Karan Mahajan: HR evolution in the post-lockdown era

Signs of life returning to normal in the post-Covid-19 world are bleak and according to Karan Mahajan, managing director, Hi-Tech Inks, the onus will be on HR teams to adapt for the future and better equip themselves to handle the situation

29 Sep 2020 | By PrintWeek Team

Karan Mahajan, managing director, Hi-Tech Inks

Printweek (PW): How have you been leading your organisation through this once-in-a-lifetime crisis? Describe a typical day? How much has been altered?
Karan Mahajan (KM):
The initial few days and weeks went into ensuring a smooth start-up of the factory and safety of our team members and in turn, of their families. As you must have heard from most organisations, the main challenge being faced was that of logistics and planning. We had to quickly adapt to spending more time on con-calls and video calls as opposed to discussing strategies face-to-face.

PW: We’re in an extraordinary moment. As a leader what are you telling your team now?
Four months into the lockdown and it’s still a roller-coaster ride. For most organisations the hurdles and challenges have now shifted focus from logistics and manpower management to keeping the workplace safe from any Covid positive cases. I am spending most of my time on calls with the respective heads of various departments and making sure that all their needs are being met. It is extremely important to keep a high level of enthusiasm and positivity during such challenging times.

PW: Is it different messaging for different teams? For example, department heads, factory supervisors, admin staff, shopfloor experts, logistics and support staff?
When it comes to safety the message is fairly consistent across the board. But each department does have its own individual challenges that need to be attended, too.

PW: The post-Covid-19 world will need massive HR repair with your entire team.How are you planning to achieve this?
I personally feel that the repair is already going on; at least in our organisation. Our HR team has been extremely busy and occupied to educate the entire team on dos and don’ts and this learning will need to be adapted for the future as well, as I don’t see life getting back to normal anytime soon. In fact, the HR team themselves are also partaking in online training sessions and webinars to better equip themselves to handle this situation as it is a unique for all HR teams across the world.

Hi-Tech Inks’s plant in Vapi

PW: Have you been re-negotiating deals with your customers? From a position of strength? Or is it the same old, same old?
On the business front our focus during the entire lockdown has been to make sure that none of our customers suffer. We have worked longer hours and arranged raw materials at higher prices to ensure our customers can run their plants, which in turn will help essential goods reach the consumers on time. For the most part there has been no re-negotiation with customers, but in certain product lines the impact on cost was exorbitantly high wherein we did need support from the customers. Some customers have obliged, but there is still a long way to go.

PW: How have you been planning your next step with your banks and financiers when you don’t know what the future will hold? One step that you have taken...
There has been minimum planning on the banking front thusfar. Our major focus had been to collect our money from customers on time and in turn keep paying our banks and suppliers on time. We may need some support from the banks to upgrade certain systems, but we shall consider that at a later stage.

PW: Is your factory ready for what’s next? How have you been empowering your team at the bottom of the pyramid?
What next today might not be relevant to what next three months later. The right approach at the moment is to have a short to mid-term view on the situation and re-assess the situation further down the line to see what changes need to be made.

Packaging trends

PE-PE laminate for the detergent vertical while for food packaging BOPP-CPP laminate will become prominent. Can we use this period to pre-empt the changes in our society to come out with new product concepts?
The work has been on for the mentioned changes, but obviously the current situation has probably slowed down the process. A large amount of brand owners have committed for certain goals to be achieved by 2025, which is not too far, thus I am sure although the ground work has slowed down the developmental work will surely be on behind the scenes. Also with the new BIS standard coming into effect, that, too should help fast track the work as the increase in ink costs can be compensated by the reduction of layers in the laminate and processing costs.

