Fellow inmates: Nothing will ever be the same again – Anton Roux

Many institutions, governments and businesses tend to hold on to old practices and lot of paper is still used in businesses that are resistant to change, especially when it goes well. Thousands of CEOs drag their weary bodies across time zones because they believe that face-to-face contact is the only way to do business. But the coronavirus and lockdowns all over the world are challenging these deep-set habits. And it is not a slow change that companies have the luxury to adapt to like climate change; it is an abrupt disruption that forces everybody to think on their feet and adapt if they want to stay afloat. It has also forced  families to interact in a different way and universities and schools to adapt education. Judging from the funny memes on social media; there are many parents who have discovered that their molly-coddled off-spring are terrible at helping to keep a house clean. Seasoned corporate animal, Anton Roux writes that the changes that South Africans are forced to make due to the lockdown are here to stay. Roux says that it has demonstrated that the government can make quick decisions and his advice to President Cyril Ramaphosa is not to “waste a good crisis, go and act now!” – Linda van Tilburg

By Anton Roux*

Dear fellow inmates,

Anton Roux

So, it has been a week that we all have been under house arrest. By now we have cleaned our garages, repacked the shelves, did some maintenance at home and we have a hardware store shopping list that we want reclassified as essential products.

Our relationships with our better halves have either improved or are drastically worse, but – it is not the same as what it was more than eleven days ago. This is my point – nothing will ever be the same again.

What follows are my perceptions and I have done no research to substantiate my viewpoint, so in other words, I may be totally wrong.

(A little background to these newsletters, or rather my inclination to write them. I have been in the corporate world for almost 35 years. Prior to owning RS, I was CEO of Aon Africa for 11 years, and prior to that CEO of Medscheme for 10 years. I am still on the non-exec board on various boards. I used to send out a weekly newsletter during my 11 years at Aon. During my extensive travels I started documenting what I saw. I developed a bit of a following. Apparently I speak some sense – sometimes.)

There in nothing about any motor vehicles in this newsletter, and you are welcome not to read any further.

Lessons learnt

Let’s look at some of the lessons that we have all (hopefully) learnt since the announcement by our President on 23 March 2020. Some of these lessons are profound and not everyone noticed them.

  1. Our Government can make quick and correct decisions. Hindsight is an exact science, but who would have predicted a month ago that our political leadership is able to make quick decisions. Our leadership has demonstrated that they do have decision making ability and I will expand on the consequences of this in my conclusion.
  2. The grain has been separated from the chaff. We have seen quality leadership from the President and from Dr Zweli Mkhize versus that of Captain Razzmatazz and his negotiations with the taxi industry.
  3. South Africa is not a lawless country, we just have millions of people not adhering to the laws. We know why this is the case, but in case you are a millennial and don’t know why we don’t adhere to laws, here is a short history lesson. Prior to 1994, the laws that were made in the country were made by an illegitimate Apartheid government. It was therefore acceptable to a large portion of the peoples of South Africa to become lawless. And whilst we don’t condone lawlessness, we don’t blame them either (topic for not another day). This is something that has never been addressed since 1994 and now we end up in a situation where we are a lawless society. I do have some sympathy for Captain Razzmatazz. Our traffic laws have never been enforced with reference to taxis, so why would taxi drivers now adhere to additional requirements in terms of the state of disaster?
  4. As a nation we have had to quickly learn to distinguish between what is important and what it urgent. Think about how each one of you behaved and what you did in preparation for the lockdown. You will find that you attended to the important stuff.
  5. There is nothing wrong with adopting a policy of “Ready – Fire – Aim” in a crisis. Sure, mistakes were made but they were and are being rectified. (You can take your dog for a walk vs you can’t take your dog for a walk)

So, what Nnow?

Nothing will ever be the same again. Most people in the world survived and by and large the world is still functioning despite us being inmates. So why would we go back to where we were?

  1. I have spent 35 years in the corporate world, and I am still spending a considerable time in that environment. Ever since I can recall, every company that I was involved in aimed for the ‘paperless’, ‘digital’, ‘more efficient’ workplace and environment. We had workstreams, project managers, digital enhancement managers, scanning experts, management consultants, Business Process Reengineering projects and a whole lot of other acronyms, half of which I cannot remember. Technology has evolved enormously over this period and I am not saying that little progress was made.
  2. On 23 March 2020 a new digital manager walked into most companies and her name was Ms Covid-19. Three days later, she achieved what most companies struggled to achieve for a long period of time. Yes, there are challenges and it is not perfect, but it works! A Month ago, I did not know what “Microsoft Teams” was and last week I was Chairman of a meeting with 19 participants using Microsoft Teams. I learnt very quickly, as is most of the world. Clearly not everybody can work from home, however, there are ramifications for people that can work from home for example in Financial Services (banks and insurance companies including their distribution networks) lawyers, accountants, management consultants, advertising agencies, PR agencies and anybody anywhere in a “Head Office” of sorts. In fact, anyone selling time on an hourly rate that is not doing some physical labour falls into this category. We can include here any administration staff in any municipality or government department; – they need not be housed in an office. Therefore, watch the office space market in business centres such as Sandton. I anticipate huge excess capacity.
  3. A place to work in at home whether it be a study / cubicle / dining room will become a very important factor when anyone is looking to rent or purchase a new place to stay in.
  4. The Desktop PC is dead, and long live the laptop and some very improved tablets.
  5. Connectivity will be as important in a new property as a kitchen.
  6. The conference venue industry has had significant cancellations but please hang in there. Companies that will give up office space after the lockdown will still need to meet with their employees from time to time and will use traditional conference venues to do this.
  7. Retail premises will decline significantly. Stores will exist for you to fit your clothing or shoes for size, thereafter it will be bought online and delivered to your home. In fact, I may go so far as to state that there may be giant pop up stores at conference or expo centres for consumers to go “look & see” and then shopping will go online.

