Sisters Jayne and Suzanne Bradbury own and operate Fort Properties, a third-generation family business focused on property ownership, management and development. They are committed to creating “Space That Contributes,” and believe that the built environment can positively influence the economy, a city’s character, and individual lives for the better.
How are you and Fort Properties coping right now?
I think we are coping relatively well. Our focus has been on fostering mutual support of our team and our tenants, and in the future of our community as we emerge from this challenging time.
How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?
COVID 19 has deeply affected our retail and restaurant tenants, most of whom chose to put the health of the community over their own financial wellbeing by shutting their doors as soon as it became necessary to do so. That being said, they have continued to exhibit the incredible depths of innovation and creativity that have always inspired us so much. Entrepreneurs are experts in resilience and resourcefulness, and none of them have stopped working on their businesses for even a minute. Several will emerge from this even stronger than before, providing they get the support they need in a timely way from us, from the community and from the government. Locally owned businesses are part of Victoria’s cultural identity, and we have seen an outpouring of appreciation and concern from Victorians for the businesses they support.
What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?
We have prioritized the mental and physical well-being of our staff during this time. We have weekly well-being chats via Zoom since we are not able to see each other face to face. We are a small team and everyone is doing important work so we have committed to keeping everyone employed. We try to deal with ‘overwhelm’ or stress by identifying a few key results to produce every day and we share those with each other on Slack. We also proceeded with our quarterly goal setting as planned and identified key results that we each wanted to achieve by June 30.
We are so proud of the people we work with — they’ve hardly missed a beat, have accomplished amazing things in the last eight weeks, and are using this time to grow and improve. In the absence of so few precedents and with so much incomplete information, we have fallen back on our values to make decisions and guide us as we lead our organization and care for our stakeholders. The outward expression of our values may have to change post-pandemic, but our guiding principles of collaboration over competition, putting people first, supporting health and well-being, fostering experimentation, and building space that contributes — these are values that will continue to serve us well regardless of circumstantial changes.
What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business?
We have always encouraged our team to work where they were most productive, but this crisis forced us to create systems to make all our business operations virtual, which is a huge gain. We also believe that the post pandemic world and the enforced planetary ‘time out’ we have all endured will ultimately result in the opportunity to build a better and more equitable world in the future. Businesses are born to serve the needs of human beings and solve problems in ways that improve and better our lives. Over time, that objective has been lost from many business endeavors and has led to destructive outcomes.
We think this giant ‘reset’ gives us an opportunity to think consciously about what businesses need to now be born to best serve human and planetary needs over the long term. An example of this is our local food network. Compared to many places, our community does relatively well in terms of supporting local food production and our farmers, and we have many restauranteurs who have always shown great leadership in this regard, but we now have an opportunity to do much better. The quarantine has taught us that self reliance equals resilience in times of emergency. A strong Island food system is good for our planet, it is good for our economy, and it is good for our personal health. There are so many ways that citizens can support the many components of this complex but important system, and we at Fort Properties are re-committing to do our part.
In terms of more general economic development, I think our city will have new opportunities to collaborate on our collective ‘brand’ and civic identity. We are not a New York or even a Vancouver, and that is a wonderful thing if we embrace what we authentically value and articulate what we choose to define us. We have a chance to embody a new type of creative urbanism that truly represents us and the city we want to build.
What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
Jayne and I are supported by an amazing community of friends and colleagues, many of whom run incredible businesses in this community. Particularly with our circle of female business leaders, everyone is unfailingly generous about sharing their struggles and wisdom, and we all support each other in that way. We have access to this in normal times but even more so now since, in this unique experience, we truly are all in this together.
We have a book club in town and we switched from reading ‘Scaling up’ to the more COVID-friendly ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’, and Jayne and I both turn to books constantly for wisdom and insight. Some favourites lately have been ‘The Great Work of Your Life’, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’, ‘Ride of a Lifetime’, ‘The Education of a Value Investor’, and ‘The Obstacle is the Way’. That last one is a particularly relevant read for this time in our collective history.
What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
If we can view life as an opportunity to grow and our experiences as the training ground for that growth, then this has been an unparalleled boot camp. Nothing has been more helpful to us than the ability to manage our minds and recognize that each day right now comes with both good moments and bad, just like all other days. In many ways this time has heightened our sense of gratitude and our awareness of what is truly important in our lives, and also highlighted the value of our relationships with others. It’s a good reminder that that there are no innately good or bad events in life – each change simply brings different outcomes, and it is both a privilege and a challenge to just do our best in each new day.