Business

How Exporters EC overcame the challenges of 2020

The member-based organisation thanks its active members, sponsors and alliance partners

Phase 1 handover from VWSA of the facility in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
Field hospital: Phase 1 handover from VWSA of the facility in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
Image: Supplied/Exporters EC

The local economy was hugely affected by the implementation of lockdown restrictions in SA and businesses suffered losses due to the impact of closed borders on global trade and logistics.

Exporters Eastern Cape member companies showed great resilience, adaptability, and creativity during the past year. Its Diamond members share how they overcame the challenges they faced in the past year:

  • During lockdown and the gradual return to full production, Eberspächer SA and Eberspächer Rosslyn had to find an amicable solution to ensure employees received a living wage while also being mindful that the companies were not generating income. Through active consultation with all stakeholders, Eberspächer was able to strike a balance between moral obligation and business acumen. Covid also disrupted global logistics, shipping, and the availability of airfreight alternatives, and spiralling costs placed stress on businesses. Good communication and close collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders (Transnet, shipping lines, freight forwarders, customers and suppliers) coupled with extraordinary efforts from employees have helped Eberspächer manage the situation, albeit at a cost.
  • Volkswagen Group SA (VWSA) lived up to its name as a “People’s Company” by partnering with other businesses and government to fight Covid-19 in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. Knowing that solidarity is important during a crisis, VWSA initiated projects such as the opening of a field hospital, donation of the PPE for front-line health workers, a revamp of the NHLS laboratory, donation of children’s masks and food parcels to local primary schools, and disbursement of food security funds to local community-based organisations.

    To ensure the wellbeing and health of its employees VWSA introduced Covid-19 measures, such as the installation of signage, sanitisation stations at all entrances, redesigning of workspaces for physical distancing, body temperature check at entrances and the preparation of its wellness centre to provide medical support to employees who tested positive or were exposed to the virus.
(Left to right) Mark Lawler (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Lorna Lamerton (Thand’usana Babies Home), Nondumiso Langa (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Volkswagen Community Trust manager Vernon Naidoo, former VWSA chair and MD Thomas Schaefer, Nosipho Xapile (United Through Sport), Jonas Schumacher (Masifunde Learner Development) and Nick Mould (United Through Sport).
Community Trust donation of masks: (Left to right) Mark Lawler (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Lorna Lamerton (Thand’usana Babies Home), Nondumiso Langa (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Volkswagen Community Trust manager Vernon Naidoo, former VWSA chair and MD Thomas Schaefer, Nosipho Xapile (United Through Sport), Jonas Schumacher (Masifunde Learner Development) and Nick Mould (United Through Sport).
Image: Supplied/Exporters EC
  • SJM Flex SA (SJM), an exporter of flexible couplings to global locations, created a safe environment for all employees to continue manufacturing parts to supply to Europe and the US. SJM ran a risk analysis and then introduced stringent controls that resulted in minimal cases of Covid infections during 2020. The company boasts a zero Covid infection rate for 2021 so far. This required a high level of commitment from management and employees. With SJM doing its best to take care of its employees at the workplace, the real threat is when they are out in the community. The company praises its employees for taking precautions to maintain their health and their families' and is proud to report that it did not lose any customers during Covid-19.

  • As with many other SMEs in SA, Oracle Media worked with suppliers and made payment agreements that helped them maintain a steady cash flow. Its clients were in the same position and Oracle Media had to accommodate them similarly. Oracle focused on customer-specific payment performances and ensured the basics, such as timely and accurate invoicing to alleviate costly delays in receiving payment, were put in place.

  • The biggest hurdle for the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber last year was business continuity and relevance. The business chamber had to find ways to operate in a rapidly accelerating digital economy and reimagine its service offering as a member-driven organisation whose members rely on the strength of its network/connections. This was attained with great success. The organisation held more than 45 webinars on business sustainability beyond the pandemic and shared useful information on Covid-19 in the workplace.

  • For the Small Enterprise Development Agency as a service organisation, and an agency of national government, its biggest hurdle was providing continued support to small businesses while avoiding Covid-19 infection of clients and staff members. The use of technology proved important to achieve this.

  • While other businesses were shrinking, Propella Business Incubator’s team grew. It opened a new incubator mid-lockdown, and moved its operations and programme delivery online. This meant supplying founders with data and adapting content to be presentable and effective digitally, along with using tactics to keep the founders motivated, accountable and on track. The secret to the smooth transition was the strong Propella team who, despite their own high levels of anxiety and uncertainty, banded together and adapted to working remotely. The agile team was able to adapt quickly when asked to return to the office on alternate days, then go remote again before coming back full time. Their commitment to working together and achieving the outcomes required is commendable.

  • Development finance institutions such as the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) are meant to step up in times of crisis and play a countercyclical role in supporting the economy. The pandemic stopped numerous projects and transactions from producing and generating revenue. Only incurring overheads, therefore, delayed repayments. IDC devised interventions to alleviate the economic impact, namely an essential supplies intervention, a distress fund, and a small business industrial distress fund. Capital was provided to manufacture hand sanitisers, surgical masks, and protective gear. On a regional IDC basis, it had to adapt and thrive by building a cohesive team that operated in a virtual meeting environment. IDC Eastern Cape was the first region to have a deal approved and disbursed within the Covid-19 environment.

Exporters Eastern Cape used technology to host several online events, including its AGM and Exporter of the Year Awards evening, which members found informative, practical and entertaining.

It has strived to provide a platform for collaboration for its members and other role players in the export industry. A big thank you to all its active members, sponsors and alliance partners over the past year.

This article was paid for by Exporters Eastern Cape.

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