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'Nick Nugent and I have entered a beard growing competition'

Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation

Henry Beeby: can't wait to get back on the rostrum in a busy sales arena
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Goffs group chief executive Henry Beeby tells us about how he is managing – both personally and professionally – with the Europe-wide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus

How is life ticking over for Goffs during lockdown?

Life is more than ticking over as this is a busy time of year for the whole Goffs Team on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Since we instigated working from home on March 16 we have finalised the entries for both the Doncaster Spring Store Sale and the Goffs Land Rover Sale, concluded our financial year (which runs from April to March), held a full parent board meeting via Zoom as well as numerous management, departmental and cross-Irish Sea meetings.

We continue to promote the Doncaster Breeze-Up using personal calls and a range of digital marketing initiatives, and have maintained regular contact with a whole range of vendors and purchasers to ensure we continue to provide the personal service of which we are proud.

Of course we are reacting to the evolution of this crisis by planning as best we are able and with the benefit of what we are learning as the days and weeks pass. That has included rescheduling the Breeze-Up and Store Sales, putting protocols in place for when we are allowed to visit farms to discuss yearlings and developing a revised marketing strategy that is more in keeping with the new normal.

Have you learned anything from lockdown measures that will be useful for the future when the pandemic is under control? 

We’re always learning. The most valuable lesson for me is that it is not always necessary to be in the same room as those you are meeting to make a worthwhile contribution. I have been introduced to Zoom and Teams, and we have held numerous productive meetings in this way over the last three weeks. 

So a positive to come out of this lockdown is that my carbon footprint will improve, as will my quality of life and productivity, as I will no longer feel the need to make day trips to the UK for a two-hour meeting but will be able to contribute just as much to those meetings.

As I took nearly 90 flights last year that will be a major improvement.

In the recent Inglis Easter online sale the auctioneer conducted the sale to a mostly empty room and managed phone and online bids  is that something you've ever had a similar experience of, and would it hold any fear for you?

The first comment I would make is that I salute Inglis for their achievement in delivering a vibrant sale in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Their willingness and ability to adapt and react to what was a fast changing landscape was admirable and they, and their clients, deserve enormous credit as not only was the sale a success for them, but it also gave a huge boost to the international bloodstock community.

While I have never conducted a live auction without bidders, I have taken bids online when guest auctioneering at various auctions overseas and I am always practising in isolation in the car, on lone walks and so on. So talking to myself is a regular occurrence!

Assuming you agree there will be some sort of market downturn in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, what do you think is the best case scenario we can expect this year?

We're still very much in unknown territory at this stage of the pandemic so it would be folly to make any predictions for the time being. I think we all accept that we are in for some tough times but the remarkable thing about the bloodstock industry is its resilience and ability to bounce back.

I've worked through three major downturns and each time bloodstock fell swiftly, as we are so linked to the economy, but recovered quicker than others.

I think a large part of that is that the industry is populated by lifetime professionals who cannot and do not want to do anything else. So we simply regroup, work together and get on with it.

That is certainly my intention and I know that the good days will return, and how sweet they will be after all this.

On a personal level, how are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

Mainly by working. Modern technology means I'm as busy in my office at home as in the Goffs offices in Kildare or Hawick.

The telephone is rarely quiet, we have held multiple meetings with the teams in Goffs and Goffs UK, and I have regular conversations with most of my colleagues, speaking at least once a day with Eimear Mulhern, Nick Nugent, Rae Lawless, Tim Kent, Derek Forrest and others as we plan for the future, whatever it may hold, and ensure we are ready to react and adapt to the many challenges we will face.

That has included accelerating our development of an online platform that the team, led by Nick Nugent and Michael Orton, were quietly working on last autumn. Obviously that has become more relevant in the last month and I think you can expect us to utilise a combination of traditional and online methods at sales in the future, especially in the shorter term as it is likely to be some time before international travel is back to the norm.

Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?

I'm re-reading Horsetrader, Patrick Robinson and Nick Robinson’s fascinating account of Robert Sangster’s entry into racing and bloodstock, and his rise to become the most influential buyer of bloodstock alongside the legendary Vincent O’Brien and the great John Magnier.

It's a gripping read and all the more relevant for me as it coincides with the start of my career, and I well remember the awe and excitement created by those three amazing men as they laid the foundations for the modern day giant that we see today.

I am regretting one decision, which was entering a beard growing competition with Nick Nugent for the duration of the lockdown. On day one we thought it sounded like a laugh that would last a couple of weeks but it is now rather longer (the time and the beard!).

However, we are men of our word so have committed to attending the first day back in the office bearded up (if there is a such a phrase) before rushing home to shave. As I have never gone more than a day or two without shaving, it is a new experience and not one I plan to repeat!

What is the availability of groceries and essential products around you like?

Excellent. Our daughter, Sally is a personal trainer in Dublin so has been unable to work and has been staying with us. She has kindly been our shopper and the local shops have remained well stocked while they quickly introduced all the protocols to ensure the safety of every shopper and their staff.

Our son George has a delivery business in Dublin and he has been busier than ever with hundreds of drivers delivering food around the city.

What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?

Standing on the rostrum in Goffs or Doncaster and looking out at a packed auditorium as another classy thoroughbred walks into the ring. When that happens I will know that this nightmare is truly over.


Read our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures

Charles O'Neill: 'ITM will be ready to go when the markets open up again'

Freddy Powell: 'We're improving our online sale platform in case it's needed'

Bumble Mitchell: 'Online sales could be tricky for outlying studs like mine'

David Stack: 'I had to give a garda a lesson about the birds and the bees'

Colm Sharkey: 'I've been torturing myself trying to sort out my golf swing'

Rachael Gowland: 'I didn't realise how much I loved racing until I couldn't go'

Sam Hoskins: 'I've been listening to endless Cold War podcasts on my tractor'

Niamh Spiller: 'Video calls are very important to keep everyone motivated'

Jamie Lloyd: 'Staff have had all their own gear labelled, even wheelbarrows'

Micheál Orlandi: 'The stallions are flying and that gives me great hope'

Richard Venn: 'The French are in a good position to get back racing sooner'

Tim Kent: 'It's difficult to plan when we don't know when racing will resume'

Russell Ferris: 'Weatherbys had contingency plans that we activated at once'

Grant and Tom Pritchard-Gordon: 'Inglis Easter has kept us busy since January'

Peter Hockenhull: 'The social side of meeting and chatting to breeders is gone'

Polly Bonnor: 'We've fulfilled every feed order, including all our exports'

Richard Lancaster: 'We're fortunate that some Shadwell staff live on site'

I've worked through three major downturns and each time bloodstock fell swiftly, as we are so linked to the economy, but recovered quicker than others
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