Sylvester ChaukeBy Sylvester Chauke|January 7, 2022|8 Minutes|In Risk and Glory

Risk and Glory

"Surviving the pandemic, the DNA way"

And just like that… the country was officially on lockdown! We were turbo-charged into pandemic operations - the world of “can you see my screen” and “you are on mute”.

At first, we had 21 days to contend with, and knowing there was an end day helped. The lockdown was extended after 21 days as South Africans battled Covid-19 which had turned our country upside down – an emotional roller coaster ride we had no choice but to be on.

Besides juggling operating in the new world in terms of business, we were all also managing personal challenges that came with space, technology, home-schooling, and many adjustments that needed to happen…fast!

As a communications agency, the entire value chain was under pressure. Most non-essential businesses stopped trading during lockdowns. This led to a catastrophic ripple effect and many businesses succumbed to closures and retrenchments. Communication, however, was still important so we knew we needed to adjust our priorities expediently.

Most of our Clients cut back on budget directed to consumer advertising but channeled the funds in other areas of the business, especially internal marketing and digital. Because of low business confidence, there was a -40% drop in marketing expenditure as businesses navigated the new trading environment. Like many businesses, we too felt the impact in areas such as late payments, budget reductions, adjusted timelines due to lockdown levels etc. We had to weather the storm and manage our cash flow while monitoring economic movement.

"And just like that the country was officially on lockdown! We were turbo-charged into pandemic operations - the world of can you see my screen and you are on mute"

Sylvester Chauke

There were some fundamentals we focused on to manage these turbulent 18 months:

1.Up the ante on Care – Emotionally it was taxing, managing the emotional and socio-economic impact that our staff was feeling with families and loved ones affected by Covid-19 related retrenchments, sickness and deaths. Keeping up with the demands of our work while managing loss and pain at a high scale around us has to be one of the biggest challenges we faced. The business supported our teams with funeral arrangements, medical/ emotional support, home connectivity etc. Care was paramount and a priority for us.

2.Up the ante on HR – We up-weighted our HR efforts to ensure that our staff was looked after and supported. This meant more focus on interventions aimed at keeping team morale. Conversations and check-ins with our teams were intensified to ensure that we understood the state of our teams and where we should support them. With HR efforts in place, it was easier to manage the emotional toll on our staff while also inspiring and giving them hope and encouragement to push on.

3.Reasonable business continuity and revised processes – Keeping the business moving while our Clients were experiencing disruptions needed careful attention. Things were changing daily. We needed to ensure that we were always on the pulse of any changes that impacted us. Exco conversations were constant and Client conversations were recurring to manage expectations. We introduced new measures that integrated remote working into our processes to manage effectiveness and this helped a great deal. The concern around remote working has been to ensure that our staff is comfortable where they work from and also that we manage quality control of our output.

4.Halt Non-Essential Expenditure – Before the pandemic we were busy with our office refurb and extension. This had to halt immediately as we managed the new world we found ourselves in. With this, came a period of extreme financial scrutiny to save costs and ensure the sustainability of our business. Cash flow was rough and financial controls needed to be intensified.

5.Managing Fear – It was important for me as a leader to communicate regularly and ensure that the team is appraised on the developments in our agency. There were a lot of negative sentiments in news and social media, so many of our teams were concerned if the fate of business closures could knock at our doors too. Regular communication helped to manage speculations so that the narrative is clear for all. As a fun bunch of people, we also appreciated the connections where we remind ourselves of our resilience and that together we can overcome this period.

6.Walking away stronger – Covid-19 was a masterclass in the art of the Pivot. It needed us all to relook at our businesses deeply and for me, the delicate balance of business continuation and support of our people through a global crisis.

Consistency in how we show up has been a game-changer for us. The focus on our people and their well-being has resulted in a better organization today. Our team is intact and we are grateful not to have cut staff at this time. While I was terrified when the President instituted the lockdown and subsequent extensions, the process has been a masterclass in leading through difficulty. And just like that… we keep pushing forward regardless.

"RISK AND GLORY!  (What’s your story?)"

Billionaire Tomorrow launches a new section capturing the sacrifice, spirit and splendour of the African entrepreneur.

This is a section written by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Each piece is a snapshot in the struggles and triumphs of those who swim against the tide to risk their own money for uncertain reward. The thoughts of an entrepreneur who fights his, or her, way past the naysayers, sceptics and reluctant lenders to stake their claim.

The way to reward and glory? All too often, this is a rocky road, fringed with thorns, with slithering snakes in the shady undergrowth.

You can earn from telling these stories too. If you write for Risk and Glory you get a chance to earn our new token – The Bil. The more people who read your story, the more tokens you earn. Send me 800 words of your story to me at

Check it out.

The Bil

Read, learn, think, discuss and change for the better. Reading Risk and Glory could change your story– enjoy!


Chris Bishop, Founding Editor, Billionaire Tomorrow.

Share story