Published by ETHRWorld
In this interview with Datuk (Dr.) Vinod Sekhar, Chairman & Group CEO at Petra Group shares a broad view on how CEOs can lead their businesses towards recovery.
How can companies navigate this difficult environment, especially in the next few weeks, as the restrictions are loosened? Their eagerness to restart and rebuild is understandably large, but so are the questions that a return to business raises. What is the financial health—and state of mind—of suppliers and consumers? How can employees be motivated to return to work and reassured about their safety? How quickly will demand return? What will health and safety stipulations mean for the organization of operations and supply chain? Companies will need to take a holistic approach to restart.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Q1. While 2021 was the year of survival, 2022 will be the year of sustaining the changes and leading towards recovery. In your experience, what are the critical steps that organisations must take to strengthen their recovery models?
The pandemic has shaken everything we know and showed us the vulnerabilities in our structure, society, and economic system. But it has also given us an opportunity to pivot, to make a shift to what is required.
At this evolutionary phase post-pandemic, things moving at a different pace in different parts of the world, but one thing is certain, we cannot go back to business as usual.
In leading to recovery after the uncertainties that the world faced, leaders need to reset. This includes re-evaluating, re-budget and re-look at strategies to ensure they address current needs, trend changes and the realities going forward.
The key is we have to play chess and not checkers. Too many people play checkers, but it’s not about the immediate move. It’s about playing the whole board and winning the game. Leaders must relook at their business model holistically, take a step back and reflect. Adapt and increase resilience and tenacity because that’s what organisations need.
We must look multiple steps ahead and when you do that, you then find your strength to make those moves, make the little sacrifices that you have to make to stay the course. I think that’s the resilience that you need. To see through a period of uncertainty, to at least be certain of where you are going, what you want to see and what you intend to achieve. When you have that purpose, resilience comes with that. You add a bit of tenacity and then you overcome the uncertainty. And then when the clouds clear and you move ahead but to do all that you must have your strategy right.
Business continuity is important and this is where business leaders must realise the importance of creating sustainable wealth or what I call social capitalism. I am a capitalist. How do I make money? I sell you a product and someone else a service. How do I make more money? To find more of you. Here’s the trick. I need people out of poverty and rise into the middle class because only then will they have the money to spend. It’s in my interest to play a role in lifting people up, helping people out of economic situations and moving them up the wealth lines. And sustainable wealth creation is key to that.
During this pandemic, this period is an opportunity for companies like ours who are strong enough to sustain and to have the resilience to then play a key role in lifting people up. Because what I am doing is making sure that my market survives and grows.
You cannot let your market die because it’s no point if you survive and come out of the other end of the market you depend on is gone. It will take decades to lift it up again. You have to maintain what you can, keep it going, knowing for certain you will get out. And so we have the responsibility to help maintain our market. The people who live in it, and surround us. That is the role we have to play as we move forward.
Q2. Businesses have been doubling down on their digital transformation ambitions and the coming shifts may even be more disruptive than most digital waves in the past. In your experience, how have CEOs waged this digital battle on their paths to business recovery?
This business evolution of technology and humanity as we move forward are things that we cannot ignore. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the path to digitalisation. For instance, PETRA has gone head-on, where we have an entire division called PETRA Digital that is not only developing technology for our businesses but also apps for each of the companies to use. This is because we need to be ready to where the world is going, where AI is taking us. It’s not a question that I will do when it is absolutely necessary. I believe that all companies, doesn’t matter what industry it is in, are all impacted by the digital revolution.
When leaders are too slow to adapt, not agile or flexible enough when it comes to digital transformation, then it makes their business recovery path more difficult. This is why bold leadership is important in charting the future, getting people in organisations to move out of their comfort zone and embrace change and technology. When leaders are not bold or quick enough to change, then business suffers. When that happens, everyone is affected, including the environment and society that the business operates from.
It is also important to tap into the talents and have the right team of people in the organisation to help carry out digital transformation. I have learnt hard lessons in my 20s and 30s. It is not easy, but the key is to surround yourself with people who are capable and smart. Look at your gaps and identify your strengths and weakness. You will then know what you need to do to fill those gaps.
Q3. What are the most important personal skills that CEOs and other business leaders must develop to thrive in the existing business environment? How can they boost employee morale to strive toward new business opportunities?
