Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Executive Chairperson, Biocon.
The 21-day lockdown triggered by the spread of the coronavirus has entered into the last 10 days and entrepreneurs, the original hustlers, have had to make a plenty of changes to their daily routine to adapt to working from home (WFH). Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls. Not to mention the stress of a looming economic slowdown and pressure from investors.
Moneycontrol looks at how a scrum of business leaders is dealing with these fast changing times. In this edition, Moneycontrol’s Rakesh Khar speaks to Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the chairperson and managing director of Biocon.
You can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: We are past one month of COVID-19 lockdown. Have you felt curtailed or your productivity has actually improved?
A: I have never worked harder than I have during the last one month. I find I have been able to go back to meetings thanks to technology. Thanks to various kinds of initiatives you have to manage remotely, I am much more informed about the various aspects of the business virtually than when I was physically in office.
I have discovered the power of technology to connect with so many people at the same time. Our productivity has actually built up because I believe that working remotely you can have a much better perspective of what parts of the organization need to either take collective effort or decision. From that point of view, it has been a real self-discovery for me.
Q: Technology has been the big game changer in work from home environment. Will its use endure post COVID-19?
A: In a manufacturing and research led set up, 80-90 per cent of the organization will have to work from the ground. Just about 10 per cent might work from home, that too in rotation, in our case.
The work from home reality has taught us that what is important is that as an organisation you can actually physically cut down travel. Technology has made it possible to have virtual meetings. In the foreseeable future, we are not going to have congregations and conferences. Very soon we will realize that virtual meetings are a way of life.
Q: In terms of core business processes, what is the lockdown learning that can probably get institutionalised at corporate India?
A: It is a fact that we have seen a lot of delivery systems being meted out during COVID-19. It is a fact that logistics has improved. That (logistics) is going to be a big opportunity (going forward) for India and for Indian business. You can operate in such a lock down situation because of technology. I shudder to wonder if the pandemic happened 10 years ago when technology enabled connectivity did not exist. Technology has helped immensely to deal with this crisis (what with availability of phones, smart phones, data and video).
Technology has helped in many ways beyond making work from home possible. We have created many databases which can give you real time data on the disease and its spread. We can see all kinds of dashboards that have been created. You can get real time data. We can literally get data on how India is doing with regard to the rest of the world. Today technology is allowing us to take informed decisions, which I think is very important.
Q: Work from home has changed the way industry captains preoccupied themselves in terms of their focus areas. How would you profile your work priority during the lockdown time?
A: I have been spending my time mainly in three buckets. One, of course, is for company matters, where I am looking at a lot of issues linked to remote functioning and remote working, like making sure people at the workplace are safe and how we are dealing with all protocols, safe guards and the surveillance measures which we put in place. Of course, how much business has been impacted and how we are going to be sure to have business continuity and ensure we have minimal business impact have been our top priority.
The second bucket mainly has been about working a lot to help the government on preparedness planning during the lockdown. This is on various fronts – from biotech front where we looked at biomedical needs of the country as also we have had to create consortium of companies which are dealing with developing kits, PPEs, Ventilators, and masks.
Third bucket is about my preoccupation with the research front working very closely with our own research groups and with various academic groups dwelling on how soon we can develop vaccine groups, how soon we can develop therapy, engaging on research on repurposing of drugs on seeing how we can quickly develop serological tests.
Q: Every crisis throws strategic lessons for the leadership. What are your COVID-19 lockdown takeaways?
A: One is that you must learn to understand risk and manage the risk. We do not want panic, and we must not do any ad-hoc response. We must have a risk managed response. Therefore, I have been spending a lot of time with various groups to make sure we take informed judgment calls based on data. That is a big lesson. Just having knee-jerk responses to certain data and events is not good. We should put it in a perspective. We should have a clear strategic direction.
Logistics is going to be a huge part of the way forward in business. Going forward, online and delivery retail service will need sophisticated and efficient logistics networks. India’s logistics network has not been that efficient.
The other big learning from Covid is that what a big opportunity we have for regulatory reforms. There are so many delays. People are still working in silos though there are some groups and they are much more efficient.
There is such a mistrust of the private sector. Even the government has to learn to stop distrusting the private sector. There is so much suspicion.