India”;s CEOs are navigating their businesses through an unprecedented disruption. ET Magazine asks them how they have adapted and what they have learned.”Digital has Emerged as a Clear Winner”;Falguni Nayar, Founder & CEO , Nykaa 77826923Key Shifts in BusinessEcommerce and digital businesses have taken centre stage since the crisis has begun. The role of ecommerce firms was recognised as an important peg in the supply chain throughout the length and breadth of the country. This has led to a clear shift in the way con- sumers shop, with digital emerging as a clear winner. We see both beauty and fashion brands looking to increase their online sales by 3 to 4 times of what they do today. Also, a number of international brands want to enter India as western economies are projected to slow down. This has led to faster pace of customer acquisition and improved metrics on average order value, pre- paid and retention. For a retailer like Nykaa, which is om- nichannel, we wanted to be able to fully leverage our physical retail operations. To address this, we enabled a hyperlocal model through which we could utilise our store inventory to fulfil ecommerce orders in pin codes near the store. This allowed us to reach customers quickly as well as improve our supply chain logistics leading us to reach 90% of our pre- Covid physical retail business revenues by July 2020.InnovationsFrom a technology perspective, we significantly improved our personalisation capabilities in the early stages of the lockdown that allowed us to effectively service our customers based at their location. This allowed us to pivot to an essentials-only store for the containment and red zone locations during early phases of the lockdown.Leadership LessonsIt is very important to be agile, carefully look at the problem at hand and enable teams across the organisation to quickly solve it. At Nykaa, tech-led solutions allowed us to take hold of the opportunities that were unfolding through these difficult times. We also believe our people are our biggest strength, and despite redundancies in certain jobs due to the pandemic, we were opposed to engaging in any sort of salary reductions or job cuts. We have instead taken this time to upskill our people.Business Challenges and OutlookThere have been a certain amount of supply chain challenges in terms of availability of few products from our brand partners. We also believe the consumer is changing with an increased focus on health and hygiene. However, we see a lot of opportunities in current ad- versities. More brands are embracing ecommerce, which is driving a strong growth momentum across all our verticals including new businesses like Nykaa Fashion and Nykaa Man. We have been con- tinuously onboarding brands, building new categories and expanding existing ones throughout this period. Addition- ally, the cost of customer acquisition has come down significantly as more and more first-time ecommerce users embrace online shopping and see Nykaa”;s passion to fulfil every customer need through the supply of authentic products.(From an email interview with Sruthijith KK)——–“;Never Lose Sight of Crisis Management”;Keki Mistry, Vice-Chairman & CEO, HDFC Ltd 77826932Key Shifts in Business The most obvious outcome of Covid-19 will be the heavy reliance on digitisation. Customers who were conventionally reluctant to carry out online transactions are now being forced to do so. Covid-19 has definitely accelerated the pace of adopting digital technologies. As regards employees, working from home is becoming an accepted practice for some businesses.State of Affairs In the current situation, the only certainty is uncertainty. But we”;re witnessing an improvement in the Indian economy every month and we can expect that by the January quarter, the economy will be close to pre-Covid-19 levels for most businesses.InnovationsWe introduced a number of digital and online initiatives to reach out to our customers. For instance, one such initiative was HDFC Customer Connect, a one-stop convergence platform for all customer requests. In the housing finance space, we were the first ones to focus on online loan processing, which helped us during the lockdown.About 80% of HDFC”;s business has migrated to digital sourcing. To cater to our customers, deposits are being serviced online.WFH StrategyCurrently, all our offices have opened for business. Some of our staff work from offices, while the others work from home. It is on a rotational basis. Going back to the office will be a priority once things go back to normal.Leadership LessonsBe prepared to expect the unexpected. It is very important for any leader to realise that the tide can change very quickly. One must never lose sight of risk and crisis management.Business Challenges & OutlookOur retail business was impacted during the April-June quarter. We have witnessed successive month-on-month improvements. Our July 2020 disbursements were 81% of the corresponding month of the previous year.The decision to buy a house cannot be done virtually. Housing is the single largest investment a person does in his or her lifetime and so such a decision cannot be taken without site visits, interactions and discussions. As risk averseness subsides, I do expect the pent-up demand to unfurl, with homebuyers showing strong inclinations topurchasing a house. In fact, because now people will be working from home more often, the demand for homes with larger spaces will only increase.