How Are You Handling Things? Q&A with Alumnus Brian Little

Posted on Monday, April 6th, 2020

Head shot of Brian.

*** Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing a series of Q&As featuring OAC community members to showcase how people are coping with our uncertain - but collective - state. We’re hoping these will help connect and support our community (in a small way) during these isolating and challenging times. Look after yourself and those around you. ***

Brian Little (ADA ’67, B.Sc.Agr. ’72, M.Sc. ’78) retired 10 years ago from his role of National Manager, Agricultural and Agricultural Business with RBC. Brian had a 30-year career in agricultural banking and finance and an extensive volunteer resume. He’s dedicated countless hours to serve his alma mater, industry and community. We recently chatted with him on the phone to see how he is doing during these uncertain times. In his typical fashion, he also had some thoughtful advice to share.

What’s your current situation?

My wife Margaret and I are currently in self-isolation. We arrived home from our winter vacation at the end of February. We could see that some things were starting to unravel, so we decided that we would play “low key” and go into voluntary isolation for a while. When we complete our isolation we are still going to play it as low key as possible. We isolated mainly at the cottage where we could get out for long walks as there are very few people around this time of year. Our out-and-about activities are very limited. I am making trips to the drug and grocery store, and such, early in the morning to avoid busy times but I have noticed in  rural areas that some people aren’t distancing themselves as much as they probably should. Someone said to me it was a problem just happening in the “big city”, so that awareness is an issue.

How are you spending your days?

During the week I am continuing to do my volunteer work. I volunteer with the Ontario 4-H Foundation and Country Heritage Park. Right now, I am working on a small project that requires a report to be written; plus, we are getting ready for some meetings.  I’m also calling friends, inquiring how they are doing.  Many of them are in isolation also so it is important to see how they are doing and to keep in touch.

Tell us more about that. How are you connecting with friends?

We’re just having regular phone calls. It’s so easy to pick up the phone. Getting on the phone and talking to friends has brought me the most enjoyment over the last while. I’ve found that it’s been a good opportunity to catch up.  Normally I would just send a short email to ask them how they are doing. But I am using the telephone and being sincere about it. We have many friends who are at various stages of isolation and we are thankful that none of them are experiencing any symptoms.

How are you finding/handling social distancing?

I think I have adjusted quite well. I often wondered in the early days how it would go. I thought, “How am I going to get the days in?” But I’ve settled into it. I go outside and do yard work and I am waiting for warmer weather so I can do some more. I’m doing some reading. I’ve probably done a lot more reading than usual. I am reading books I have at home, recent copies of The Economist, and going online for information on recent events. I also check the stock market.

Okay, let’s talk about that. Your career was in finance. What’s your take on the markets right now?

It’s very volatile and there are a number of issues at play. Not only COVID-19; we have record  oil production in the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia which is flooding the market and driving down oil prices.  The coronavirus is also obviously having a huge impact. US and Canadian plants are closing down laying off thousands of workers. Small business, the airlines and the food and hotel industry are laying off. People are losing their jobs across the whole global market. There are so many variables at play here that it is very hard to comprehend. The concerning humanitarian issue is the extensive loss of life and the pressure that our healthcare workers and healthcare system is under. Then the governments are introducing their bail-out packages to create liquidity in the market and to help those who are presently out of work.

I’ve always said that if you bought good quality stocks, their value would always come back. We might have to wait a lot longer in this economic and healthcare environment, but I am very confident it will come back. I’ve read a lot recently and people are talking about the market stabilizing and recovering somewhat in the fall. It depends upon how quickly the authorities can get control of COVID 19 and how soon people are able to get back to work.  The markets are just so volatile and react quickly to recent news and comments. You think the day is going well and by 4:30 you’ve lost all that was gained. Two weeks ago I observed the Dow Jones swing 300 points in less than an hour. We haven’t seen anything like this before, but once the level of infection starts to level off and drop that will be a very positive sign for the markets. I really think, over the long haul, that we are going to have to be very patient.

Do you have any advice for your fellow alumni who are worried about this volatility?

I’m an optimist. I think I would say to stick tight and try not to overreact. Yes, the market has never been this volatile before, but the markets historically have always come back. There are too many positive things, like new science, new careers, new opportunities, growth in the food sector, to consider. As far as manufacturing is concerned, some plants have closed but I think they will re-open. However, they might be manufacturing something different. We all have to hope that will happen. People are very creative and inventive, and I feel we have many more positives than negatives at play here. We just need to be very patient.

Many of us are looking for recommendations on things to distract us and/or keep us informed. Any suggestions?

In a recent Economist there was a terrific series on the pandemic and the potential fall-out from it. I found it to be most interesting as it was from an economic perspective. It was very informative.

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