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Supporting clients 2 October 2020

COVID-19's sobering lessons

Health and wealth learnings from a lockdown

By Joe Mukwevho, owner of a portfolio of companies that includes filling stations, construction and real estate management. 

I remember at the end of 2019, we all had such nice New Year’s resolutions. All those wishes – for our business to be more profitable, to do better and try and look after our health – they’re gone. They’ve had to change into achievable goals that are far more serious. In 2020, my main goal is to ensure that my businesses survive and to not let my employees be negatively affected. We have to focus on what we really need to keep going. Even at a personal level, we’ve learnt to refine our own expenses. Do I really need a second cell phone? Of course not.  

I’ve also realised that there are serious implications for my business if I don’t look after my health. Before the pandemic, I had stopped exercising – that needed to change. My group is big. If I go, there are serious repercussions for the people who work for me. Even though I have my wife as co-director, and my brother, I’m the main role player.  

COVID-19 has led to many sobering realisations, but these lessons are ones that I know will stick with me throughout my career. I’ve had to relearn how important it is to save money. If you’ve got the reserves, you can get through a pandemic like this, or if a lockdown is extended, it can help you get through it. I now know that I need to start building further cash reserves for my group.  

I’ve also had to come to a better understanding of my group, learning all the details, streamlining costs, re-evaluating what I own, and not spending unnecessarily. Now I know that I must account for every cent moving in and out of the company. If I had been doing that before COVID-19, those small amounts could have built into the reserves.

When the virus first hit, I was genuinely concerned that it was the end of our business. We were all scared, people started doing funny things like running to the pharmacy to buy Vitamin C tablets.  

But I knew I had to stay level-headed. We started training our employees about the Coronavirus. Thanks to the UIF [Unemployment Insurance Fund] relief programmes, we were able to make sure all of our employees got salaries.

I really value my management team, and how they continued to ensure my businesses operated during this difficult time. With a new filling station, we now have almost 500 employees. Imagine having that many employees and your empire crumbles. Thankfully for us, we had partners, like our bank, who were able to support us.