(From an email interview with Shailesh Menon)——-Manu Jain, MD, Xiaomi India 77826954Key Shifts in BusinessWork from home (WFH) opened up a new customer segment for smartphones and smart TVs and we continue to see an all-time high demand.Seeing that many people are using the lockdown to upskill, we launched Redmi Creators Academy, a series of virtual master classes, allowing consumers to learn new skills across segments.The challenge of being unable to serve customers offline, owing to the lockdown, became an opportunity to launch Mi Commerce (an omnichannel solution that blurs online and offline boundaries).InnovationsWe adopted newer ways of product launches by going digital, reducing spend on mass media. We launched Mi 10, Mi Robot Vacuum, Mi Notebooks, Mi Trimmer 1C, Redmi Earbuds S, Redmi Note 9 Pro, Redmi Note 9 Pro Max and other products and shot launch videos from our homes. We also introduced online appointments for customers seeking service centre support.WFH StrategyFollowing lockdown relaxations, less than 20% workforce returned to work. But starting July, everyone was back at home and today less than 5% staff work from the Bengaluru office. Market visits and field visits are on an absolute need-only basis.Leadership LessonsThe pandemic has taught me two lessons. First, the importance of empathy during tough situations like this. As business leaders, we need to understand that underneath our corporate badges and job titles, we are all human. The pandemic has pushed all of us to our limits and we need to put ourselves in another person”;s shoes –; to think about the impact on their lives beyond just the business numbers. I take out time to meet one person, one on one, every single day to understand what is going on in their life and if I can be of any help.Second, the art of patience. At a time when we all look for instant gratification, the pandemic has taught us to slow down and stay calm. Running a business isn”;t a one-man show, it”;s a team effort where we all come together and put our best foot forward.Business OutlookWe are quite optimistic with the progress in Q2 and don”;t foresee any challenges. Q3 and Q4 look bright and optimistic for sales owing to the festive season starting October. An array of products has been lined up and the intent is to launch three-four more devices in the lead up to Diwali.(As told to Shelley Singh)——-“;Alternative Thinking Helps CreateM Opportunity in Crisis”;By Pawan Kumar Goenka, MD, Mahindra & Mahindra 77827004This global pandemic and its reverberations will be remem- bered for years. But if anything –; and in the quest for a silver lining –; Covid-19 has forced everyone to come out of their comfort zones and seek new and better ways of managing businesses. We at Mahindra, too, are living our credo of alternative thinking and looking at this crisis as a distinct opportunity. The most fundamental shift being induced by the pandemic into our way of life and work is the accelerated pace of digital transformation. This digital disruption has been necessitated by the Covid-19 lockdown and work from home, but it has now become the new normal. For many years, leaders, businesspeo- ple and managers carried many myths in their minds about how a particular task ought to be done. Many process innovations were frowned upon and considered not practical. Not anymore. Quite frankly, I do not see us going back to the pre-Covid way of working. Who would have thought that a group as large as Mahindra would have conducted its annual financial audit with everyone involved sitting at home, or would conduct our AGM virtually? Just imagine how much time, money and resources were saved. These innovations would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. Clearly, the need for travel will reduce drastically, thanks to the tools that allow us to connect in a virtual world. Manufacturing has learnt how to work with a lot less system inventory, thus unlocking significant working capital and floor space. I do hope that most of these innovations will stay with us and make our business operations more nimble, agile, efficient and digitised. Another unique and path-breaking digital disruption in the auto industry has been the digital ownership platform. Mahindra”;s unique Own-Online platform empowers our customers to complete all the steps towards owning a Mahindra vehicle online –; from exploring to