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MindRush 2021: How companies 'rebuilt' businesses amid Covid-19 crisis

Manoj Sharma     January 23, 2021

Lockdown hit some industries very badly. While some companies gained, some were hit severely. Some saw demand rising soon after the lockdown in March 2020 and taper off later. So to see how different industries fared amid the pandemic, CEOs discussed 'rebuilding businesses' on Day 2 of BT MindRush 2021.

On the destruction Covid-19 infused lockdown caused to the hotel industry, Patu Keswani, CMD, Lemon Tree Hotels, said he didn't anticipate it to be so terrible earlier in February. "But in March, we took a lot of steps to stop revenue destructions. We have a plan for events like this. In our response to this revenue destruction -- considering around 75 percent of our hotels are owned by us plus we had operationalised about $200 or 250 million worth of investment in the previous year, of which $150 million was incremental debt -- we asked ourselves three questions. What are the boundaries in which we'll operate? Our response was that we'll not lay off over 8,002 of our employees. Second was to have a cash cushion not only to our debt obligation, regulatory or payroll, but also to pay our small vendors. So we identified three levels of destruction -- 40%, 60% and 80%."

Also read: BT MindRush: India will return to pre-COVID growth at higher rate, will grow at 8%, says Arvind Panagariya

On the first few hours of revenue destruction, Suresh Narayanan, CMD, Nestle India, said the global giant had announced in February 2020 itself that international travel has been suspended. "For me, the pivoting point was March 16 when our Covid-19 crisis committee decided that we'll work from home from March 17. It was just an instruction but clearly it's the entire team -- HR, IT, and general service -- who enabled over 2,500 employees to work from home with all infrastructural capabilities in place. In factories, we focussed on people. As a leader, I think it was not a time to run a company but to serve a family."

Ravinder Takkar, MD & CEO, Vodafone Idea said the first thing that the company had to ensure was to keep the services running. "With that in mind, we knew a lot of people would also have to be on the field. How do we make sure we get permits for those guys since we are essential service. I think the first week was quite a bit of a challenge. And the biggest challenge was to make sure the network stays up. Second thing was to make sure our digital gateways were working -- since shops were closed -- in case people wanted to recharge their plan's validity or top-up. And, in many cases where people didn't have online capabilities, ensure that distributors are able to provide them services without leaving their home. So overall, the initial experience was chaotic and impressive at the same time. Lastly, we were worried about the health and safety of our employees," he said.

On rebuilding the business after the pandemic, Keswani said unlike most hotel companies, Lemon Tree didn't shut most hotels. "So in Q1, 80-90 per cent of our rooms were operational. And we had about 2,500 employees staying in the hotels. Our's is a very young team, with an average of 27-28 years. Some employees who had earned leave went home. We shut office on March 17. Around 250 people in corporate office have still not come back. Whoever didn't leave, we moved them into hotels. We kept low-demand hotels in some form of comma. We only kept 20 rooms open in a hotel of 100 rooms. Ran them with lowest possible cost. Now we have 100 per cent inventory open. This was a gradual process. Critical thing is that it was the time when your employees, suppliers, and guests needed support."

Also read: MindRush 2021: AI impact on economy to be rapid in 3-5 years, says SoftBank's Rajeev Misra

On rebuilding amid the pandemic, Narayanan said for Nestle, it was more a question of getting its feet on the ground operationally. "We ensure our purpose as a company, which is food quality and safety, was right. Secondly, we implemented Covid-19 rules very stringently not only to employees but to our suppliers as well. We have about 8,000 SMEs. We provided them huge amount of support in terms orders, training, equipping, orders, and advance payments."

Vodafone Idea CEO Ravinder Takkar said there were two-three things that were critical in rebuilding after the lockdown. "One was to make sure our services remain up and running. All teams, especially field teams stepped up. We provide all facilities and equipment to them. Support from all authorities was very positive. The other part was to digitise our partners. The third thing was to make sure all employees working from the field as well as home were enabled and connected."

On productivity amid the pandemic, Keswani said employees from the company's corporate office delivered almost the same as when they worked from the office.  "In hotels, the culture of multi-tasking building is going to play an enormous role for us going forward," said Keswani.

Narayanan said to his surprise, people settled into work from very quickly. "It's not easy, considering you stay with family members. For women employees, it was especially a more difficult time," he said.

Takkar also said there were many surprises. "Just because of Covid-19, we were able to act and we adapted. From on-field services to researching -- we automated many services just overnight. Somehow, we managed to provide services as good as before, if not better," he added.

Also read: MindRush 2021: 'After Covid-19, hybrid work culture is way forward but companies need to plan better'


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