And education?

  1. My youngest daughter has been going to school ever since the lockdown started. She is at her study desk every morning at 7h30, takes her normal breaks and finishes at 14h15 every day. She even has saxophone lessons with her music teacher using Zoom.
  2. One of the unintended consequences of the Fees Must Fall movement in 2015 was to force all our tertiary institutions to move into a digital environment quicker and consequently it is my perception that they were better prepared for the lockdown.
  3. The question is now, if our schooling continues to flourish in the lockdown, is that not an area that we must focus on rather than the physical school building and facilities? Again, this is my perception, but schools in the future will compete on their technical abilities and information technology backbone rather than the size of the swimming pool and the number of tennis courts.
  4. If I am correct, then, suddenly, a student does not have to be near the school. In fact, the student or the school may be in a different country. This is no new concept but certainly one in which we may see tremendous growth.
  5. This scenario creates a whole host of other problems. Children at school learn a lot more than just academics and social interaction with other people. This will be the next challenge.

Human behavioural changes

1. Local is Lekker.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic I detected a form of mild xenophobia around the world with reference to foreigners in countries. This is certainly the case in Western Europe including the UK with reference to the other nationalities in their countries. In the USA this is prevalent with Donald Trump’s view of the Mexicans. Trump still don’t refer this as a Corona or Covid 19 pandemic and still uses the words “China virus”

In my view all countries will somehow have distrust of other countries and we may just see a “buy local” or “local is lekker” campaign to support in-country businesses by all countries. For South Africa’s sake – I hope we all support a local is lekker campaign in our own ways.

2. Conscious living.

All it takes is 5 minutes on any social media platform to see Jo Soap and her family’s take on some funky home workout for you to either be inspired to do your own training or to realise you’re currently behind this new health craze lockdown trend, all whilst you sit on your couch with a packet of chips in your hand. Is it perhaps that people are realising that a more holistic approach to living is preferable or rather a possibility (speaking to those who are working from home and not spending hours in traffic). Or is it a sort of more proactive approach to preventing getting the Covid-19 virus? A type of psychological “I am exercising, eating healthy and practicing mindfulness thus I feel a little more secure in myself and my health”. Has this virus affected more than just our conscious minds? I have no definitive answer but it does beg the question of are we going to see a shift towards home gyms? What about all that space occupied by abovementioned? Are personal trainers going to be less ‘personal’? And what about Active Rewards? Are Active Rewards schemes going to have to amend their policies due to everyone obtaining their “benefits”? Mere rambling, but worth a mention.

Legislative changes

  1. Fake News

Governments around the world are battling with false, inaccurate bullshit that causes panic. Any idiot on social media has an equal journalistic standing to that of proper journalists that research and verify their facts. My prediction is that legislation and regulations will be published very soon to deal with individuals and organisations that create and publish fake news – Watch this space.

  1. Cyber Security

As more people will be working from home, security to company networks may be compromised. I suspect that that we will see much tougher legislation and penalties for hackers.

The Good News – Nature is getting some time to recover.

Before & During Lockdown:

We have never seen the view overlooking Sandton so clear. The ‘haze’ that normally clouds the sky has dissipated.

(During lockdown picture was taken by our security services)


In the introduction, I praised our President and leadership for being able to make quick decisive decisions. They have clearly demonstrated that they have this ability.

However, this ability is going to bite back very hard. Now that we know they can make quick decisions, why have we not yet seen any decisions with reference to our parastatals and the dire position that they are in. Why are they diddle-dadling with SAA, PRASA, SA Express and tolerating non-performing political leaders? Our municipal system will never come right if we have elected mayors that need to managerially execute and manage day to day operations. Why have we not seen prosecutions relating to corruption? The South African public now know that our leaders can make tough decisions, they have demonstrated it, so my plead to our leadership is, don’t waste a good crisis, go and act now.

  • Disclaimer: The above opinions are that of the author and do not represent the views of the Company. All statements and opinions are written on a ‘without prejudice’ basis. No harm, malice, bad intent or controversy was intended on any part.