exchanging, arranging financing and taking delivery. Would anyone have guessed customers would so quickly adapt to purchasing cars digitally? The biggest challenge that we are currently seized with is the uncertainty around when the supply chain will become normal again, and ensuring we are better prepared for unforeseen disruptions. We need to make our factories completely safe and secure from the virus. While in the tractor industry the demand seems to be back to normal (or may be even better than normal), the automotive sector is still in the recovery phase. But, happily, the recovery appears to be fairly quick. The optimist in me sees a few bright spots here as the supply chain is poised to take on a whole new dimension, with the distinct possibility of India emerging as a global sourcing hub in the not so distant future. That is, after all, what the Atmanirbhar Bharat plan by the PMO envisages. While the pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, the jolt it has given to individuals and businesses alike has set us all on a path of unprecedented alternative thinking. When history records this period of our lives, I do believe the positive outcomes of humankind”;s innovations will feature as prominently as the disaster the pandemic wrought upon the economy and society at large. (From an email interview with Malini Goyal) ——-“;Dynamism and Continuous Learning Have Been Key”;Suneeta Reddy, MD, Apollo Hospitals 77827036In the beginning, the uncertainty of this pandemic threw many people off. Being in healthcare this was a challenge we were in the thick of. March came as a complete surprise but the lockdown gave us time to put together a plan and quickly execute new protocols.As a consequence, we have been able to treat 37,000 Covid-19 patients through the Apollo system, encompassing hospitals, home care and under our isolation programme called I Stay.Recognising that there was a lot of fear around physical contact, including about coming into a hospital, we launched the Apollo 24/7 app. Through the app we now do 2,000 teleconsultations in a day. The app has been downloaded 3.5 million times in a short period, and 12 million people have tested their Covid-19 risk score through the app.Out of our 71 hospitals, we have been treating Covid 19 patients in 35 of them. There we had to develop an iron curtain between the pandemic side of the hospital and the rest. This meant executing quick alterations to infrastructure as air conditioning and many other systems could no longer be shared.We could have said we will only do Covid patients or we could have said we will only do non-Covid patients. But we decided to serve both, despite all the challenges involved, and I”;m proud to say that we have not denied treatment to anyone.We used this crisis to expand our care beyond just the hospital and into new formats, as well as to embrace accelerated digitisation. The Apollo 24/7 app was in the pipeline, but it got accelerated.We also embraced technology in a big way to make sure our hospitals were safe environments. We do sterilisation of the premises using large ultraviolet ray machines and sanitisation robots. All of this has meant that it”;s today safer to be at an Apollo hospital than perhaps visiting a market.This has been challenging on the clinical side as well because there is no cure protocol yet and treatment protocols change from patient to patient. Our doctors are in touch with their counterparts around the world to keep our learnings up to date. We are part of several clinical trials so we also have access to the latest data on efficacy.This has been the most challenging period of my stint as MD, and I have relied on the power of good teams and delegation. When you have 71 hospitals and 80,000 people to manage, you have to make sure the teamwork kicks in full steam. We are blessed to have great CEOs, great medical directors and superb doctors.All of us, both in our family as well as our Apollo family, continue to fully support each other and one of the ways in which we do that is by constantly communicating. That”;s very important.Our doctors and healthcare staff who are the frontline warriors in this battle do a tough job –; it”;s difficult to be in PPE for long hours and watch patients struggle. We have made sure that they get a week off once every 2-;3 weeks.Dynamism, continuous learning and being on your feet have been key during this very challenging time. And of course, the power of prayer.