Resilience Through Social Capital at True Grit (NZ)

Extract from "A Primer in Resilience: Seven Principles for Managing the Unexpected"

In the wee hours of September 4, 2010, Jacqui Victor, the owner of True Grit, a popular hair salon in Christchurch, New Zealand, was awakened by a phone call while on vacation and learned that Christchurch had been hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Fearing the worst, Jacquie quickly returned to Christchurch. Not only was the old brick building housing her salon badly shaken—requiring her to move her business to a temporary location—but so were her employees and clients.

A few years earlier, as part of increasing her leadership capability with a business mentor, Jacqui had decided that people—her employees and clients—were at the heart of her business. She also considered her local competitors part of that “people landscape,” for many of them were friends that she had advised as they set up or grew their own businesses. She had learned that social capital was critical to any business, but especially to a service firm. She had purposefully grown her business culture to be warm and friendly, treated her staff like family, and trained them to give clients the special “True Grit” treatment. That treatment brought her clients back after the earthquake when it would have been easier for them to go elsewhere rather than drive across town on devastated roads.

When a second big quake hit nearly six months later, and her damaged premises collapsed, unrepairable, Jacqui said, “I will just take my insurance payout and go!” But then she thought about her staff of 19, and her commitment to her “family” led her to another course of action. She made yet another move to another temporary location and rebooked all her clients.

This recurring theme of temporary locations became part of the True Grit recovery story. How do you find an effective temporary space? With a competitor, of course. After each big earthquake, or when notified by authorities that her location was no longer safe to occupy, Jacqui made a couple of phone calls to those whose shops were still functional. Because she had so many friends in the industry, it did not take long to find someone with spare space and a willingness to share that space with a competitor—their friend Jacqui. Four years later, True Grit is doing better than ever as it recovers with the city its owner and staff members love.

Such relational resilience proved to be invaluable, not only to Jacqui but to hundreds of businesses, large and small, that had been caught unprepared for the devastation in Christchurch. Social capital—entailing staff and clients, supply chain partners, and competitors—underlines the importance of any organization's most valuable resource, especially in times when it seems as though the world is falling apart. True Grit and Jacqui Victor are practical examples of the truth that relational resilience is critical to bouncing back from adversity and, even better, bouncing forward.