misery, my assumption back in March this year, was that COVID-19 would be like Lehman Brothers on steroids. Mind you I’d previously assumed that everything from Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn would be like Lehman Brothers on steroids and had been wrong, so a bit more thought would, as usual, saved much anguish.
Since Y2K, I’ve often remembered that bad news sells newspapers. It’s the price of liberal democracy. Pravda spent 72 years reporting outstanding tractor/tank production numbers and look at what happened there. Brexit was and is bad news if you sell cheese to France, for medical technology, not so much perhaps.
Based on the best experience we had, especially the experience of 2008 specifically, we all decided to do precisely nothing and spend the quarantine period in the garden catching up on our reading. Given that I’ve been actively marketing this business for 20 years, it seemed unlikely that anyone who wanted us to do something would fail to give us a call.
A few years back, I got confused by the colour of the hoses at a supermarket fuel station and accidentally put petrol in my diesel car. I knew enough to disable the ignition, call the repairman and to put cones around my unfortunate motor. My error was going to cost me a few hundred quid. I went into the kiosk to pay for the petrol I didn’t want at which point the lady behind the till tried to sell me on a Morrison’s discount offer. I was quite rude to her.
The moral of this anecdote is that when something has gone wrong for someone, it’s kind of crass to try and sell them something however relevant and their negative response is likely to be blunt. Remembering this, I figured that spending six to nine months in the garden was a lot more productive than spending money on phone calls so that people could shout at me.
Six weeks after starting to snooze in the garden and take Ziggy on very long walks, I began to get emails and phone calls. By the middle of June, we were back to full-time operations. Who knew that majoring in projects in infectious disease diagnosis would make us so popular? In short, the current crisis is devastating if you sell personal services that involve human contact, but I chose not to make my name in beard sculpting and spa weekends for men so this time the bullet has grazed me but, so far, appears to have missed my vital organs. In passing, as well as working with me, the present Mrs Campbell has a sideline in making soft furnishings, that business is going like a fair.
Based on me holding my finger in the air and checking the wind direction, and following some handy assistance from HMG, we’ve taken the view that this week is when we’re going to start marketing operations up again. Form an orderly queue.