The Importance of Common Sense To Beat Covid-19 - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

VK Seth, managing director of Sakata Inx says, “I guess the current mood is only for sustenance and not for any disruptive changes. I think the current time is more like – Maintain, conserve and meet the necessities.”

12 Jul 2020 | By Noel D'Cunha

PrintWeek (PW): How have you been leading your organisation through this once-in-a-lifetime crisis?
VK Seth (VKS): The leadership in Sakata has emerged very strongly during this period. The top/senior management has led from the front. There were many examples where the leadership exhibited “commitment before self”.

PW: How much has altered?
VKS: Social distancing norms, PPEs are used with proper sanitising wherever limited interactions are called upon.

PW: Describe a typical day?
VKS: Most of the business is now done digitally. Zoom, Webex are commonly used tools for communication.

PW: We’re in an extraordinary moment. As a leader what are you telling your team now (90 days since day one of lockdown)?
VKS: The team Sakata stays committed together in this challenging period. Everyone understands the need to stretch a bit extra to pull the company through with least damage. Luckily the team exceeds in thought and action and there is not much left for me to say.

PW: Is it different messaging for different teams? For example, department heads, factory supervisors, admin staff, shopfloor experts, logistics and support staff, etc? 
VKS: Basically, the direction of understanding the crisis is the same throughout the various levels of leadership. Sakata has many leaders at all levels. There are many stories of commitment and sacrifices that have emerged during this crisis. Besides the words of appreciation, there is no need for any special message from me.

PW: The post-Covid world will need massive HR repair with your entire team: how are you planning to achieve this? 
 This challenge has thrown up a situation where a lot of behavioural aspects and conduct have come forth. There are examples where many have gone beyond the call of duty. Normalcy time, it is difficult to understand such mettle in people. The HR management response can be framed by the management accordingly.

Bhiwandi plant

PW: Have you been re-negotiating deals with your customers? From a position of strength? Or same old, same old?
VKS: Customers have many choices and it is never a matter of position of strength or weakness. Of course, we are seeing a lot of appreciation from many of our customers who think that Sakata as a company managed to service them well despite all the odds that everyone around us are facing.

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...
VKS: Our bankers are happy to have Sakata as their customer and we have never faced any issue ever.

PW: Sakata had a lot of investment plans...
VKS: I think we will have to delay our new investments by at least six to nine months due to the changed market conditions.

PW: How have you been empowering your team at the bottom of the pyramid? 
 Most of the operation level, freedom is available at all levels in Sakata.

PW: Any specific steps (sanitisation, plastic partitions, physical distance, air vents, WFH, etc) to keep your office healthy and psychologically safe?
VKS: We are practising all the hygiene and safety norms prescribed by the authorities and we like to see all our people safe and healthy.

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?
VKS: I have used this opportunity to give more attention to my physical and mental health. I have started doing Yoga along with the cardio exercises that I am already used to. This has helped me to nurture my calmer side.

PW: Any final predictions about how as a leader you can harness digital technology for good?
VKS: This has been a good opportunity to go even more digital. Sakata even in pre-Covid time was using digital technologies along with SAP for all our decision making. Automation of processes will take some more time.

Panoli plant


a). Can we use this period to pre-empt the changes in our society to come out with new product concepts?
I guess the current mood is only for sustenance and not for any disruptive changes. I think the current time is more like – Maintain, conserve and meet the necessities.

b). India is a big consumer of milk. But there is a huge opportunity for the packaging industry. Since all the focus and attention is on the top 10-15% of the top brands in this space?
Yes, this is the correct observation. There is tremendous potential for growth for milk packaging. This is directly connected with the purchasing power of masses. The issues involved are increasing shelf-life, temperature, humidity controls, ease of distribution and storage. I see consolidation to happen so as to provide economic solutions for packaging and logistics. I can see there will be many more Amuls in the near future.

c). Based on your interactions with the FMCG and food majors which packaging prototypes do you anticipate a boom – and why? 
I can see all segments – cartons, sachets and pouches, bags, films and overwrap, and tubes and liners – grow, as in India the packaging industry is still very small.

d). Our magazine team turned around 300-page remotely. That is, WFH. Going forward, is there a solution that can be worked out with brands to boost online packaging applications with customised and virtual solutions? Basically, minimising the need for multiple test runs…
Yes, this is very much in the realm of possibility. You may include – touch and feel – as a problem which will need to be addressed.

e). What happens to the debate on single-use plastic now?
I guess all governments will go slow to support existing businesses as they are and not going to bring in drastic regulatory changes at this junction of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) time.