How can our industry re-engineer manufacturing practices so that we can offer for those who operate outside the main grid?
If you are referring to the un-packed milk segment which is delivered to our doorsteps, I think in the long run that is heading towards an end. I think this pandemic has already made a lot of brands, printers, consumers realise that packaged food, milk and oil has been a saving grace during testing times. I personally feel that this market will only continue to grow. In regards to reaching the markets out of the main grid, that initiative as well needs to be taken by the top 10-15% of the brands and it will be taken once they realise that they have exhausted the current market space and the only further opportunities for growth is now to look for business outside the main grid. And we all know that once you have one player come in, the rest follow. 

Based on your interactions with the FMCG and food majors which packaging prototypes do you anticipate a boom – and why?
Sachets and pouches will definitely be the growth area in the near future. We have already seen during the lockdown that majority of the smaller sachets and pouches have made record sales. Despite the hospitality and travel industry being non-functional, which is the major usage of the smaller pack sizes, the FMCG and food majors have still managed to thrive.

What happens to the debate on single-use plastic now?
This is related to the point made in the 1st question and like I mentioned it is surely going to be back in debate. There are lots of commitments and promises made by large multinational brands and thus, it cannot be swept under the carpet for too long.

PW: Any specific steps (sanitisation, plastic partitions, physical distance, air vents, and WFH) to keep your office healthy and psychologically safe?
Absolutely. We have a strict protocol that is being followed in terms of health checks, protective gear, social distancing and sanitisation. The entire factory (including the office spaces) is being sanitised twice a day before each shift change. We are sanitising each incoming and outgoing vehicle along with the goods in them for safety of our workers, transporters and our customer’s workers. Most of the sales team continues to WFH until the situation normalises. Each employee goes through temperature checks and pulse oximeter checks at entry and exit and lastly, as with most other companies, wearing of masks, face-shields and social distancing has now become a norm to be followed.

PW: A personal question: How has Covid-19 changed the nature of what you are working on, your own resilience and self-renewal and how you do it?
For starters, it has taught me to be patient and positive. We have been through some tough situations at Hi-Tech Inks, especially with the fire at the plant, but this has been a completely different challenge to handle. It has also made me realise the amount of time that remains in hand when you cut the travelling equation out of the picture. You are able to devote more quality time towards work and family and still have time left to reflect upon your own self. With almost none to restricted visits to the factory it has also given the senior management to prove itself and test the leadership skills.

PW: In what way has your team prepared for Webex or Zoom or Skype usage? Any innovative ideas?
Our entire team is now using Zoom for all our communication.

PW: Any final predictions about how, as a leader, you can harness digital technology for good?
I believe digitalisation is the way for the future. It’s been there for a while and we have all been associated with it on the personal front. What this pandemic has taught a lot of leaders is how to implement digitalisation on the work front. With the nature of our business and the industry we are in, I am not too sure if even in the long term this norm will continue, but in the short to medium term it is going to be fairly common to conduct business internally and externally through means of digital technology.

At a glance: Hi-Tech Inks’ Greenlam

How does it score on the main merits like intense colours, high gloss, sharp dot retention, tack? It offers excellent printability and dot transfer with very low solvent retention.

Explain its compatibility with UV varnish, aqueous coating, foil or lamination?
This is a solvent-based lamination grade ink system, which prints on both PET and BOPP.

Any certifications like ISO 2846-1: 2006 and ISO 12647 on-press compliance?
Not applicable.

How good is it for spot colours?
Is offered in both process and spot colours.

What’s the USP?
This is a completely different ink system and is pitched between the vinyl ink system and the polyurethane ink system. It is ideal for printers who want to move away from conventional vinyl inks but do not have the resources to jump directly into polyurethane-based inks systems in terms of cylinders, and machine speeds. This system performs well on any set of cylinders and on all machine speeds.

How easy is it to use?
It is extremely easy to use with barely any efforts required during pre-press and on-press.

In what form is it supplied?
2.5kg vacuum tins, 2kg cartridges or 200kg drums? Supplied in 20kg tins and 200kg barrels.

What technical support is on offer?
For all our ink systems we offer a full 24x7 technical support and this product line is no different. Additionally we also offer our customers various ink management services.