With the current uncertainties and unpredictable environment, the ability and skill in communicating to inspire others are important. We need inspiration across the line and it comes with humility. Because that’s what touches people, inspires people. Inspiration comes when people feel the connection. When they believe in you, believe that you understand what they are going through and their fears, they will feel connected to you and your aspirations. The connection is the key. And that’s what I ask all CEOs to do, to find the connection and inspire and motivate because if you don’t believe it, they can’t believe it. I believe that sort of leadership is required now, more than ever.
An innovative mindset is the skill of the future. Leaders have to be innovative, no matter what business they are in. The customer base is there, but no matter what you sell, you have to decide how you can be more innovative than your competitor. It is not easy but it always works.
My father once taught me, you make a decision in your head, but you apply them with your heart. And that has helped a lot, even with the tough decisions that I had to make. So, you make a decision but apply them with your heart and communicate with your heart.
Employees need to be assured that with the leader being ahead of things, uncertainties will pass, and we will rise again. This is why it is important to play chess and not checkers. By looking at the overall picture, we must make the right moves.
During the pandemic, when Malaysia went into a lockdown and later movement control, we kept our people employed, we maintained the businesses knowing that the uncertainties will pass. How can we suddenly fire people just because we were having a bad year? So, we used the profits we made with their help the previous year and spent it during the downturn, knowing very well, things will improve, and we will make more money again. This is a long-term strategy.
During those uncertain times, the PETRA Group also went on to invest in the F&B and hotel sectors, which were heavily hit. Everyone thought I was mad and questioned the decision. But slowly, the local tourism and local economy have improved, the hotels are full again. We took our chance and invested in people, in their strengths, and I believe that they will drive our profits even higher.
Q4. What are some of the critical business challenges that organisations are facing today and how are CEOs leading their businesses from the front for traversing those challenges? How are they optimising functions in key business areas to develop organisational resilience?
Across the globe, organisations face unpredictable markets and disruptions in business. CEOs and leaders need to be transparent about the issues that are affecting the business and the steps taken to address them. Leaders also need to communicate assurance to their staff that the company has their backs. In 2021, at the height of the pandemic where people were laid off or businesses closed down, we continued maintaining businesses and kept our people employed. We made money before that, and I know we will make more money later so it would not be right to fire employees during a bad year. By giving the assurance that we will always have their backs, we were able to hold on to everything despite the uncertainties.
In developing resilience, leaders must be ready to admit and learn from mistakes and failures. I have multiple PhDs in failures but luckily it’s a different one each time. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about your failures and mistakes. What matters is getting up and learning from the mistakes made. My mistakes taught me, it helped me to take on bigger projects and help more people.
Q5. In your experience, how have other C-suite leaders contributed towards building sustainable businesses and organisational resilience?
Our businesses apply the concept of Social Capitalism, where they are run as profitable commercial ventures whilst seeking to do the right thing for our employees, our customers, society and the environments in which we operate, ensuring sustainable wealth creation.
The C-suite leaders of PETRA Group are committed to this concept and champion sustainable practices which are in line with the Group’s sustainable strategy and Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) considerations across all companies within the Group.
Sustainability is one of the main thrusts of the PETRA Group, and as we continue to expand our businesses, we are constantly on the lookout for new ventures that fall within the ambit of green sustainable technologies.
One of the PETRA Group’s flagship entities is Green Rubber, a company that has successfully developed and globally patented the DeLink technology. A revolutionary technology that breaks down the molecular structure of used rubber tyres and, for the first time ever, allows tyres to become a renewable resource or raw material. With over a billion rubber tyres being discarded each year, Green Rubber is the only company capable of erasing one of the world’s biggest environmental threats.
Recently, PETRA Modular demonstrated its continued commitment to sustainability and higher standards of manufacturing by being the first modular manufacturer to obtain the Intelligent Building Systems (IBS) Impact Certification, in addition to ISO 9001 (Quality Management System) and SIRIM certification. The IBS Certification and ISO standards is a testament to how serious we are about quality and sustainability practices as we expand our modular technology footprint around the world while solving the housing and accommodation challenges the cities are currently facing.
PETRA Cucina has implemented bottle recycling in its outlets and then the sand from the crushed bottles is used by PETRA Modular for its construction activities.