(As told to Sruthijith KK)——Ronojoy Dutta, CEO, IndiGo 77827051Key Shifts in BusinessThis pandemic is one of the most unprecedented challenges we have ever encountered. As our operations were grounded from March 25 to May 24, we shifted our focus to CarGo, our cargo business, which performed really well during these hard times. Currently, 10 aircraft are fully devoted to cargo and we plan to continue with “;CarGo in cabin”; operations even when we resume our full schedule. We also carried out international and domestic charters, and repatriation flights to transfer stranded Indians. We have flown over 1,000 CarGo and charter flights in June-August. We also introduced products such as an option to book adjacent seats for up to 25% lower than the original cost. The seat can also be used by passengers travelling with a large musical instrument or a child”;s car seat, or for special seating needs due to personal comfort, size or any disability.Innovations CarGo operations and our charter flights remain the most innovative revenue streams, and we would like to build on them, once we see the complete resumption of commercial, domestic and international operations.WFH Strategy About 90% of the workforce in our industry is required to be on the field to carry out operations, while the corporate staff are mostly working from home. Those in technical support teams, backend services, marketing and communications, finance and HR can work remotely, if needed. WFH is going to be the trend for the future for a lot of industries. However, employees may want to get back to their workplaces with all safety measures in place as they are missing team spirit and team bonding.Leadership LessonsThe leader needs to be well connected as well as transparent with the employees to win their trust and to let business function smoothly. We must communicate clearly with the philosophy of “;we are all in it together”;. In addition, I would like to say that at times, as a leader, you have to take some tough and hard-hitting decisions to sail through. No matter what the situation, honesty and transparency win in the harshest of times. Business Outlook.Our biggest priority is to manage our cash flow and win the confidence of our customers. There will continue to be some challenge or the other, we need to brace for it, and continue to do what we stand for –;providing a hassle-free experience, pandemic or no pandemic.(From an email interview with Shelley Singh)——–“;We will come through much stronger”;Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO, Indian Hotels Company Ltd (Taj Hotels) 77827076″;The loss of small players in the hospitality ecosystem is going to be a difficult gap to fill.”;Key Shifts in BusinessThe fundamental shift has been around safety and hygiene, which has become the most important priority for our sector.A challenge has been to continue paying all dues and expenses without revenues–;especially in the first few months of lock-down when many hotels were closed. However, with the belief that a crisis should never be wasted, we reviewed our strategy and launched RESET 2020, which provides a transformative framework to help mitigate the impact.Innovations to address these shiftsRecognizing the emphasis on safety, we launched Tajness–;A Commitment Restrengthened, that talks to our guests about its renewed commitment to offering exacting safety standards whilst continuing to deliver the magic of Tajness.IHCL embraced digital and accelerated some interventions–;for e.g. I-Zest, the company”;s zero-touch applications for services like check-in, check-out, billing online and restaurants.Based on customer sentiment, we created interesting revenue streams like 4D–;Dream, Drive, Discover, Delight; staycations and workcations.A very important innovation is our new product–;Qmin. Qmin delivers signature dishes from the company”;s celebrated restaurants. Currently available in 9 cities which in addition to metros includes cities like Jaipur, Lucknow and Pune.Work-from-home strategy: The situation is very dynamic and uncertain. However, the nature of our industry is such that the hotel operational teams have to go to work. Support staff are able to work from home, but this is a small percentage.Leadership lessonsOur leadership lesson has been Stragility–;incorporating agility in our strategy. IHCL set up a cross-functional centralised task force even before the lockdown was announced. We were getting real time information and taking decisions quickly. This crisis made us realize how we are all vulnerable to global events and going forward we have institutionalized a similar task force that will assess global trends for risk and impact–;helping us to be more prepared in the future.Business outlookThe biggest challenge is that nobody knows when this crisis will end. Another challenge will be the loss of the small players in the sector. Our large ecosystem has many small players?–;?e.g. smaller travel agencies, transport companies, tourist guides, etc. Many have not been able to survive this crisis and these gaps will be difficult to fill.However, as an optimist I can tell you that we are possibly amongst the most resilient industries, and using agility, innovation and collaboration, we will come through much stronger.We also believe travel will return, and when it does, may well surpass pre-Covid numbers when full recovery happens.