By PETER O’DONNELL*

AS New Year’s Eve rolled from 2019 into 2020 there was a unique one-off chance to create a resolution around having 20/20 vision for the coming 12 months. Certainly, you could have imagined an organisation using the optical definition of 20/20 – “a clarity or sharpness of vision” – to develop some great plans and strategies for the year ahead.

Turn the clock forward eight months with personal and working life largely pared back to the basic bones, there is no doubt that for so many “a clarity or sharpness of vision” now takes on very different meanings.

The key responsibilities in my working life as owner of a farming business and chair of Mildura Airport has also allowed a unique perspective as to the varying fortunes of the current year.

Horticulture, as an essential service, is largely business as usual except for some logistical challenges to sort through. Product is in strong demand and there has been no negative impact on the operations or staffing. A pretty good industry to be in overall.

Alternatively, Aviation is an industry that has been decimated globally with Mildura equally affected. The normally very busy Mildura-Melbourne route is operating at a tiny fraction of normal traffic, while Mildura-Adelaide is on hold.

The Mildura Airport team has every reason to feel hard done by. Despite this substantive loss in revenue, there has been almost no opportunity to get government support. This is due to the unique Council ownership of the Mildura Airport Corporation.

Operations have been slashed, staff stood down, hours reduced, roles changed and leave enacted.

But rather than grumbling, the focus of the remaining MAPL team has been to ensure that the Mildura Airport will be ready for the day when air travel is busy again with a facility that is better than it has ever been before.

When the Aviation industry recovers and the community reengages with the Airport hopefully later in 2020 or early 2021 many changes will be noticed.

This includes; enhanced gardens, fresh paint, improved and quicker security screening, a café caravan, new flight information screens, a new fuel depot and many other positive changes. This has all been done by the MAPL team with a smile and a sense of pride.

The great news is that this approach at Mildura Airport is anything but isolated and is being replicated across the region time and again.

Organisations have learnt to be flexible, creative, adaptable, opportunistic and supportive.

We have seen restaurants and cafés create takeaway functions, retail shops have set up on-line capabilities, businesses have embraced video conferencing, schools are teaching remotely, health workers are using telehealth and customers are learning the value of shopping local. And this has all been developed seemingly overnight.

It reminds me of the Jim Collins book where he refers to the need for successful organisations to ‘confront the brutal reality of your current situation’ and to ensure that this ‘period of change is a defining experience’ for you and your people.

As a father of three young adults finishing school, starting their careers and making their way in life, it is be easy to critical of a generation that seemingly is consumed by devices and social media.

As a know-it-all baby boomer, I know I have been negative against this so called ‘entitled generation’.

But, boy have I been wrong!! The flexibility, intelligence and resilience of our young people has been amazing. Imagine having to completely pivot in a crucial year of school to learn remotely even though you have only ever understood the traditional learning model of schools.

Or committing to isolation for two weeks to start your career away from home. Or not being able to pursue your sport at a higher level when this was meant to be ‘your’ year!

Without downplaying the health challenges in our community, the mental strength and adaptability of all our young superstars, needs to be recognised and highlighted. They are true heroes and an inspiration.

We are now used to the daily updates from the leaders of our community on a national, state and local level stand up and fight for our regions.

The work ethic and effort of public leadership across all levels and persuasions of government should be admired.

Yes, mistakes have and are being made. Yes, there is politics still at play. But I challenge anyone to say that they were honestly prepared for 2020 and the changes it has brought.

In the same way that New Year’s Eve 2019 turned the page into an unexpected 2020, we can turn the page into Spring season with lots to celebrate, opportunities to grow and people to support.

In fact, maybe the clarity and sharpness of our 2020 vision is actually a bit better than it was eight months ago.

 

* Peter O’Donnell is executive director of Southern Cross Farms and chair of Mildura Airport Corporation.