The Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) together with EY organized a webinar titled “Rising from the Pandemic: Challenges, Responses and Learnings” recently to discuss and share insights on the experiences of leading companies and their successful response to the pandemic. Moderated by A. R. Rasiah – Chairman, SLID, the Keynote Speaker at the event was Jonathan Moreno – Chief Strategy Officer, Metro Retail Stores Group Inc., Philippines. Joining him on the panel were top Sri Lankan corporates Hanif Yusoof – Group CEO, Expolanka Holdings PLC, Suren Fernando – CEO, MAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd and Nalin Karunaratne – Director/CEO, Ceylon Biscuits Ltd and CBL Exports (Pvt) Ltd.
In his keynote address Jonathan Moreno said that the severity of the pandemic can be seen by the ADB conducted survey in Philippines revealing that out of 74,000 firms surveyed, 40% were closed during the pandemic out of which 16% were permanently closed and 78% saying that they have either decreased or stopped staff payments. “In addition to the challenges faced due to quarantine measures, travel restrictions and inadequate tech infrastructure, executive myopia, attitudinal shifts in the workforce, analog mindsets, outdated business models, silo mentality, skills, leadership and capability gaps, transactional relationships with stakeholders, performance management and governance were some of the specific challenges that we faced” and added that Metro Retail responded with strategies to ensure team welfare and security, financial stability, business continuity, moving to scenario-based stress testing, creating new delivery channels, governance, and communication models.
Describing various events in the past which led to strategies being implemented to make the business agile, and lead and think on its feet had helped its successful response to the pandemic, Hanif Yusoof said “as a global organization with a large monthly overhead, our main challenges were the working capital required to keep the system going with potential losses for the next 6 months, health & safety of our employees, and possible delayed payments from customers aggravating the capital requirements” adding that adopting work from home policies and opening hotlines for employee support, involving the Main Board on a weekly basis with management, focusing on the short term when the future is unclear played a critical role in Expolanka’s successful response to the pandemic.
“Amidst many challenges including order cancellations and pushbacks, operational stability, and the large workforce, our approach at MAS in responding to the pandemic was very clear in that our first and foremost concern was to protecting lives and livelihoods of our people which has been our motto and principle. We have set up many top-of-the-line care centers to treat our impacted employees. This employee first strategy has enabled us to build trust and engagement at all levels including at the shopfloor. We also ensured open, honest, quick communication with our customers regarding the impact on their deliveries” said Suren Fernando. He also added that amongst others, the support of the Board including giving management the independence and autonomy to make calls and move on, and digitalization programmes as positive factors in responding successfully to the pandemic.
“With over 6,000 employees, 24-hour manufacturing, 12,000 farmers supplying produce for our manufacturing processes, distributors, and over 150,000 retail outlets who depend on our brands, CBL’s foremost concerns, in our response to the pandemic, lay in ensuring the health & safety of employees, and ensuring food safety & security in fulfilling a large-scale responsibility to the country. We went to the extent of upgrading facilities in hostels where our employees were residing to ensure their health & safety and made certain that we cared for even the families of our employees who were impacted by the virus which enabled us to gain great trust amongst our employees. Furthermore, any changes to the manufacturing facility were done only with the approval and concurrence of the health authorities. We also ensured that our facilities and processes were always in conformance with the SLS and other standards making us ready even for unannounced compliance audits” said Nalin Karunaratne. He added that sticking to the basics and doing the right things, not taking short-cuts even in the most challenging times, and relying on wisdom which overpowers business rationale helped them to successfully face the pandemic.
In his closing remarks, moderator A. R. Rasiah said that the employee first approach including focus on employee health & safety, wellbeing and caring, and livelihood protection which helped to obtain the trust, support, commitment, and cooperation of their people was highlighted by all panelists as the key and foremost strategy that helped them successfully navigate their companies amidst the challenges of the pandemic.