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Press Releases

Businesses are in a race to manage uncertainty and avoid irrelevance: CEOs

23 Apr 2022

Press release CEO session

The uncertainty of 2022-23 business year is unprecedented because of conflict in Ukraine, inflation, and continuing covid, according to Mr Harsh Pati Singhania, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, JK Paper Ltd.

Mr C K Ranganathan, Chairman & Managing Director, CavinKare Pvt Ltd says that he is working hard to avoid becoming irrelevant in the digital age.

Mr Shrinivas Dempo, Chairman, Dempo Group of Companies, favours piling up cash amid increasing complexity in which variables keep changing.

Mr Nikhil Sawhney, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Triveni Turbine Ltd, believes that a lot needs to be done to improve capacity and capability of companies in these times.

They expressed their concerns about the prevailing challenges and identified possible solutions in a panel discussion at the 7th National Leadership Conclave yesterday.

Mr Singhania said that the uncertainty in the current financial year is so great so far that it is difficult to do the budgets for the year. “We are planning for a year when we don’t know whether the next shipment will arrive on time,” he said. He said that the conflict in Ukraine has further disrupted the supply chains and fired up inflation. Simultaneously, he said, technology has become basic hygiene and climate change awareness has got stronger and these are having a profound impact on business. “As a CEO, the biggest job now is to unlearn and relearn what is relevant today,” he said.

Mr Ranganathan pointed out that in the wake of the war in Ukraine, international cartelization has extended beyond oil to many key raw materials and customers like his company are paying through the nose. “Cartelization is making things even more uncertain,” he said.

Mr Ranganathan identified digitization, Industry 4.0, and ‘great resignation’ as the key issues for CEOs today. He said that AI is set to fundamentally redefine the way business is done and technology has gone from being an enabler of business to a strategic tool of business. “We have to navigate the future based on data. We cannot become irrelevant,” he said.

Mr Ranganathan highlighted the trend of employees shifting jobs rapidly as a key leadership challenge of the time. ‘When people are not stable, the organization cannot be stable,” he said. He said that HR needs to bolster its learning and development function and measure mood of the employees, especially that of the millennials. “Building leadership pipeline is the key,” he said, insisting that hiring from outside increases the cost and organizations must have two persons waiting in the wings for each position.

Mr Dempo said that he is looking at three key challenges as a business leader: digitization, talent retention, and sustainability. He pointed out that now people want to work from anywhere and many are leaving MNCs to work for startups because those allow flexibility. “Now, a leader has to create a culture where the employee is happy,” he said.

Mr Dempo advises shared leadership within the hierarchy. “The CEO has to have the courage to say, ‘I don’t know and I need to know from you’,” he said. He also emphasized the need for adding chief officers for sustainability, culture, wellness etc in addition to CEOs, CFOs and CTOs.

ESG is an important trend that most Indian companies are still not noticing, according to Mr Dempo. He pointed out that in the west, ESG companies are getting premiums whereas others are facing social and political activism. “Today, a CEO has to be a saint, politician, opinion maker and connect with the community far more,” he said.

On the issue of planning without knowing, Mr Sawhney said that it is critical to invest in technology because there is technological disruption at both ends - the supplier end and the customer end. “When there is longer term uncertainty, you have to continuously improve your value proposition and collaborate with your customer,” he said. He gave the example of his company installing a steam turbine for a German customer during covid lockdowns by using Google Glass and augmented reality.

Mr Ranganathan’s prescription for agility is to be asset light and people light and technology heavy. “Outsource what you can,” he says. Brands need to comply with the changed consumer habits, such as buying from home after comparing and based on user ratings. “Consumers decisions are not based on 8-10 parameters, but only on 2-3 significant ones, and brands must offer superior value on these critical parameters,” he said.

Mr Dempo said that the way to deal with uncertainty and complexity is to work with just-in-case scenarios and challenge people. He mentioned that during the pandemic, he created a ‘war room’ and insisted on having direct interaction with middle level managers, who came up with important ideas and innovations.

Mr Sawhney said that it was important to realize that we live in a community and need to be collaborative as a people.

The session was livestreamed on AIMA’s social media channels.

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