(From an email interview with Sruthijith KK)——–Harsh Jain, CEO, Dream Sports & Dream11 77827108For fantasy sports platform Dream11, which banks on live sports to keep its over 80 million users engaged, Covid-19 clearly played spoilsport as sporting events came to a standstill. “;Suggestions started pouring in that we add casual gaming, rummy, poker to our platform. We stuck to the core and used the time to build a stronger product for our fans,”; says Harsh Jain, CEO and cofounder of Dream Sports, which owns the unicorn Dream11 and other platforms like DreamX, FanCode and DreamSetGo that focus on promoting gaming ideas, sports aggregation and encouraging small businesses, respectively.Dream11 introduced fantasy baseball and handball and hosted leagues such as Bundesliga and La Liga and other sporting events to keep users engaged. It also lost no time to bid for the title sponsorship rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which it won on August 19 for `222 crore. Dream11 IPL “;is an indicator that sports are back and Dream Sports is geared to take on sporting action”;, says Jain. “;From an operations perspective, the challenge was in the initial days of the lockdown when we were struggling to settle in with the “;remote working”; set-up,”; he adds. “;With almost six months of WFH, I can confidently say that Sportans (as Dream Sports employees are called) have reached high efficiencies and are ready to help make sports exciting for the 9 crore-plus Dream Sports users,”; says Jain.All 400 of its employees are working from home and will continue to do so till a “;cure or vaccine for Covid-19 is found,”; says Jain. Dream Sports remotely hired and onboarded 75 employees in the first 75 days of the lockdown and plans to hire another 175 this year. It is also ensuring that Sportans are at the top of their game, with an emphasis on physical and mental health, addressing employee issues without any layoffs or salary cuts. And IPL is just what they needed to scale the game.(From an email interview with Shelley Singh)——–Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Cofounder, Ninjacart 77827130In the last few months, we have witnessed some important shifts. About half our customers have shut shop and the other half is experiencing lower volumes. Many people –; like Ola and Uber drivers –; who have lost their jobs have become roadside fruit and vegetable vendors. Big cities like Bengaluru have seen a mass exodus of people. In this scenario, how do you manage demand? What could be short-term and what are long-term changes?On the supply side, we are witnessing price volatility among crops like tomatoes that have a shorter shelf life.While we have tried out many things, among the biggest steps we are planning is to introduce 100% product traceability, which will be rolled out in Bengaluru soon. We are working on sourcing and supplying chemical-free farm produce. Our challenge is to do this at scale and at an affordable market price.The lockdown has offered us a steep learning curve. While initially we were clueless, soon we learnt to coordinate with government officials and sort the glitches out. My biggest leadership lesson is that we were running Ninjacart in a peace mode. The lockdown suddenly pushed us to shift to a war mode. We have learnt how to run a company in a war mode amid a crisis.The future looks uncertain. We all are trying to understand what the new normal would look like. The government has rolled out new policies, like scrapping the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and offering subsidies for the logistics sector. For example, some states like Haryana are still charging 1% as APMC commission. How the government simplifies its implementation will be critical.(As told to Malini Goyal)———CP Gurnani, CEO & MD, Tech Mahindra 77827143The best part of a challenge, says CP Gurnani, CEO & MD of Tech Mahindra, is that it comes with a solution. “;When one door closes, another opens.”; For the $5.2 billion IT services company, tech has played a key role in enabling work from home (WFH), ensuring business continuity and accelerating digital for itself and its global clients.The company is leveraging data analytics to improve profit margins –; eliminating costs and redesigning processes. It has also built a cloud- and artificial intelligence-driven integrated command centre to monitor the health and well-being of its over 120,000 employees. This will enable 25-30% of engineers to continue working from home in the long term. At present about 6% of the workforce is delivering from home. “;We believe there will be a mix of “;physical”; and “;remote”; working in the days to come. Future of work will be team-oriented and fluid (with flexibility to choose when to come to office),”; says Gurnani.On the lessons that the Covid crisis has taught, Gurnani insists that simplicity is the key. “;No matter what the problem, break it down and look at untangling one knot at a