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James Wakefield Cobalt

Article posted by James Wakefield

​In 2010 I was in a pub in Christchurch in New Zealand. It had a great atmosphere, it was well managed, the staff smiled, it was in a cracking location (in a very special city) and the group that I was part of was having such a good time that we didn’t go on to other pubs as planned, we settled in and enjoyed ourselves where we were.

Then, about 5 months later, on a Tuesday afternoon in February 2011, a 6.2Mw earthquake struck Christchurch and devastated the city. I was there again later that year and it was shocking to see just how much damage had been done. Everything, from the city's wonderful cathedral to people's homes, the modern and historical parts of the city centre, the roads, people's workplaces, entire communities and the pub that I'd enjoyed so much was either in ruins or cordoned off because the structural damage was so great. Kiwis are optimistic people and Canterbury is a beautiful and blessed part of the fantastic country that is New Zealand, but there wasn't much cause for optimism or hope in the aftermath of an event that had killed so many and seemingly ripped the heart out of the city.

In 2013 though, I found myself back in Christchurch and the wind had changed. Yes, parts of the city were still empty, some buildings were still awaiting demolition and much of what was working again was doing so from portacabins or temporary structures. However, the rebuild was well underway, there was confidence and belief in people again and the whole city was rediscovering the optimism, humble confidence and good humour that makes it such a nice place to be.

Nowhere better encapsulated this for me than the pub. It had been rebuilt, and the management, location, atmosphere and staff were all just as good as they'd been 3 years before, but other things were much, much better. The bar was bigger, there was more space outside, the tables were less cramped and even the loos were much improved. It looked remarkably similar because it had been rebuilt from much of the stone and timber that it had been possible to salvage, but it was an even better pub for the rebuild. Again, we settled in and spent the whole evening there, just more comfortably and with shorter queues than in 2010!

I was reminded of this story when I was asked about Cobalt's plans for the future today. 2020 has been challenging (to say the least) and there are no shortage of opinions on how the world is going to respond and adapt to the challenge. From those who foresee a completely digital and remote world, to those who believe that, in time, much will return to how it was before. I think neither, instead I want to retain everything that always was good about the business - our people, our values, our professionalism, our integrity, our expertise, but I also want to seize the opportunity to change where that change will make us better, as that opportunity has never been so great.

2020 has been the steepest learning curve that I have been on in my 13 years with Cobalt. We have all been challenged and we have learned lessons about ourselves, the way that we do things and, in some cases, what we actually do, that mustn't be forgotten. We can be more flexible, we can communicate better remotely, we can do in a few days what used to take a couple of weeks and we can generally do our jobs more effectively and with greater efficiency than was possible before. By embracing these improvements, and combining them with everything that was already good, we can be a better business for the rebuild, we can be that pub in Christchurch.

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