Corporate leadership in tough Coronavirus times | Daily News

Corporate leadership in tough Coronavirus times

A message from Sunshine Holdings
A message from Sunshine Holdings

It is said that tough times don’t last…yet tough times force company leaders to make quick and efficient decisions to avoid risk of disruption of their company supply chains that can result in significant loss of revenue and business confidence. That key decision on ‘effective response’ can determine the future of the company’s business and its contribution to the growth of the economy and also to separate the ordinary leaders from the ones who are truly exceptional.

The Covid-19 pandemic which disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses worldwide over the last few months was truly the litmus test for a majority of organizations to find out how leadership qualities can help cope with a sudden, severe crisis like Covid-19 pandemic. At the outset of Covid-19, the leaders of national economies and business had little time to adapt to the crisis; it kept them awake at night, forcing them to make quick decisions on how to get back to business.

We spoke to two corporate leaders, one local and one foreign, to find out the ways their organizations are coping with the pandemic blues and getting ready to confront the challenges of the new normal, with the lockdown being eased.

While many companies cut wages and the number of employees in their organizations, there were others which gave priority to employees’ safety and prudent capital expenditure management strategy.

Group Managing Director of Sunshine Holdings PLC, Vish Govindasamy said his company first ensured its employees were out of any danger and their families were safe too. “In any organization, employees are your most valuable asset. From a Group perspective, we accounted for every single member of our workforce and made sure all of them were safe while performing their job related duties. We made sure the March salaries were paid five days in advance so that they could buy any essentials if there was going to be a lockdown."

Employees’ safety

Sunshine, as a diversified company with core focus in Healthcare, Agribusiness and Consumer Goods, also focused on preserving the company’s cash flow. “The pandemic started to escalate during the end of the financial year. We were able to immediately take decisions to hold off on all the capital expenditure that was planned. We wanted to make sure there was adequate cash to ride through the next few months for salaries and any statutory payments,” he said in an interview.

As leader of the Group, Govindasamy’s first message to his employees was about their safety and that of their families. “Through our initial communications with our staff members, we ensured that the organization could bounce back like it did several times during the last five decades. My message was 'Only the tough get going - when the going gets tough'. That was the message for the employees to rally round with the management.”

Then the company took strict measures to follow health guidelines. “It is imperative that we follow the recommended health guidelines. These are not just Sri Lankan health guidelines, but rather courses of action from global health bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO). We were able to educate our staff members who are engaged in manufacturing and distribution processes about various health guidelines that they had to adhere to including social distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands. Our insistence to the workforce was they adhere to the implementation of the health and hygiene practices.”

“We also shared several pamphlets by the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health and various news coming out from WHO with our employees. We have made sure that their safety is not just for the company; only if they are safe and adhere to these guidelines, can they protect their families. Manufacturing and distribution have to continue in keeping with the health regulations,” he said.

Talking about a post-COVID scenario he said, it is essential to keep an open mind to march forward. There is no going back.

Work from home

A Grundfos technician at work 

“There are always opportunities in every debacle, so we have to identify those new opportunities. For example, we now know that most, if not all, workers are able to work from home. It is the new normal now. Therefore, we may not need a lot of brick and mortar offices going forward. We may not need to come and sit in one place anymore. There are so many things such as this that we know today, which we did not just two months ago.”

He is quite happy their workforce is a very resilient one. “They are not afraid to come out in difficult times, and they have always stood by the company and Sunshine has stood by them. We can count on our workforce at any given time to be there. They have been trained well to handle difficult situations and work as a team. We have empowered them to take leadership, so they have all been doing their part. As a business that is mostly concentrated on essential services, that is what our employees did during March and April,” he said.

We also spoke to Kim Jensen, Regional Managing Director, Grundfos Asia Pacific, a global company which ensured the health and wellbeing of its employees as a priority.

Regular information

“We put in place numerous measures company-wide, as well as working closely with national and local authorities to implement all recommended procedures and precautions at our sites globally," Jensen said. "We have been providing regular information and advice to all our employees to follow precautions and stay safe and healthy. Our senior management members regularly speak with employees through virtual sessions, video messages and other platforms to remain connected with them.”

He added that as a family and foundation-owned company, Grundfos has the financial ability to withstand almost any development. “Together as a team of 19,000 people across 58 countries, we will not only get through this crisis, but emerge stronger together.

SME support

“These are challenging times for everybody, be it governments, big corporations, SMEs or individuals. Several industries such as airlines and hospitality have been adversely affected and their survival is being threatened. Thankfully, the situation is less extreme for Grundfos, as pumps are part of the crucial infrastructure in buildings, industries and utilities.”

He said the company has approached the pandemic with an innovator’s mindset, adapting various solutions to meet new demands and situations in the water sector that have arisen in these times. “COVID-19 has underscored the value of water and its connections to human health. People are now using water more to ensure personal hygiene and sanitation, which is critical to prevent the spread of the disease. As a water solutions provider, we are looking at how we can support our customers to have the necessary systems in place to meet this demand. For example, we donated a Selcoperm Electrolysis system to a local hospital in Huanggang, one of the hardest hit cities in Hubei province, China. By using common salt and water to produce hypochlorite solution onsite, our system allows the hospital to tackle the challenge of a sudden surge in medical wastewater in a safe and efficient manner.”

Safeguarding consumer and workforce health are top priorities for businesses and governments, and so manufacturers need to adapt plant operations with the COVID-19 crisis in mind. It is crucial to first determine who is essential, namely critical employees without whom operations could not continue. If an individual’s role can be adapted to allow working from a remote location, they should be allowed to do so.

Minimize the spread

"At Grundfos, we are working in different ways across our operations to minimize the spread of the virus, through putting in place physical distancing and remote working policies," Jensen said. "This includes ensuring that shifts are completely split with no contact amongst plant employees. We also work closely with national and local authorities to implement all recommended procedures and precautions at our sites globally."

He added that the COVID-19 crisis has been challenging for many sectors and their corporate leaders. “We have seen the way companies have to adapt as they go when it comes to rolling out their business continuity plans, and how they continue to run and manage their people and operations afterwards. The post-COVID-19 world will present a new normal, but it is still early days to determine what that would look like, and how that would affect any company’s management approach.”

With this in mind, leaders need to shift to new ways of working, forge new levels of trust with their workforce, and position their businesses for renewed growth once the pandemic subsides. A company’s management ultimately needs to focus on caring for their workforces, and gaining and maintaining trust through the entire organization. To achieve that, corporate leaders need to demonstrate their care for individuals as well as the wider workforce and community, by sharing a clear plan and being transparent in how decisions are made, Jansen said.

Post pandemic

“Post pandemic, we anticipate that the crisis will fundamentally alter how we work and engage, and a company’s management needs to approach the traditional work structure with new thinking, tapping into innovative approaches and technologies that can help safeguard from such crises in the future,” Jensen added.

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