Keeping up with the CEOs amid Covid-19: Calgro M3

Wikus Lategan has discovered that working from home can take up more hours than working from the office.
Lategan says Calgro M3 has reassessed its burial prices, reducing its packages 'considerably' to help people celebrate the lives of friends and family. Image: Supplied

Many companies have had to change their business operations during the lockdown period. We caught up with several top executives to find out how they’re holding up, and whether or not it’s ‘business as usual’. Here’s what Calgro M3 CEO Wikus Lategan says.

Where are you working from?

I am working from my home office. The one bad habit I see is that although I used to work long hours and would also work from home at night, now that I have a more formal setup I get up but first go past my computer – and before I blink, what would have been a 04:30 spinning session has turned into a work session.

How are you conducting your meetings?

Microsoft Teams and conference calls.

How are you finding working away from your usual designated workstation?

It’s different, and in some instances quite a bit more productive. But in others it’s a lot more challenging in that you cannot always see everyone in every meeting and read the emotions on their faces. I like to look people in the eye.

What I miss is the quiet time in the car on my way to work and back home in the evenings.

That is normally my thinking and reset time when you just have those 20 to 25 minutes before you walk back into your house where you can reflect on a difficult day. Now I leave my computer and immediately I am between the noise and excitement of a three-, five- and seven-year old who all want attention at the same time.

Is the lockdown causing a huge disruption in your business operations?

It unfortunately brought the biggest part of our business to a standstill. Being in real estate development and construction, we are completely closed for business. The deeds offices were also closed during the lockdown, with conveyancers being required to remove all lodged transactions when lockdown commenced. This brought about a major backlog of registrations, which in turn has resulted in a further estimated seven- to eight-week delay on the expected cash flow of the residential development business.

We fortunately still have the memorial parks business, which is open and producing revenue as well as steady cash flow, as the cost base is mostly a sunk cost.

I can also add that after nearly five weeks in lockdown, all the uncertainty as to how much longer it will continue is creating quite a nerve-racking moment for all of us. We as a team are confident and remain positive, but without tangible facts, keeping all our staff motivated is a challenge.

The past two years have been challenging in South Africa, especially in the construction space, as well as our own internal challenges I am sure the market by now knows all about. But looking back, we learnt many lessons, not least of which was how to become specialist problem solvers and how to manage what seemed like one crisis upon another.

That experience has taught us to better navigate what we are going through at the moment.

We were also fortunate to be cash-liquid at the beginning of the lockdown.

We as a business have also again affirmed what we stand for and believe – that one should remain true to what and who you are even in challenging times. Together with our staff, we have to date distributed close on 10 000 bottles of hand sanitizer and food parcels across many of our projects. We have also done food parcels and hand sanitiser with MES [Mould Empower Serve], a registered non-profit in the Johannesburg and Cape Town inner cities. What this has affirmed is that our relationships with the communities in which we operate are strong, as the packing of parcels and the distribution thereof took place in an orderly and peaceful manner.

Moving forward, how does your company need to transform in order to keep up with the changing times?

From a practicality perspective, I foresee more frequent use of technology to limit face to face meetings and travel as a start.

From a strategic perspective, we will be significantly impacted by the psychological effect that Covid-19 will have on the South African consumer.

The buying of a home or the early purchase of a grave is an immense financial decision, especially for first-time buyers, and we believe people will be hesitant to make these decisions for a while. We envisage that Calgro M3 will have to be patient as consumer confidence returns. However, the recently announced interest rate cuts will help somewhat.

Steps taken during this time in an attempt to allow more South Africans the opportunity to afford a home as well as be able to bury their family and loved ones in dignified and safe burial place include:

  • We took a decision to reassess burial prices to support individuals and families in celebrating the lives of friends and family. Package prices, including memorial plaques, facility hire and the like, have been considerably reduced.
  • Home prices will be kept stable for as long as possible.

Forward planning and retention of sufficient working capital to start back up as a business is vital and we are actively focusing on the same.

After lockdown where are we likely to see you?

I expect that I will be on calls, or in front of my computer implementing the strategies we have to get business back on track in a more efficient manner and with a better client offering and service space. I will also be spending time with family and friends. My wife is a brilliant cook so I don’t really miss restaurants. I would also like to go out to the bush for a few nights just to be reminded of what open spaces and freedom feels like again.

What do you crave the most?

The ability to have family and friends over as well as the ability to run freely as spinning on my trainer or running around my house is just not as much fun.

What are you most indulging in while working from home?

Time with the children. The last two years I have, often for weeks on end, seen very little of my kids while they were awake, so this time with them feels like a real treat.

Is there a particular song, series or book that is keeping you busy during this time?

I must say that my core team and I have been working extremely hard, and in any possible break I spend time with the family. I like to play outside with my kids or just be around them. It’s also so nice to be at home for a quick lunch in between calls and work, but to just have the freedom to be able to chat with my wife during the day is great.

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