“Focus on sustainability, digital technology & domestic manufacturing”
Ujjwal Batria, Chief Operating Officer, Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Limited, asserts that amidst crisis and uncertainty, the Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate pace of digital adoption among Indian firms.
TPCI: How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact your business in the initial days till the lockdown was announced?
Ujjwal Batria (UB): We at Dalmia Cement are aware of the current situation because of the Covid-19 outbreak. At the plant level, we have undertaken various initiatives for the safety of employees and the nation at large. The business did face some operational challenges in the beginning, but we were able to overcome those by adopting various measures. However, it has been a different story altogether ever since the lockdown has come into force.
Though we fall under the part of industries that is exempt from lockdown and we do have the requisite permission from both the state and the central governments to operate with minimum employees, in line with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for social distancing and in the larger interest of the employees, workers, their families, local community and above all the nation, we have suspended production in all our 12 manufacturing units across India.
TPCI: Was the lockdown totally unexpected, or were you anticipating such a situation given global cues? If so, how were you preparing for the same? Also, how were you managing the business impact in the pre-lockdown period?
UB: It’s very difficult to anticipate such things especially when faced with a global crisis, because the situation changes with every passing moment. Things moved really rapidly without leaving much space for anticipation. As said, for the larger interest we have temporarily closed down all our plants. We are constantly monitoring the situation and considering the challenges being posed by this global health crisis while planning for the next step. At present, we are just carrying out mandatory activities required for safety and security of the plants.
We did not see any major impact in the pre-lockdown period barring few operational challenges initially at the plant location due to various restrictions and advisories. However, we made various arrangements on the operational ground to manage such scenarios.
TPCI: What critical steps have you taken to address/minimise the business disruption during this period (lockdown)? And where would you like more support from the government/local authorities?
UB: We are completely aware of the health scare owing to the outbreak of Covid-19. Aligned with the government’s directives to maintain social distancing, we have suspended production across all our plants that will remain closed till further notice. During this hour of crisis, all employees and communities living around our plant locations will be provided with necessary support to handle the situation caused by Corona virus.
Furthermore, we have launched a centralized 24X7 support and helpline system for our employees across India. Any employee in distress can directly reach out to the central team on designated contact and WhatsApp numbers and e-mail id and seek support. In case any employee experiences COVID symptoms, a team of doctors will immediately provide assistance and support to the concerned person. We have also made sure that our regional offices and plants have enough masks, sanitizers, groceries and milk for the employees. In order to ensure financial security of our employees and keep them motivated, we have sanctioned advance salaries.
Adherence to social distancing does not mean that we are deferring the joining of new employees. In fact, we have digitized our business processes including hiring and recruitment. We are now conducting the joining formalities and induction online. Apart from this, we duly recognize that it is imperative to ensure the mental well-being of our employees and we have arranged for a Bhagavad Gita discourse to help them stay positive and calm.
The Government of India, the state and local authorities have taken all necessary measures to ensure economic and social well-being of all and to safeguard the industries. Provisions have been made to ensure uninterrupted manufacturing of essential commodities such as groceries, vegetables and fruits, dairy and milk booths and animal fodder. With the correct measures, joint efforts and contribution by everyone, we will be able to combat and emerge victorious from this health crisis that has taken the world by a storm.
TPCI: What contingency steps are you contemplating in case the lockdown lasts longer? What will be the key challenges and tactical difficulties you see in coming back to business-as-usual once the crisis passes over?
UB: The safety and protection of our employees are of utmost importance for us and we at Dalmia Cement have taken various precautionary measures to ensure the same.
We are primarily focusing on the protection and well-being of our all employees living around our cement plant locations. Though the cement production is suspended across plants, on the other hand, we are still working on the next strategy in case of the lockdown last longer.
From a business point of view, if the current lockdown lasts longer, Dalmia Cement is completely prepared to handle any situation that may arise out of the evolving situation. Evidently, the ongoing crisis will leave behind many challenges and tactical difficulties for corporate houses. However, we want to emphasize here for our stakeholders and investors that Dalmia Cement has a strong financial portfolio and apparently, it can manage any such downturn.
TPCI: Covid-19 is rightly considered a black swan event of epic proportions, which no one could have predicted till a few weeks ago. What key lessons can the industry learn from this crisis to prepare for such events in the future?
UB: Covid-19 poses extreme health hazards and has visible social and economic implications. It has taught us a very important lesson that we should equip ourselves to brace for crisis and uncertainties in future. It is critical to focus on sustainability, develop and expand digital technology and accelerate domestic manufacturing. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to intensify the rate of digitization across organizations. We also believe that the manufacturing sector should go for faster technology adoption in ensuring efficiency and continuity of business in the face of extreme calamity and crisis.
We have also digitized our business and processes across levels and will continue to do that in future. As far as the cement industry is concerned, with operations being brought to a halt across the country, the livelihood of the common man has been threatened. One key learning would be to concentrate on strengthening and modernizing the existing infrastructure to achieve operational efficiency and thus boost the nation’s economy in these trying times. It is fundamental that home-grown companies should focus on reinforcing the manufacturing capabilities and further exploring untapped markets in order to expand our global footprint in the coming days.
It is imperative to note that the steep fall in the demand would affect the prices of the cement in the near future. Also, the welfare of our employees and the vendors at our plants is our utmost priority right now. We are making sure our productivity is at the same pace and same scale when all of this is over.