Staff generosity praised as lockdown bite begins

Bison Group Ltd co-founder and chief executive Greg Fahey working from home. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Bison Group Ltd co-founder and chief executive Greg Fahey working from home. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
One of the founders of Dunedin-based tech company Bison Group has been left inspired by staff rallying around the company to keep it going during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Bison Group makes equipment used by exporters and importers for handling shipping containers. Chief executive Greg Fahey said staff had been supportive of the difficult position the company would be in over the coming weeks.

Only the marketing and sales parts of the company will continue with some design that can be done on computer via people working from home.

"We’ve got a great team of people working for us who are really on board with our journey and clearly they were very distressed yesterday around their jobs, their roles and income.

"They were right to be concerned because this is quite an uncertain time for everybody."

The company moved quickly early this week to prepare for the lockdown that came into effect yesterday.

Some of the older, more financially stable workers at Bison Group made it clear to Mr Fahey they wanted the younger employees, some with young families, to have first choice of whatever work was on offer.

"There are other examples ... I can’t go into personal detail but that’s a good example in terms of the attitude and generosity within the team.

"There’s silver linings in these challenges, isn’t there? We’ve certainly experienced them. Taking stock of things today we’re pretty confident we can make some good use of the down time — it’s no longer business as usual — but that’s throwing up opportunities."

Bison Group had been in business for nearly five years and employed 14 people.

The company would be accessing the Government’s wage subsidy scheme and had guaranteed income to its staff for 12 weeks.

But Mr Fahey was not able to offer certainty to his workers past the 12-week wage subsidy scheme.

"That’s a hard one to answer because we just don’t know how long this will go on for. We’ve certainly given our staff financial security for three months."

As an exporter that has sold in 60 countries, Bison Group manufactures products in Dunedin and they are sold via offices here, in Europe and the United States.

"[We’re] a small company but we’ve been growing at a good rate," Mr Fahey said. He founded the company with his brother, Mark Fahey.

"We’ve each year progressively sold more and developed our technology and have been going well."

Mr Fahey said he was grateful the company had supportive directors and shareholders as well as the staff, giving him confidence the company would survive the economic disruption.

"Similarly, suppliers and customers that we work with too ... a number of them are counting on us to deliver products that we’re making.

"We’ve been in touch with them through the week. There’s just been widespread understanding that we’re all in this together."

One of the things Bison Group will focus on during the lockdown is designing products on computer, from home.

"We’ll be doing that in co-ordination with some customers in the United States.

"I had a phone conversation today with one of the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturers. They were excited to know one of our chief engineers was going to be focusing on developing a product over the next four weeks and was going to be able to do that without the usual interruptions.

"Now, they’re collaborating with us from Colorado while we’re working on that here."

Despite the major disruption to business a Covid-19 lockdown brought, Mr Fahey said it was the right call and that he was lucky to be in a country where strong action was being taken.

"I’m optimistic New Zealanders will play ball and the period will be as long as it needs to be.

"I feel very lucky to be living where we do, both in terms of our isolation as a country and the decision-making of our Government, the people who are leading things.

"But I don’t feel confident four weeks will be the length of the close-down. It could very well go longer."

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