time and the resolution shall appear.”; The challenge he sees for leaders, “;is to adjust their mindsets from “;command and control”; to “;mentor and inspire”;. What worked yesterday may not work today and leaders must be prepared for that,”; adds Gurnani.Even as businesses cope with stress, automation and tech will be key to survival. He sees big opportunities in digital. “;Digital is the ultimate equaliser. I think opportunities are huge, whether we do it today or tomorrow, and digital will be the key.”;(Shelley Singh)——-Manish Sabharwal, chairman, Teamlease Services 77827160Covid-19 crisis has changed many things. At a macro level, it has reminded us as a nation that per capita GDP matters more than the absolute GDP. On per capita, we are at 138th position even as on GDP we rank much better (fifth, based on nominal GDP). Covid has accelerated many changes. India has been a 10-horse power (HP) economy running on 2 HP, held back by many issues like regulatory cholesterol. Covid has opened a policy window for the government to undertake long-pending reforms in areas like education, labour, agriculture.The toughest part is there is poor visibility –; we don”;t know if this is the start, middle or the end of the crisis.It has created a digitisation supercycle for everyone, including us. Earlier, we used to combine our apprentice programme with online classes but there was a lot of reluctance. That is now gone. All businesses look good in high tide but not so in low tide. We now have to wisely allocate resources where opportunities are maximum. We have seen a 15% dip in our worker base –; on a base of 2 lakh, that is big.On work from home (WFH), remember that 90% of India can”;t WFH. Under 5% of Indians have broadband. It is just the 10% who make a lot of noise. Even for them, WFH is more like living at work, which is neither healthy nor desirable. WFH is nice for flexibility but it can”;t be an argument against the city or office.As a leader, I have learnt that resilience matters as much as performance. In the last 5-10 years, we have not focused on resilience. A leader is a dealer of hope. But hope is not a strategy. So as leaders we need to do both.(As told to Malini Goyal)——–Amit Agarwal, country head, Amazon India 77827165Key Shifts in BusinessWe launched pickup points outside Covid-19 containment zones. This allowed people living there to get the products they needed on the periphery of these zones. We also launched “;local shops on Amazon”;, helping offline stores widen their catchment area (during lockdown) and supplement footfalls by accessing online customer base.We are enabling customers to access the products they need while ensuring that our 600,000+ small and medium business (SMB) sellers and over 10 lakh weavers, artisans and women entrepreneurs relying on the Amazon marketplace get back to their livelihoods.We are offering 70,000 seasonal employment opportunities across our fulfilment and customer service organisations to not only address the growing customer demand but also provide livelihood to many people. We announced 10 new fulfilment centres and expansion of seven fulfilment centres that will help create thousands of job opportunities. InnovationsVirtual pickup points were launched with help of machine learning to allow residents in containment areas to get products on priority.We developed the CRISP (Covid Risk Score Prediction) mobile app to detect and tackle the spread of Covid-19 (among employees at fulfilment centres). The app uses Bluetooth signals from mobile phones to track social contacts between users, generating an infection risk score for every employee. So, if we have associates with very high infection risk scores, we can prioritise them for testing.WFH StrategyMore than 95% of our corporate employees are effectively working from home (WFH). Employees whose roles allow WFH can do so until at least January 8, 2021. At the same time, there are roles that cannot be done effectively from home, including our field staff in fulfilment centres and logistics.Leadership LessonsWhat I have found most humbling is the undeterred entrepreneurial spirit and resolve of India”;s micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses to rebound from the economic hardships caused by extended lockdowns. I believe that our single biggest focus should be on empowering MSMEs, the backbone of our economy, by equipping them with relevant tools and opportunities.Business OutlookIn January this year, we made two important commitments for India: we announced an additional investment of $1 billion towards digitising 10 million SMBs, and enabling exports worth $10 billion by 2025. Secondly, we committed to creating 1 million new jobs by 2025. These pledges are more important now than ever before and as a company we remain heads down focused on achieving these.(From an email interview with Shelley Singh)

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