As Benjamin Franklin once said, out of adversity comes opportunity. There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it much discomfort and adversity, but the prompt and precise thinking of Novus Holdings as a Group has brought many opportunities to the fore to carry the Group into the future.

Novus Holdings will end one of the toughest years of its existence with a firm eye on the future.

The diversified print company survived 2020 because of its focus on agility, and by remaining a market leader with a reputation for high quality and personalised service.

In spite of the enormous challenges presented by COVID-19, Novus Holdings was able to use its extensive network of printing and manufacturing plants to service customers across Africa, supplying magazines, retail inserts, catalogues, books, newspapers, labels, specialised plastics, educational materials, flexible packaging and tissue products.

Novus Holdings CEO, Neil Birch, says the Group was impacted by the effect the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown had on the economy, which resulted in reduced demand across all product categories.

But there were areas of pleasing performance and positive take-outs for us as a Group.

The Group continued with its objective of right-sizing the Print operations, reducing overhead costs, improving operational efficiencies and bolstered its B-BBEE status.

Birch says that 2020 was marked by agility, the capability of business to respond quickly to a changing environment. The ability to adapt, be flexible and creative in the face of change, without losing momentum was key.

No business could have been prepared for the largest global health crisis in the modern world, nor the challenges it presented.

“COVID-19 drastically changed our personal and business lives and we all had to adapt extremely quickly. This sudden and urgent need to be completely dynamic to survive will most likely persist for the foreseeable future.”

Birch says Novus Holdings embraced safety and risk management, evaluated potential threats and actioned a holistic business continuity plan.

Birch says changes brought new opportunities and encouraged the company to adapt operations and services with a problem solving, innovative mindset.

“There are many lessons we have learnt in 2020, which we will use in 2021 including; adapting and aligning to industry needs and continuing to right-size, our most valuable asset, our employees, were a top priority during COVID-19 and extensive health and safety measures to the value of R1,4m were put in place, and our customers are crucial, so we need to continue to assist customers experiencing financial difficulty,” says Birch.

He continues to say, “We will continue to drive operational efficiencies to make future print more affordable, extend its longevity, and compete in the future.”

Peter Metcalfe, Group Executive: Sales and Marketing says that 2021 is the year to redefine ourselves in the market and to approach each situation with a creative and innovative solution.

“This past year has been a challenging year for everyone, but has taught us that we have to be able to adapt to whatever the economy challenges us with. With this in mind, we have re-aligned our team structures to be more nimble and streamlined, allowing for decisions to be made quicker, but with a more consolidated approach; which will bode well for 2021 and the future.”

“As a team, the new year will also see us focusing on maintaining the brand strategy and aligning messaging across all of our divisions, with a keen focus on engaging and collaborating with our customers to find beneficial and effective innovative solutions.”

“While our customer will always be “king” at Novus Holdings, it’s our talented and passionate people that make this happen. I am proud of the team for achieving what they have this year, despite all its challenges. With the passion and attitude that the team continues to exude, our customers are in good hands going into 2021,” concludes Metcalfe.

Andre Smit, Group Executive: Print, added that “The new normal we are all experiencing brings about challenges, but it is also exciting because it forces everyone to think of new ways of doing things. It is in times of crisis that we suddenly discover new leaders. Many of our colleagues came up with very interesting solutions to the problems that came about, from processes, systems and human resource management.

“The biggest lesson I learnt in 2020 is that our employees truly are the reason for our success as a business. Their ingenuity, skill and resilience are appreciated and we would not have navigated 2020 as appropriately as we have, without them.”

Novus Print Executive – South, Steve Thobela, says “2020 took crisis management to a new level. Soon after the lockdown was announced, we had to figure out each day as it approached. In each day there were lessons like never before. New words and phrases, new regulations, at times not clear and needed further engagement with authorities. It meant close interaction with all stakeholders, whether they be shareholders, clients, employees, industry bodies, authorities and fellow colleagues. The biggest lesson for me was the value agility, speed in communication and quick adaptation.”

Regarding his plans for 2021, Thobela says, “The consolidation of our capacity and improving our technologies is our priority. We are looking at consolidating our books, magazines and retail pamphlet printing capacities. We will be further streamlining our processes and ensuring we improve our capacity utilisation to give our clients even better service. Our new engraving technology will give our Gravure presses a new lease on life.”

Jacques Breytenbach, General Manager of Publishing at Novus Holdings, says that 2020 saw his team embrace change to thrive.

“This year showed us that it’s necessary to take a trusted family recipe and spice it up – change a few ingredients. In fact, you don’t even have to bake it for one hour at 180 degrees in the old trusted oven. You can cook it over an open fire which is less predictable and controlled – but adds an amazing new flavour.” New thinking unlocks new opportunities.”

Breytenbach says there was no room for complacency. “We always place print first. Nothing replaces a magazine. Having said that, even though our printed products always had digital properties such as websites, PDF’s, electronic newsletters and social media platforms, we were not forced before COVID-19 to test the strength of the symbiotic relationship between print and digital.”

The game changer for 2021, Breytenbach says, would be to do this – to understand the power of a brand and to become masters of agility, quickly identifying markets in new gaps due to the COVID-19 disruption instead of the traditional gaps within the market.

Desiree Johnson, the Managing Director of Mikateko Media*, says 2020 presented an opportunity to create a hybrid of remote working and office work – and the rapid embrace of digital.

“We are developing our own magazine brands and have created an online community specifically for dynamic women. We are great content producers and storytellers, so our aim is to take our content to the world by growing our assets on a global platform.”

Trevor Davies, Managing Director of ITB Plastics, says the pandemic drew attention to the role of plastic in keeping people safe, from sneeze screens to face shields and food packaging.

Plastics have been the bedrock of medical protective equipment for frontline workers and at the heart of innovative cross-industry collaborations to combat the virus.

This raised critical questions around what the world would look like post-COVID-19 for plastic and the environment.

“Has the good work of environmentalists, lobbyists, regulators, consumers, retailers and the plastics industry in finding a viable solution to the issue of plastic pollution, been undone, thanks to the virus? Or will we have to trade off saving the environment for staying safe? What will need to change?”

Davies says the pandemic provided the industry with a fresh opportunity to create more sustainable plastic solutions that were better for the environment and benefitted society.

“One of the benefits of plastic packaging and products is that it can be reused and refilled. This will allow for reduced amounts of plastic, more recycled content and allow for packaging to be reusable. We need new business models and technologies that will see improved waste management and encourage even more recycling.”

Warren Riviere, General Manager Novus Labels, says 2020 was “a firm reminder that life is fragile and that things are constantly changing.” The lesson, he says, was not to be complacent.

“Each day presents a variety of opportunities and challenges and people are certainly capable and agile to adapt as demonstrated in these testing times.

“Being united as teams, families and nations, grateful for life and persistent in navigating the storm, will allow us to overcome hurdles.”

Novus Labels had managed to grow its market share and product offering and would pursue this growth in 2021.

“We achieved a great milestone in the last year by successfully entering the Pressure Sensitive Label sector and we are now a global player in this segment. A high focus on pursuing other diverse product offerings is also at the top of the agenda. We have a number of exciting projects currently in progress,” concludes Riviere.

2020 has truly tested our resilience as a Group, and although we have come out a little battered, we are far from defeated. As we head into 2021, let us take all the lessons we have learnt, and use this to our advantage to make 2021 the year that reaffirms and reminds our stakeholders that Novus Holdings are truly “Leaders in print and manufacturing”.

*Novus Holdings has a 49% share in Mikateko Media