A piece by Al Keating, Coffee Supreme CEO, urgent decaf deliverer and wordsmith.
Some things I’m learning (or waking up to) through this crisis of our planet and how it might be our generations’ time to shine.
For years, I’ve been pushed along in business to grow.
Grow! Grow! Grow!.
Most of us have. We set growth plans every year, apply targets and forecast budgets, create strategies to support those and recruit in order to see it implemented - all with the goal to grow and get bigger.
We measure our success against achieving that growth, whether it be volume, sales, margin or, a combination of all those things.
Perhaps this mindset comes from our parents’ generation.
Mine are not your typical capitalist tycoons, but they are in many other ways quite typical of their generation. Both born in 1946 — post-WWII — the ‘boomers’ entered a broken and in many parts, malnourished, traumatised world. They were raised modestly by their blue-collar parents and then saved to buy a modest car, had three outfits (one of which was for Sundays and weddings) and shared one lawnmower between several neighbours. They grew up, married at 25 and moved to London for three years where they worked in grey offices and ate grey food. Then, when they’d ticked off the overseas experience, they moved home, got up the duff and settled into jobs they would work at loyally for the next few decades.
Things were going ok; kids were happy, neighbours were lovely, jobs were jobs and bills were paid, but they began to discover they didn’t really need to be so communal and thrifty in the way they were raised. So, they decided to pull the biscuit tin of cash down from the top cupboard and treat themselves a little. They splashed out and bought their own mower. Dad thought mum should have her own car, and while they were at it — her own wardrobe too. Not just a regular wardrobe though, one you could walk into and that had a light in it and enough space for a different outfit for every wedding and Sunday of the year.
Boomers discovered that frugality and contentment was a little dull, and that they had just enough means to build a small empire in the suburbs, and fill the chest freezer in the garage with enough mince and white bread to last another world war.
Then we came along; Gen-X.
Born in the 70’s and growing up in the 80’s, we enjoyed the spoils of our parents' newfound financial liberalism. Seinfeld pokes fun at it perfectly in the episode where he browses his excessive cereal selection on top of a fridge bigger than a Japanese Airbnb.
We enjoyed it all too of course, but spent most of our solitary time in our bedrooms listening to mix-tapes and talking on the telephone to our friends and crushes. We didn’t care for a lot of it. Sure we were spoiled by it, but us Gen-X’ers were motivated by different things.
I read, years ago, that Gen-X might be characterised simply by two words; authenticity and relationship.
Where our parents sent telegrams and Tupperware to their overseas friends getting hitched, we traded in our Pulsars for plane tickets and turned up empty-handed at our dear friends’ weddings. We are quite happy to put our people before our possessions - regardless of the cost. We aren’t flawless though. We struggle to state what we love and will fight for, but we’re quick to criticise, arms firmly crossed with reluctance and cynicism.
We were then joined by an army of Gen-Y, and Millennials, and whatever generation comes after that. They’re different again. A whole new set of ideals and outlooks. Many of my colleagues are from these generations, and we are learning incredibly valuable things from each other; like what’s really important, what’s not, what’s negotiable. Stuff like that.
And then, a global pandemic...
So now it seems, in 2020, amongst the raging fires of Covid-19, that perhaps we find ourselves in one of two camps: those who are fighting desperately to get things back to normal (the old normal our parents built) and the rest of us; quietly ok with seeing it razed to the ground, so we can begin rebuilding something we actually want to live and work with; something in which we can more easily find balance and purpose, as opposed to when we lost ourselves to the endlessness of career-chasing and discontentment.
After decades of criticising the system we felt powerless to change, we might actually be on the dawn of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to uncross our arms collectively and be a part of reshaping our world, into something we can be proud to raise our children in.
And so this is where we find ourselves today.
In our international coffee industry, we are scrambling to retain whatever revenue we can. There’s an unease that sits across our households around the world, and I am acutely aware of it amongst our own teams in New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Not just because there’s an invisible enemy roaming the streets called Covid, but because there’s also the shadow of uncertainty that follows close behind.
It's like two enormous tsunamis crashing over us.
One is the virus, sweeping around the world and forcing us to carefully adjust — even if for just a short period of our lives.
The second is the catastrophic result of the virus on our economy and our very way of life.
I’m asking myself as a leader in this business some very tough questions, as we fight to steer this battered ship through the waves. And then, as we look to emerge from the storm; what do I want to rebuild as it was before the waves we’re upon us, and what do I want to change?
It’s hugely invigorating. I’ve never worked with such purpose and focus, from my desk set up amongst the Lundia shelving in the garage at home, surrounded by stuff I don’t really need that I’ve not yet gotten around to getting rid of. The office distractions are gone, yet I’m still engaging meaningfully and effectively with my team every day.
I’m being challenged about what I really want to fight for and how much I actually need - there’s nothing, after all, like a dramatic pay cut to force you to reconsider how you live.
I’m working long hours, but sharing three meals a day with my family. I’m walking every morning and bumping into neighbours and friends (not literally obvs — two metres please) where we talk together about new normals and how we plan to navigate the huge adjustments ahead.
That’s what this is — a forced re-imagining.
A once-in-a-lifetime chance to do things differently and to make things better.